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Army: New Night Vision Strategy Saves Millions

Army equipment officials are preaching about a new acquisition strategy that they say will mean better night vision gear for soldiers at a much cheaper price.

Program Executive Office Soldier recently unveiled its newest thermal weapon sight capability that could change the way soldiers engage enemy targets at night.

It’s really two separate programs that are being designed to work together. The Family of Weapon Sights-Individual is a new lightweight thermal weapon sight that is designed to communicate wirelessly with the service’s latest Enhanced Night Vision Goggle.

Linking these two technologies creates a new capability called Rapid Target Acquisition, according to Lt. Col. Timothy Fuller, product manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The FWS-I mounts on the M4 carbine or the M249 squad automatic weapon. At the push of a button, a soldier can wirelessly transmit the FWS-I’s sight reticle into the wide display screen of the helmet-mounted ENVG III and quickly fire at the enemy target, Army officials maintain.

The Army recently awarded engineering, manufacturing and development contracts, worth $26.6 million, to DRS and BAE Systems to develop the new FWS-I, which is scheduled to be ready for fielding in late 2018.

The new ENVG III, an improved version of the ENVG I and ENVG II that soldiers now use, is scheduled for fielding sometime in 2017.

Army officials maintain that they have been able to drive down the cost of the new ENVG by providing the DRS and BAE with image-intensification tubes that the Army has standardized over the years and compete as a separate program, said Lt. Col. Timothy Fuller, product manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors.

The ENVG technology consists of a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the older PVS-14 and a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display.

Soldiers can choose between IR, thermal or use both at the same time for an extremely effective tool for spotting enemy at night or during the day, Army officials maintain.

“We have standardized the tube; it’s the same tube that’s in the PVS-14,” Fuller said. “We have contracts in place, so we can get those tubes in at great, great prices – better prices than our vendors could for the ENVG III.”

Currently, the Army is buying the tubes from L3 and Harris, said Col. Mike Sloane, project manager for Soldier Sensors and Lasers.

Army officials did not give specific details on the amount of money the service has saved doing this but said this strategy has resulted in dramatic cost reductions.

“He is saving millions of dollars a year by providing those image intensifying tubes to the vendors – BAE and DRS in this case – who are manufacturing these ENVGs,” Sloan said.

The Army plans to field 24 ENVG IIIs to each infantry squad. It weighs just under two pounds, the same as the ENVG II, but it offers improved resolution and is designed to receive a wireless signal from a device like the FWS-I.

Once an infantryman spots an enemy target with the ENVG III, he pushes a button on a small control panel attached to his weapon. This sends a wireless signal to the ENVG III’s antenna. The signal then travels through a piece of fiber optic cable beneath his helmet cover to a smart battery pack at the rear of the helmet which houses a tiny processor, Fuller said.

The sight reticle then appears in the ENVG III’s 40-degree wide display, allowing the shooter to quickly aim and fire his weapon.

The process is similar to using the current IR pointer soldiers mount to their weapons, said Fuller, but it doesn’t create a signature that is visible to an enemy equipped with night-vision devices.

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