By carrying a more accurate rifle scope, U.S. warfighters can increase their standoff distance when engaging enemies. Increased standoff distance can help protect warfighter lives. This is especially true when an infrared scope is needed for nighttime action. Technologies exist for cooled infrared imaging at greater distances, but such imaging systems are limited by size, weight and power (SWaP) to large platforms such as tanks or helicopters.
DARPA’s Advanced Wide Field of View Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation (AWARE) program is researching and developing new ways to overcome SWaP restrictions in military imaging systems. The AWARE High Operating Temperature Mid-Wave Infrared (HOT MWIR) developments by DARPA represent a reduction in system SWaP for historically restricted applications such as hand held thermal imagers and long-range thermal scopes.
The cooled MWIR system size is reduced through the development of a focal plane array that operates at higher temperature compared to conventional 80K with micro-miniature Mercury Cadmium Telluride (MCT) detector pixels and a small, battery-powered cooler. The advances in cooling, novel high operating temperature detector design and small pixel spacing allow for a large format sensor in a small, low power package. The MCT material’s sensitivity across the light spectrum is enabled by new optics developed for combining the mid-wave and short-wave infrared capabilities into a single platform.
“Never before has a MCT MWIR with “see spot” capability been developed into such small handheld sights and potentially unequaled performance in future sniper scopes,” explained Nibir Dhar, DARPA program manager. “The HOT-MWIR scope’s range is significantly farther than the current thermal weapon sights. Such a capability should lead to increased standoff distance for snipers and provide a significant advantage over adversaries.”
U.S. Special Operations Command recently transitioned the HOT-MWIR scope technology, developed by DARPA and DRS Technologies, Inc., into its SPOTr program for development from prototype to field use.
DARPA’s AWARE program continues to advance military imaging across the infrared spectrum. Some of these efforts include developing techniques to overcome fundamental limits in current camera scaling, field of view (FOV), pixels and wavelengths. Solutions to these limitations may enable high resolution, large FOV, multi-band, and broadband multifunctional camera technologies. These capabilities could provide detection, recognition and identification of targets at longer standoff distances, improve situational awareness, and enable better day/night visibility through fog and brownout conditions.