Battlespace Tech

Marine tank commanders will now see in color and infrared on the battlefield


Marine Corps tank commanders need a detailed understanding of their situation and surroundings, especially when under fire. To address that issue, thermal sight capability and a color camera are being added to the Abrams Integrated Display and Targeting System

According to Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Downs, Project Officer for the M1A1 in the Armor and Fire Support Systems, AIDATS thermal sights double the distance at which identification can be verified, while the day sights triple that distance.  

The upgraded AIDATS is specific to the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, used by the Marine Air Ground Task Force. The improved thermal sights and day sights are mounted in front of the tank and consist of the color daytime camera, the thermal sight, a display and processor, and power filter module, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.

“The most significant benefit–the main reason why AIDATS was started–is the color display,” explained Michael Kreiner, Project Officer for AIDATS in the Marine Corps Systems Command Armor and Fire Support Systems. “Users didn’t like the black and white camera that was in the tank before, because they have a hard time distinguishing between different color trucks.”

In addition, the commander independent thermal view designed by Raytheon, provides the commander with 360 degree, stabilized night and day vision.

“Thermal sight can be used for 24 hours. It has low light capabilities, can see through obscurants, and works in the diverse environments under adverse weather conditions,” said James Shaffer, a systems engineer at MCSC Armor and Fire Support Systems.

Most next generation thermal capability is provided by long-wave infrared sensors. The latest technology is focused on improving performance of long wave infrared sensors by packing more pixels into each sensor. The technology uses vanadium oxide to create microbolometers, which are the infrared wavelength detectors inside the sensor.  When infrared wavelengths reflect off an object and hit the microbolometers, they heat up and use temperature differences to determine the shape of the object in question, according to the Optical Society of America.

Formerly, the thermal imaging system for the M1A1 was just available to the gunner through an eyepiece that had a magnification between three and ten times, depending on the field of view, according to a Marine Corps statement. Now, a single stationary display is fixed inside the Abram turret to allow full situational awareness under armored cover. Auxiliary video input is fed to the display from the thermal sights.

“AIDATS also has an azimuth indicator that will allow the tank commander to identify where his weapon is in relation to the vehicle at that moment. On the legacy system, the tank commander had no situational awareness of where the weapons system is in relationship to the turret,” said Gunnery Sgt. Downes.

According to a Marine Corps press release the AIDATS upgrade is part of a MCSC trifecta modernization for the tank commander weapon station on the M1A1 tank. Aside from AIDATS, a new Tank Commander Single Handle, and slew-to-cue capability will also be implemented.

Work was originally begun under a $12 million contract with Raytheon last year, and will now be advanced through a $10 million contract. The contract modification is specifically focused on the thermal sight and daytime camera integration and is scheduled to complete by July 2019.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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