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New advanced technologies improve situational awareness for land forces

The past decade has seen rapid developments in the technologies that allow ground combat forces to collect information, analyze it, and foster communications between teams and machines. In civilian applications, new developments in connectivity, sensors, artificial intelligence and data processing have led to new achievements for the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, and AI-based services like telehealth and content recommendation. At their core, these improvements largely come down to gathering and processing information.

On the battlefield, land forces are grappling with the question of how to collect information from as many signals as possible while allowing those in the field to operate seamlessly. How can a military unit gather as much information as possible and use it to enhance situational awareness for planning, maneuver, lethality and protection?

The need for situational awareness is made more critical by the evolution of threats in today’s combat environments. Enemy forces are advancing in their technological maturity, with both mounted and dismounted soldiers needing to contend with UAVs, IEDs and other emerging weaponry. Land forces also face the ever-present threat of a major technological breakthrough, such as hypersonic or directed energy weapons which could change the balance of power.

Seeing through the fog of war

The traditional way of viewing information in a land vehicle has changed. In previous eras and contexts, individual humans were fully responsible for situational awareness; in modern warfare, situational awareness is the responsibility of both the human and the machines serving them. Advances in sensor fusion have dramatically improved the ability to collect data, aggregate it, and make an immediate difference on the battlefield. Digital crews support situational awareness by meshing sensor-processing capabilities with the AI-backed tools for enhancing decision-making. As the U.S. Army considers the possibility of reducing the size of manned vehicle crews from three to two, these developments in sensor fusion will be a critical enabler for man-machine teaming and data-backed decision-making — essential needs for every step in the operational cycle. 

Thales’ optronic solutions for soldiers and platforms unite sensors, connectivity and artificial intelligence to deliver advanced perception for land forces. These tools – including night-vision goggles, thermal imagers, threat detection sensors, surveillance UAVs, and soldier-worn communications and data solutions – dramatically increase the number of data inputs available to a vehicle crew, providing a more thorough understanding of the battlefield situation. Today’s conflicts are no longer simply a case of human forces; success is defined by a unit’s vehicle capabilities, aviation assets, drones, and communications capabilities. Soldier optronics make it possible for human-to-human, human-to-machine, and machine-to-machine data transmission to take place in real-time with maximum impact.

Zeroing in on the hidden threat

The most important goals of any military unit are to accomplish their mission while bringing soldiers home safely. Thales’s ambition is to simultaneously increase the lethality and protection of land forces. In the case of situational awareness, keeping soldiers safe is a matter of quickly and accurately detecting and identifying threats. With the increasing use of UAVs in the modern battlefield, threat detection technologies have little margin for error. Extending the range at which land forces can detect threats provides an immediate and tangible benefit to soldier safety. Adequate threat detection must extend not just across the surface of the battlefield, but also vertically in order to detect UAVs.

Recent advances in infrared cameras and data processing algorithms have dramatically increased the distance at which objects can be detected. While traditional off-the-shelf algorithms can detect objects at 50-60 meters, Thales’ threat detection solutions have extended that reach significantly, both horizontally and vertically. Additionally, developing solutions allow land forces to identify threats both pre-shot and post-shot, providing a decisive information advantage and overmatch capability. Auto-target detection, tracking and search capabilities support mounted crews during the planning and protection phases of the operational cycle.

Thales’ Acusonic Gunshot Detection System combines acoustic sensors and tracking algorithms to provide automatic detection and location of sniper fire, small arms fire and cannon fire. Acusonic is a passive detection system that utilizes the supersonic shock wave and the weapon’s muzzle blast, along with a proprietary and patented technique of bullet-wake signature detection. The additional data point of bullet wake detection allows for detection and location even in high-noise environments, and in all weather conditions.  With a single Acusonic head on a vehicle platform, crews can achieve 360-degree coverage of the immediate area, although multiple heads may be required to cover any blind spots on the vehicle, depending on mounting position. The sensor system features a low integration burden, with software hosted on either the platform’s existing processor, or standalone via a standard tablet. 

Rapid technological advancements, emerging threats and new military expectations have made this a pivotal moment for situational awareness on land battlefields. New solutions must deliver critical information while reducing the burden on the end user. Thales solutions for situational awareness leverage leading-edge technologies, advanced algorithms, and oversight from accomplished warfighters to create products that enhance soldier safety and lethality.