The U.S. Army is in the process of fielding a new, advanced set of night vision goggles that features impressive additional sensor fusion and other capabilities that look straight out of a first-person shooter video game. The service recently released a video showing soldiers training with the goggles that offers a very good look at how they not only improve an individual's ability to see at night, but also gives them valuable additional information about what's going on around them on the battlefield.
The footage comes from a weapons qualification event that members of the Army's 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division took part in earlier in the month. The brigade is based at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The soldiers used the new googles, known as the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B) to engage targets on a training range using M4 carbines also equipped with the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual (FWS-I), a new compact thermal optic.
You can watch the entire video of the training below. The clip that shows what the user sees when looking through the ENVG-B comes at the very end, at around 6:56 in the runtime.
What you see first in the footage when it comes to the picture the ENVG-B presents to the user is a very good overview of the kind of new capabilities the goggles offer. What's immediately notable is that the view has something of reddish tint in certain areas, rather than the green or gray coloration commonly associated with night vision optics.
This is because the ENVG-B fuses together the view from an image intensifier, just like you would get with older night vision optics, and one from a thermal sensor. This combination offers greater overall fidelity compared to older goggles and also provides a means of spotting targets through visual obscurants, such as dust and smoke.
Also seen right in the center of the view is another key feature of the ENVG-B, the ability to wirelessly connect to other optics, in this case the FWS-I, and overlay that feed on top of everything else. This allows soldiers to take advantage of the magnification of those optics to more closely investigate targets and other objects of interest.
They can also fire on them, from the shoulder or the hip, as seen in the video, using that remote sight picture. That additional feed means that troops can point their weapons around corners to get a view of what might be around them without having to expose themselves to potential hostile fire.
The ENVG-B can present these various feeds in many other different ways, as well. The video shows the soldier switch to having the feed from the FWS-I as a picture-in-picture in the lower right-hand corner of the display, before swapping it around so that the optic on the rifle is their primary view. The display can further be toggled to just show the feed from offboard systems.
The Army, as well as the ENVG-B's manufacturer, L3Harris Technologies, says the goggles' wireless connectivity means that it can also pipe in other kinds of data and project that onto the display, including from the Army's Nett Warrior situational awareness system. This turns the entire system into a sort of miniature heads-up and situational display for individual troops.
The video from the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division's weapons range training only shows a compass. A video that L3Harris previously released also shows another view with a video game-esque "radar" in the corner showing the general locations of friendly troops in relation to the user, as well as possible hostiles and other waypoints and objects of interest. A red diamond symbol, the U.S. military's standard symbol for enemy forces, is also seen in the center of the feed denoting the location of a hostile structure and the picture-in-picture view has more information about that building.
"Any info that can make it to a tactical radio, as long as that’s in Nett Warrior, can be populated into the picture-in-picture mode in the video," Lynn Bollengier, President, Integrated Vision Solutions Sector at L3Harris Technologies, said at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference, which was held virtually in October due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This raises the possibility of linking the ENVG-Bs to other sensors and data feeds, including those from manned and unmanned fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as manned and unmanned vehicles on the ground, among other sources. One of the most obvious immediate uses of this capability would be to pipe the feed from a drone into the goggles to allow soldiers to more readily identify enemy forces and other possible hazards well ahead of their positions. This would give even small Army units significant advantages when maneuvering on the battlefield, making it easier to flank opponents, scout ahead, or simply avoid dangerous spots.
Altogether, ENVG-B represents a major upgrade of the sensor and situation awareness capabilities available to each Army soldier. It's also the result of extensive work that's been going on for more than a decade now. ENVG-B itself is an outgrowth of the monocular ENVG series, which first demonstrated many of the features now found on the refined binocular system, including the sensor fusion and multi-display options.
Compared to those previous goggles, the ENVG-B also offers a wider field of view. It can still be used in a monocular configuration that gives the user a more readily available option to see normally, if desired, as well.
The Army is already looking at helmet-mounted optics that will offer even greater functionality, including true augmented reality capabilities that could be valuable during combat, as well as training. The service, together with the Marine Corps, conducted a major test of one such system now in development, the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), in October.
“There are a lot of features on it that are futuristic, I guess you could say, including things like advanced battle tracking,” Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Christopher, an Army paratrooper that took part in that testing said. “I can see where my entire platoon is projected on a map, and for me as a platoon leader, that's amazing, because there's a lot of guesswork that goes out the window. There's a lot of verbal communication over radios that I don't have to do anymore. It's very solid I can see how this is going to make a great impact on the way we fight."
Earlier this year, pictures emerged showing special operations forces, and the conventional forces supporting them, in Syria using an Israeli-made computerized weapons sight that also features advanced targeting and target recognition features, among others. The system is primarily in service there now to offer an additional capability to bring down small drones as well as extremely accurate fire, but could have broader applications within the U.S. military as a whole. You can read more about the Smart Shooter SMASH 2000 system and an automated gun turret, that also looks straight out of a video game, in these past War Zone pieces.
There have been significant advances in night vision technology that allows users to see in near true color, even in the middle of the night, as well, which the Army could look to integrate either into the ENVG-B or a future system. You can read more about color night vision in this past War Zone piece.
The Army has historically owned the night compared to most other adversaries, but even non-state actors are increasingly using older, but still useful night vision goggles and thermal optics. The impressive new capabilities that the ENVG-Bs offer show that the service has been working hard to ensure its soldiers maintain their edge over any opponent once the sun sets, but above all else, it is maybe our clearest reminder as of late that what was recently the stuff only seen in video games is now become very much part of our reality.