The US Armed Forces is investing in the next generation of night vision technology. The US Army and US Marine Corps are fielding two different night vision systems that provide better depth perception and add thermal imaging to image intensification technology that will give soldiers clearer night vision even when dealing with overgrown areas.

When night vision technology was first deployed during the Second World War, it sparked a revolution in warfare. Instead of waiting to attack at dawn, the ability to see in the dark turned combat into a 24-hr affair, and it's also the reason the control of the export of such technology is one of the strictest security concerns.

It's also why there's such an imperative to improve each new generation of night vision devices. One example is the helmet-mounted Binocular Night Vision Goggle II (BNVG II) that's being deployed with the US Marine Corps. This uses white phosphor image intensification technology to amplify the ambient light from stars and other sources, but also includes a Clip-On Thermal Imager (COTI) that provides the amplified image with a thermal overlay for greater clarity that allows soldiers to see in foliated areas and even identify explosives. In addition, the new design provides greater depth perception for improved situational awareness.

The BNVG II Generation-3 Dual-Tube Night Vision Goggle is an advance on the current AN/PVS-15 binocular, but along with COTI, the BNVG II is more rugged. Thanks to its ergonomic design and light weight, the new goggles mount easily on the Enhanced Combat Helmet and can be used alone or with the COTI unit. It can detect explosives and power sources, and it can work in dark conditions, rain, fog, dust, smoke, and see through bushes.

So far, the BNVG II has been deployed with the Force Reconnaissance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines and is expected to go full operational capability next year.

"In March, we held an exercise in San Diego where Marines provided positive feedback on their ability to easily maneuver with the goggles," says Joe Blackstone, Optics Team lead in Infantry Weapons. "The depth perception provided by the BNVG II enhances precision and increases the operator's survivability while on missions with limited lighting."

Meanwhile, the US Army has awarded a contract to L3 Technologies to produce next-generation night vision binoculars. The three-year, US$391 million contract is for the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle – Binocular (ENVG-B) that, like the BNVG II, will employ white phosphor technology for image amplification in a dual-tube layout as well as a thermal imaging system for better clarity.

Along with the improved high-resolution optics, the ENVG-B has augmented reality algorithms to interface with the Army's Nett Warrior wireless personal area network for sharing data and can work with the next generation of weapon sights.

"These advanced night vision capabilities reflect L3's intense focus on developing and providing innovative technologies that make our customers better and more effective in the field," says Christopher E. Kubasik, L3's Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. "As the Army continues to modernize to keep pace with near-peer adversaries, our agility and experience enable us to move quickly in a heightened threat environment. We are proud to deliver solutions that strengthen our collaborative partnerships and help safeguard our national security."