EO/IR sensors boost situational awareness

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January 21, 2016

EO/IR sensors boost situational awareness

Authored by J.R. Wilson of Military & Aerospace Electronics

Military researchers and industry experts are adapting different EO/IR sensors to work together such that they can become greater than the sum of their parts, and help provide greater situational awareness than ever before.

Situational awareness has been the centerpiece of combat throughout the history of warfare. In the 21st Century's increasingly networked digital, data-heavy battlespace, it has become more crucial than ever to warfighter security and success. This is where electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors come into play. These sensors and their data processors often serve as the eyes of deployed military forces. 

The continuing challenge for the military is maintaining a technological edge in EO/IR sensor systems. Adversaries are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics and technologies, and the U.S. military's efforts to maintain the technological advantage have grown in importance and difficulty. 

"If you see the gap between potential in performance and where we are in delivering performance, that gap is just starting to open," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the U.S. Naval Institute's annual Defense Forum in December. "It's not a huge gap right now; it's probably small enough that on our best days we can convince ourselves we're doing OK. But you can see, going forward, that gap is only going to widen at ever-increasing rates." 

Often the real value of EO/IR sensor development only becomes apparent during demonstrations in actual military environments. "The real magic happens when you put [technology] with the developers and they meet the sailors out there and they watch their idea come to life," Richardson says. "The amount of creativity out there in the fleet is tremendous." 

Keith Lannan, technical warrant holder for surface EO/IR sensing systems at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, says the Navy fleet recognizes the value of EO/IR sensors, so the demand is strong and growing stronger. 

"The current naval missions driving work in NAVSEA primarily cross different missions and functions, such as navigation, force protection, surface warfare, anti-air, and other support areas," Lannan says. "The key driver is motion imagery from EO/IR sensors that provide day-night, long-range eyes on target, which improves the user's ability to identify targets, perform threat assessment, assess intent in accordance with the rules of engagement, and support weapons engagement through automatic tracking and fire control solutions through line-of-sight. The sensors also support assessment of engagement effectiveness." 

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