Night vision, that critical technological advantage on the modern battlefield, is still on the US military’s side, according to the Army.
In March, Troops from the 101st Airborne Division spent three weeks at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, testing two new pieces of night vision technology and a tracking device.
The soldiers tested the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B), the Family Weapon Sights-Individual (FWS-I), and the Nett Warrior. The Army plans to use the first two to replace respectively the PVS 14 Night Vision Monocular and the PAS 13 Thermal Rifle Optic.
“The ENVG-B is leaps and bounds beyond what we have now, it’s really impressive technology,” Specialist Timmoy Ellis, with the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, said in a press release. “My first time in a unit when I tried out the old NODs [night observation device] last year, I got lost and was all the way on the other side of where I was supposed to be. So this will especially help the new guys that haven’t walked in the field at night, they’ll be able to see exactly where they’re going. I wouldn’t have gotten lost if I had these ENVG-B’s, that’s for sure.”
The three weeks of testing falls under the Army’s effort to have the end-users test and evaluate new technological pieces to ensure that the vision meets their operational needs.
“The Nett Warrior technology gives us a better understanding of what we’re getting ready to go do, and helps us battle plan and track each other,” Sergeant William Williams, stated. “As a squad leader, it’s nice to have the Nett Warrior, even if it is not being pumped into the NODs itself I can take that quick tactical pause, flip my phone down on my kit to check it out, and see where all my guys are at and see exactly what’s happening on the battlefield.”
The Nett Warrior device complements the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK)—a tablet-like device currently in use—and projects map graphics and a blue force tracker, which notes the position of friendly forces, in order to increase situational awareness on the team, squad, and even company level.
“With Nett Warrior you don’t have to be confused,” added Ellis. “You know there’s a river right here so plot to go around it, you know this team is over here, this squad is over there, you know exactly where everyone’s at so you don’t have to stop the formation to look for guys or see if they got stuck at an obstacle, so we can plan accordingly. It’s pretty cool.”
Finally, the FWS-I optic connects with the ENVG-B goggle and allows soldiers to engage targets they can’t directly see. For example, a soldier can point his M4 with an FWS-I optic around the corner and engage a target at the other end of a corridor without actually being in the corridor. What used to be called “spray and pray” might be more viable with this optic than it is now.
“When you integrate those technologies you’re going to increase situational awareness and also lethality at night,” Major Bryan Kelso, PEO Soldier Assistant Product Manager for ENVG-B, stated “You get added capabilities such as rapid target acquisition, the ability to passively bring the weapon optic into the goggle, and also augmented reality when you bring in any of the icons displayed on the Soldier’s Nett Warrior end user device [EUD]. Those all feed straight into the ENVG-B goggles so the Soldiers don’t have to open up their EUD and they can keep moving and seeing those graphical icons.”
For the past two decades, night vision has offered American and Coalition troops a great advantage over their enemies, who are blind in the dark. That advantage, however, is running out as the US military is shifting its focus on Great Power Competition with near-peer adversaries, such as China and Russian. Although America’s competitors can’t claim dominance in the dark, they aren’t blind as the Taliban, Saddam’s Iraqi Army, al-Qaida, or ISIS terrorist were.