Transition from low-def to high-def infrared will be a boon to military ISR and lens manufacturers
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 22 April 2015. One of the biggest trends in military night vision these days involves the transition to high-definition (HD) infrared sensors, which will enhance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and provide big opportunities to infrared lens manufacturers who are tooling up to meet new demand.
HD infrared was on the minds of many attending this week's SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing conference and trade show in Baltimore. "Lens manufacturers just can't keep up," said a representative of one HD infrared sensor manufacturer.
Users of military surveillance and reconnaissance systems will be able to see more than they ever have before with HD infrared, industry experts say. One likened HD infrared capability to the difference between looking through a paper towel tube, and relatively wide field of view.
This could mean not only more information, but also the need for fewer surveillance platforms and fewer reconnaissance missions to gather the same quality of video and imagery.
These new sensors, which start at resolutions of 1,920 by 1,280 pixels, are being deployed today on weapon systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other advanced systems. Later HD infrared will approach resolutions of 2,000 by 2,000 pixels, with each pixel progressively becoming smaller and smaller.
These sensors will start out to be large and heavy, but are expected to evolve to sizes to fit medium- and small-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other manned and unmanned systems. It's only a matter of time before the costs of HD infrared sensors start coming down, too.
The trend from low-definition to high-definition infrared is expected to bring unprecedented capability for infrared sensors of all kinds. For UAVs, for example, it means these sensors can pull out much more detail from infrared images and video than they can today. Also, it will mean that manned and unmanned aircraft can get the same detail from much higher altitudes.
HD infrared "will change the way we look at the world," said one lens manufacturer. "You're going to see things we've never seen before.
New high-def infrared sensors, however, can require new lenses for infrared cameras, especially for the most demanding applications. High-definition images and video are different dimensions than low-def images. Using the same lenses for low-def and high-def infrared imagery would cut off portions of the image and diminish the intelligence value.
Particularly for sensitive military surveillance applications, new lenses will be a must, and lens manufacturers are rising to the occasion. One lens manufacturer estimates that is transition to HD infrared will represent a lens market worth hundreds of millions of dollars over two to three years.