Looking good

BAE Systems has begun a two-year project to deliver full hemispherical vision to the commanders and crew of armoured vehicles.

Jim Bob Bryant, tactical decision systems director for BAE Systems at Austin, Texas, said the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) will provide 360-degree situational awareness without the crew having to leave the vehicle or look through a sight to ascertain their environment.

The DAS will be able to function day and night when the vehicle is moving or stationary, combining a field of view from the horizon to directly above the vehicle.

DAS will be developed and demonstrated for the US Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate. ‘That will be accomplished by mounting cameras around the vehicle; providing full hemispherical views,’ said Bryant. ‘Then we’ll use a video processor to “dewarp” images and stick them together seamlessly to give a virtual hemispherical view in near real time.

‘After that we’ll supply user display controls that let the user change his field of view anywhere in that hemisphere and work with other crew members to coordinate what they’re looking at.’

Bryant said this would be achieved by using a colour daylight camera, an image intensifier camera and an uncooled long-wave infrared camera. The cameras will operate invisible and long-wave spectral bands and will be required to provide target recognition and less than 60 milliseconds latency.

For the purposes of the demonstration project, the cameras will be housed in 6in-diameter pods. ‘They’re going to be quite an evident bump on the vehicle because we’re not going to be spending any time miniaturising the profile of them,’ said Bryant. ‘That will be one of the challenges as we move from demo to full field systems. Troops don’t want additional things on the outside of their vehicle because they get in their way.’

Situational awareness technology is already employed on Stryker armoured combat vehicles using a single infrared camera with a single display for the driver. ‘It allows crew members to stay inside the vehicle but the field of view is limited,’ said Bryant, ‘and there’s no video processing, which is something we will integrate into our system.’

Bryant anticipates a number of design challenges in making DAS combat ready. ‘Because we’re providing a full hemispherical field of view, at least one of the cameras will be staring into the sun and we’ll have to figure a way of dealing with that. Then there are the very high data rates. In our proposed approach we have 33 cameras mounted on the vehicle, all running at high frame rates and this is being fused and stitched together in near real time. Hence the processing load is quite high.

‘Then we have to record all this data for playback later, and so we have quite a large stack of hard disc video recorders that accept all this data in real time.’

Bryant anticipates unit costs of the new system will be high but should be weighed against the ‘dire need’ for mounted war fighters for situational awareness in urban warfare settings and in open terrain.

The two-year program will culminate with BAE Systems’ installation of the DAS on an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle modified to simulate a notional vehicle crew station.