February 27, 2008:
India has bought
another 400 French "Catherine" Thermal Imaging systems for its Russian T-90
tanks, bringing total purchases of these imagers to a thousand. Thermal imaging
forms a picture based on the heat it detects. Thus it can see through dust
storms and fog, and spot warm bodies, and vehicle engines. Last year, Russia ended a 70 year old
tradition of not buying foreign (or at least Western) weapons, by purchasing a
hundred of the same French thermal imaging sights for its T-90 tanks. The
Catherine FC thermal imaging cameras are built by electronics manufacturer
Thales, whose thermal imaging systems are popular in the United States as well.
The U.S. Marine Corps recently bought thermal imaging binoculars from Thales.
Previously, only aircraft and tanks
could carry the bulky thermal imaging equipment. But in the past few years, new
technology has made it possible to build three pound thermal imaging rifle
scopes, or, the new French thermal binoculars the marines are using. The
"Sophie" thermal imaging binoculars have a downside. They are heavy
(5.3 pounds), and expensive ($56,000 each). Battery life is three hours (with
rechargeable batteries) and they are fragile (mean time between failure is 2500
hours.) But Sophie works. The binoculars can detect large vehicles up to 9,000
meters away (and individuals at about half that distance.) In a place like Iraq
or Afghanistan, you can keep an eye on a large area, as enemy troops cannot
hide the heat their bodies produce. Afghanistan has a lot of fog and mist that
normally hides a lot of activity, and in Iraq you have frequent dust storms.
The larger thermal imagers, like those used in T-90, have about the same range
as the binoculars, but show more detail and cost about five times as much.
Over 30 nations have bought a total of
nearly 4,000 Sophie binoculars for their troops and police. Ten nations have
bought the Catherine imagers for armored vehicles.