ECM symposium focuses on new defence tech in imaging and night vision fields


Recent developments in the areas of high-speed imaging, weapons sighting, night vision, augmented reality for the battlefield, and X-ray detection were laid out to senior South African security forces officials in late September.

Overseas companies associated with local defence firm ECM Technologies showed their latest wares at ECM Technologies’ defence symposium in Pretoria. Many of ECM’s overseas suppliers were in town to participate at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2022 exhibition held at Air Force Base Waterkloof.

Highlights of the ECM Technologies symposium included a presentation on the defence applications of high-speed imaging. Photron Europe, a subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer of cameras which capture high resolution images from micro high-speed cameras, pointed to the new military applications for their imagery. For example, high-speed images taken from inside an armoured personnel carrier could, in the event of the vehicle hitting a mine, allow more accurate and quicker medical diagnosis of injuries. Slowing down the video of the blast and seeing how it occurred could also help avoid the mis-diagnosis of injuries.

Over the past twenty years, militaries around the world have been increasingly adopting high end optical sights for wider use by their forces for improved aiming and use in low light. High end rifle sights allow greater accuracy and also help reduce training times, and low light sights help ensure far greater force effectiveness at night. While night sights were once almost the exclusive preserve of special forces, they are increasingly being adopted more widely by security forces.

Photonis, the French and Dutch privately owned manufacturer of intensifier tubes, a key component in many night vision sights, is able to achieve performance levels that are well in excess of those that fall under US export regulations.

The company now dominates the intensifier tube market and its products are able to perform at a minimum of 2300 on the Figure of Merit (FOM) scale, used to gauge the degree of light intensity the product is able to achieve. Products that exceed 1300 on the FOM scale fall under US export regulations if these apply. A Figure of Merit score is calculated by multiplying the device’s resolution by the signal to noise ratio.

Trijicon, a US company founded by South African Glyn Bindon, presented its product range, including the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which has been widely adopted by military forces, including by the US Marine Corps and special forces in a number of countries.

Night vision and thermal solutions are increasingly sold to sniper programmes around the world. To ensure quick changes in different lighting conditions, UK firm Qioptiq’s solution allows a day sight to remain in place while a night vision sight is placed in front. This means the weapon does not have to be sighted in again as was the case when dedicated day and night sights were used.

UK company Thermoteknix Systems gave a demonstration of its helmet-mounted thermal imaging sighting product that can be combined with an augmented reality system. Augmented reality adds digital information to a live view such as that of a battlefield or a scene. Virtual reality allows the user to act in a digital world.

Thermoteknix ClipIR XD Series are helmet mounted monocular displays that deliver fused thermal and intensified light imaging. External video with data feeds from battle awareness systems such as the Android Team Awareness Kit can be received through the devices. Real-time navigational, tactical, and augmented reality data for situational awareness and live battlefield data can be fed through to the user. The system can be integrated into an Android device, and maps and other information can be delivered to the soldier on the ground.

Border and customs officials, police services, army engineers, and other forces are now highly reliant on X-ray technology in tasks that range from cargo and suspicious package inspection to bomb detection. It has now become a lot easier to X-ray in confined environments with amorphous silicon technology. Scanna MSC, a maker of X-ray solutions, said this new technology allows plates to be a lot thinner and lighter and allows X-ray images to be made at much higher resolutions in confined environments, where there is little room to place a plate behind the object under investigation. According to ECM there are a number of these systems in use in South Africa.