The U.S. Army demonstrated a breakthrough in soldier weapons targeting Thursday that features a tiny, weapon-mounted thermal sight designed to communicate wirelessly with the service's latest Enhanced Night Vision Goggle.
By pressing a button on the side of an M4 carbine, soldiers can wirelessly transmit the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual's sight reticle into the wide display screen of the helmet-mounted Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III and quickly fire at enemy targets.
"This is the first time that we have deliberately taken a weapon-mounted targeting sensor and integrated with a helmet-mounted mobility sensor to provide that rapid target acquisition capability," said Dean Kissinger, electronics engineer for Soldier Maneuver Sensors at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The Army first announced the effort in 2015. On Thursday, experts demonstrated a working low-rate initial production model at a special test-firing range, complete with a fog machine to obscure targets.
The weapon-mounted FWS-I "talks wirelessly to a smart battery pack that's on a soldier's helmet that then transmits a signal [to] the ENVG III, which now displays a reticle" the soldier can use to engage targets, said Master Sgt. Lashon Wilson, senior enlisted adviser for Soldier Maneuver Sensors.
Currently, most soldiers use basic night-vision PVS-14, which takes ambient light from the stars and the moon.
The ENVG technology consists of a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 and a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display.
Soldiers can choose between IR and thermal, or use both at the same time for an extremely effective tool for spotting the enemy at night or during the day in obscured conditions, such as smoke, fog and sandstorms, Army officials said.
Thermal sights on their own have a narrow, 18-degree view. When the ENVG III and the FWS-I are used together, the shooter has much larger target image, Army officials maintain.
"Not only can I see this guy pop out, but I can rapidly engage him because I am not having to scan with my narrow field of view," Kissinger said.
The Army began fielding the first generation of the ENVG in 2009 and has since fielded about 20,000 of the slightly improved ENVG II. The ENVG III weighs about two pounds and features wireless capability.
The FWS-I gives soldiers three modes to choose from -- full weapon sight, picture-in-picture and rapid target acquisition mode
"The full weapon sight mode, you only see the weapon sight itself," said Maj. Kevin Smith, assistant product manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors.
Rapid target acquisition mode is used to view multiple targets, taking advantage of the wide, 40-degree field of view, he said.
Picture-in-picture mode can be used for increased situational awareness, "but that is difficult to get used to. Some soldiers like it, some don't," Smith said. "It's shooter's preference."
Wilson demonstrated how a soldier can remain behind cover and use his weapon-mounted FWS-I to peek around a corner to scan for threats, but Army officials stressed that that is not intended to replace sound marksmanship skills.
The Army plans to begin fielding the ENVG III in the third quarter of fiscal 2018 and the FWS-I in second quarter of fiscal 2019. BAE Systems and DRS are the prime contractors and will manufacture both systems, Army officials maintain.
The service plans to field 36,000 FWS-Is and 64,000 ENGV IIIs to squad leaders and team leaders in infantry brigade combat teams, as well as to Army Special Operations Command, officials said. The Marine Corps is also interested in purchasing the FWS-I, they added.
Army officials have conducted several reliability tests on the two systems, as well as tests to ensure they can operate in an electronic warfare environment.
"That's a big area of concern right now," Kissinger said, describing the work that has been done with the Army Research Lab's Survivability and Lethality Analysis Directorate.
"They are the experts in terms of testing against [electromagnetic] types of threats. We try to intentionally break it," he said. "We come up with ways of attempting to jam or disrupt it that an adversary probably wouldn't have the knowledge to go into that. We have had good success so far with the wireless technology and waveform that we are using."
Editor's Note: This post has been corrected. Thermal sights on their own have a narrow, 18-degree view. When the ENVG III and the FWS-I are used together, the shooter has much larger target image, Army officials maintain.