Forward vision

Raytheon, Rheinmetall use experience to develop combat vehicle

Raytheon engineers inspect a U.S. Army Abrams main battle tank at Fort Hood, Texas. The company is equipping the tank with next-generation thermal sights.

Two companies that are partnering on a proposal for the U.S. Army's forthcoming Next-Generation Combat Vehicle have experience outfitting a different combat vehicle: the Abrams main battle tank.

Raytheon has been equipping the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle with its Forward-Looking Infrared, or FLIR, sights for decades, and is now upgrading the Abrams tank with next-generation thermal sights.

Rheinmetall designed two key components of the Abrams tank: the 120mm cannon and NATO 120mm ammunition.

FLIR is an advanced targeting system that uses heat, not light, to see through darkness, smoke, rain, snow or fog. This new version will allow soldiers to see more accurately from farther away than the current system.

“Key to survivability of the tank and the unit is ... he who sees first, shoots first,” said John Long, a program manager for Raytheon’s Land Warfare Systems and resident expert on FLIR technology. “And typically, the FLIR allows us in all combat conditions, the ability to reach out and see things before we can be seen.”

Raytheon and Rheinmetall are offering the existing Lynx Infantry Fighting Vehicle as a replacement for the Army’s aging Bradley vehicle.

The design will incorporate Raytheon technologies for combat vehicles, including sights, sensors, fire-control systems and missiles. The Lynx, a prototype fighting vehicle built by Rheinmetall, will provide the foundation. Raytheon’s work on its next-generation thermal sights will pave the way for installing it on the Lynx.

“We’ve got a number of video-processing, image-stabilization algorithms, in addition to other design expertise that really helps set Raytheon’s FLIR systems apart,” said Jonathan McAfee, principle systems engineer for Raytheon's FLIR program.

A tight fit

From the outside, the Abrams tank looks large and spacious, but inside, the turret is filled with multiple, interactive systems inches apart, which makes it challenging to upgrade the technologies it uses. To bring the next-generation thermal sights aboard, company engineers began with a computer-aided design model and then physically inspected a tank to see how they might best install the new tech.

“You can’t cut a new hole in the tank,” McAfee said. “We have to package the additional technology and features that are required into the same form factors and volume as was there previously.”

The next-generation thermal sights will enable users to see across long- and mid-wave bands simultaneously. It will also give soldiers four fields of view: wide, medium, narrow and ultra-narrow. Current systems only offered wide and narrow field of views in the long-wave infrared band.

The additional fields of view and infrared band choices combined with a higher resolution picture will allow soldiers to better optimize the field of view for the conditions they face, resulting in a sharper, more detailed picture. For example, it could help a soldier determine if the subject is holding a shovel or a long gun.

“It’s really a game-changer in a war-type environment,” said Carrie Bradley, a program manager for Raytheon’s Land Warfare Systems.

Raytheon has delivered more than 20,000 2nd GEN FLIR sensors to the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and allies. The company expects to provide next-generation thermal sights technology to the Army this year.

“The advantage of being able to see farther for the soldier is that they have information and they’re able to act faster than the enemy,” Bradley said. “It’s that simple.”

Published On: 03/12/2019
Last Updated: 03/26/2019