Electronic Weapons: Combining Starlight and Heat


September 20, 2007: In early 2008, the U.S. Army will begin issuing a new generation of night vision goggles, the PSQ-20, which combines light enhancement (the "start light scope") technology with thermal imaging (showing a picture via heat differences). The two pound PSQ-20 can operate for about seven hours on four AA batteries. This new sensor enables a soldier to spot man sized objects out to about 300 meters. The closer the object is, the more accurately it can be identified. The PSQ20 can use both detection technologies, overlaying them, or either. The thermal imager is most useful in places where there is no star (or moon) light to enhance (like inside buildings or caves).

The PSQ-20 costs $10,000 each, three times more than the light enhancement goggles issued to most troops now. Because it is heavier than the current goggles, it will not be issued to everyone. But the next generation of the PSQ-20 will be lighter, and have digital images. That version probably will be issued more widely. That's because a digital image is easier to transmit, and combine with other data. This sort of thing has been a staple of science fiction for years, but is working in prototype form now. It will take a few years to get the equipment light enough, reliable enough and rugged enough for battlefield use. By then, there will also be more "battlefield Internet" capability out there, and more opportunity to share digital images. That means commanders, and particularly intel people, can see what the troops are looking at. This makes it easier to identify targets, and quickly bring in smart bombs or missiles.


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