Modern Sensors for Defence and Military Applications

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Canon DIGIC 5 image sensor has amazing features that can achieve a capture rate of 10.3 frames per second at full resolution in high-speed burst HQ, full-HD 1080-pixel videos and intelligent image stabilisation. The company claims that this processor is six times faster than DIGIC 4 and efficiently manages the scene information and reduces noise by up to 75 per cent. This image sensor was co-designed with Texas Instruments (TI) and manufactured by TI through foundry partnership in Asia using 45nm node technology fanned out by TI. DIGIC 8 was introduced in February 2018.

DIGIC 4 image processor (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)
Fig. 3: DIGIC 4 image processor (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)

A wide range of military cameras can be found on www.imperx.com/military-cameras/
IR sensors. These are used in image detection and IR jamming of a wide range of military equipment and vehicles including fighter aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), helicopters, hexacopters, tanks, artillery, navy ships, submarines and missiles. Modern IR sensors can detect minute details at distances of over 100 metres. This technology enables aerial vehicles to fly in the darkest of night, while maintaining near-day visibility.

Many objects such as humans, vehicle engines and aircraft generate and emit heat, and so are visible in the IR wavelengths of light. A passive weapon guidance system or IR homing device uses IR light emission from a target to track and follow it.

Charge-couple device (CCD) and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensors are used in digital cameras. Both sensors have relatively similar IR spectral response ranges, but CCD is more dominant because it produces superior images using fabrication technology.

Three-layer IR low-pass filter on CCD sensor (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)
Fig. 4: Three-layer IR low-pass filter on CCD sensor (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)
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MEMS sensors. These sensors could be deployed in airports, military camps, public buildings and other strategic locations. Miniaturised MEMS sensors have become popular for military applications. Many agencies are working on MEMS sensors for military and defence projects to provide technical solutions for the modern forces. For example, MEMS pressure sensors are used in aircraft, jets, helicopters and various harsh environments; chemical sensors are used to provide accurate and timely information to the soldiers regarding noxious battlefield chemicals; friend-or-foe-identification devices enable soldiers to more easily distinguish their own forces from the enemy’s.

Nano-sensors. Technical advances in sensor technology from MEMS to nanotechnology have attracted considerable interest for military applications. The main areas of interest for military applications are to improve medical and casualty care; to produce strong, adaptive, lightweight materials for use in clothing, both for protection and to provide enhanced connectivity. Examples are nano-robots and micro-radars for miniature vehicles.
Most of these are under research but are promising prospects not only for civilians but for military and defence applications, too. There are many government and private bodies actively doing research in this field. The list of organisations working on nanotechnology can be found on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nanotechnology_organizations#Manufacturers
Nanotechnology materials like carbon nano-tube is a tube-shaped material, made of carbon, having a diameter measuring on nanometre scale. Different nano-particles of varying size, structure and composition are used to make chemi-resistor sensors. These sensors are used for the detection of hazardous gases in military and other security applications.

Circular interdigitated electrodes with (l) and without (r) a gold nanoparticle chemi-resistor film
Fig. 5: Circular interdigitated electrodes with (l) and without (r) a gold nanoparticle chemi-resistor film (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)

Wearable sensors. Portable and wearables devices are most desirable for soldiers. Hence, there has been a growing trend of wearable technologies for wider military applications. These devices are embedded into clothing and accessories that can comfortably be worn on the body. Wearable technology is not about style or fashion but is more about the smart use of technologies to assist soldiers and military operations. These devices should not be confused with headphones, helmets or specially-made shoes/gloves.

Wearable devices with small and smart sensors provide better connectivity, enable easy and real-time transfer of data, images, audios and videos. Wearable technologies can enhance the sensing capability, artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions, cognitive abilities and augmented reality (AR). Wearable sensors enable soldiers to be tracked easily, especially in high alert operations, to monitor the safety of each soldier and the troop.

Wearable head-mounted displays (Credit: www.darpa.mil)
Fig. 6: Wearable head-mounted displays (Credit: www.darpa.mil)

To sum up

The concept of battlefield and military operations has changed significantly over the years due to technological revolutions. The nature of support provided by sensor technologies could be wide ranging from simple sensors to AI-based tools for real-time intelligence sharing and decision support. From soldiers on ground to combat pilots, sensors are making their relevance in various military applications. However, with continuous technological advancements in the fields of wireless sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, cognitive sciences, image sensors, wearables and nanotechnology, sensors have a huge potential and can be explored further for military applications.


 

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