The Unseen Solution: Rugged, Reliable Optics in the Modern Battlespace (Studio)
Brought to you in partnership with Raytheon ELCAN
As the often-unseen enablers behind ISR systems, navigation, missile warning systems and small arms, optics are vital.
‘Winning in today’s battlefield is all about managing information,’ said Mike Lewis, director and general manager of Raytheon ELCAN, manufacturer of optical solutions such as the line of ELCAN Specter sights.
‘It means getting the clearest information as quickly as possible so people can make the best decisions to keep their personnel safe and win in extreme environments.’
Precision is essential, he said. Advances in AI have brought significant leaps in data analysis, but this is ‘all dependent on the core functionality of the optics’.
They must also be highly robust, capable of enduring extreme environments, including thermal stresses and extremes of wind, rain, sand and dust.
‘If you can sight and see at two kilometres and the opposition are seeing at one kilometre, that gives you a significant tactical advantage,’ he said. ‘The best optics in the world give you that.’
Raytheon ELCAN is a specialist in the design, manufacture and precision assembly of electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) products for militaries, including rifle sights, laser optics, space ISR, cockpit avionics and more.A core focus is dual-role sights like the SpectrDR range, though there have been new advances, such as the Specter Digital Fire Control Sight (DFCS).
The Pursuit of Lightweight, Compact, and Portable Solutions
No matter the domain, success is achieved when ‘everyone has the ability to utilise some sort of optical system,’ said Kristy Dalzell, associate director of engineering at Raytheon ELCAN.
All operators need optical solutions that are ‘lighter, more compact and more portable’, she said. This is a vital part of Raytheon ELCAN’s technology roadmap, with the company pursuing advances in waveband combinations and materials engineering.
The US and its allies are increasingly focused on the CJADC2 battlespace, in which systems and sensors across land, sea, air, space and cyber will increasingly interact to overwhelm adversaries. Optical solutions and other sensors will be key, providing an accurate picture of this complex battlespace and enabling commanders to make decisions quickly.
Chris Reimer, strategic business manager at Raytheon ELCAN, highlighted the example of modern-day infantry. Optical solutions place such personnel at the centre of the CJADC2 battlespace. This can be active, where they use a sight to designate a target and transmit this information to other operators.
In the future, with advances in AI and machine learning, the technology will ‘start analysing the situation automatically’, Reimer said.
Such automatic target tracking and detection is a growing demand for some customers.
‘Digitalisation of our sights is going to lead to a much broader capability in the future in terms of networking,’ he said.
Raytheon ELCAN is exploring the new capabilities that this could enable. For example, Reimer said that fire control units could gain new functionality beyond accurate targeting, supporting wider networking.
Weight reduction is a key priority in the future, added Reimer. Powered rails in weapon systems and advances in miniaturisation could provide potential solutions.
AI/ML has particularly strong potential in optical solutions because the systems are designed to harvest actionable data. Future data-driven technologies will be built on advanced sights and similar systems.
Optical solutions provide the information that supports the broader command and control (C2) system, said Sean Diening, associate director of business development and programme management at Raytheon ELCAN.
‘The better the information that you have coming in, the more reliable and wide-ranging the datasets that you have, the better decisions that you can make.’
Enhancing Communication and Situational Awareness
This is driving innovation, he said. For example, he pointed to the evolution of free-form optics, which provide greater flexibility and freedom in design compared to traditional spherical optics.
Such design and manufacturing advances are a key advantage for Raytheon ELCAN, said Dalzell. She highlighted the company’s work in additive manufacturing, which can enable novel structural designs. When combined with efforts in “light-weighting” materials, ‘you can put strength where you need it’.
Dalzell also highlighted advances in optical materials, which can cover larger wavebands than traditional infrared crystals, germanium or silicon.
‘You can mould the optics at a lower cost – you can use less optics to do the same thing,’ she said. Dalzell also noted wider advances in augmented reality (AR) applications, which could be applied to sights.
No matter the sight or the domain, all these developments focus on one key goal: enhancing communication and situational awareness across the battlespace. Raytheon ELCAN works closely with its military customers to address the core challenges and opportunities of optical solutions in the modern, data-driven battlespace, said Lewis.
‘How can optics withstand higher thresholds of laser damage? How can they withstand higher temperature stresses or blowing sand at higher speeds?’ he said.
‘These are all areas where we’re driving investment, looking at new capabilities from new equipment, new manufacturing processes and new design approaches to meet our customers’ demands.’
Discover how Raytheon ELCAN has been delivering high‐precision optical systems for the most demanding challenges in the world.
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