Next-generation technology boosts soldier lethality. Credit: US Army.

Weapons that can see. That’s right, weapons that can actually see.

Point it around a corner and shoot — and it will hit the target. All you need to do is expose your hands and the rifle.

Sounds crazy, but, the US Army’s ENVG-B can do that.

But let’s take a step back here. How is this possible?

Increasingly miniaturized sensors and displays mean every rifleman may have a network between their sight and their binoculars, Breaking Defense reported.

The Enhanced Night Vision Goggles – Binocular (ENVG-B) look almost analog, like a set of fancy, lightweight binoculars mounted on a helmet. By contrast, traditional night vision goggles are monocular, which limits depth perception.

But inside, they are a sophisticated set of sensors, aided by cameras and on-board memory, that incorporate with other networked gear carried into battle, Breaking Defense reported.

No longer would they have to look downward to discern information, as they do with present systems. Besides a visual of what is in front of them, they would know their compass heading, locations of friendlies and enemies, and a host of other readings.

Also, the new devices would be issued to entire squads rather than two or three members, so that everyone is fighting at the same level of capability, National Defense reported.

Instead of a goggle system through a tube, the new system would allow for what the Army calls “true see-through display” — that is, goggles and glasses that include artificial intelligence and machine learning.

ENVG-B is still being fielded across the force — the Army awarded L3 Technologies a three-year, US$391 million contract — but the Army is already developing a next-gen system, a set of augmented reality targeting goggles — a militarized Microsoft HoloLens — known as IVAS.

The Army’s also developing an Adaptive Squad Architecture to ensure all the different technologies going on a soldier’s body are compatible, Breaking Defense reported.

“ENVG-B is a system of systems,” Lynn Bollengier of L3 Harris Technologies said at this week’s “virtual” Association of the US Army conference (AUSA). These systems include integrated augmented reality aspects from the Nett Warrior tablet, as well as wireless interconnectivity with weapon sights.

Sounds like a lot of tech, doesn’t it. What about good old hand grenades? Oops, that doesn’t fit with today’s “Defense Internet of Things,” battlefield.

All combined, that means a soldier wearing the ENVG-B can look through their binoculars, turn on the camera in their rifle’s sight, and point that sight around a corner to see and shoot, without exposing anything more than their hands or the rifle, Breaking Defense reported.

Because the night-vision enhancement initiative would apply to Marines as well, the two services are working closely together and with Special Operations Command to ensure that such systems are acceptable to their missions.

“In the long term, we want improvements and capabilities and are working with the Army and SOCOM … to see where, we align and leverage with each other,” said Billy Epperson, the Marine Corps’ infantry weapons and optics capabilities integration officer.

“We always have representatives from warfighters and operating forces as a voice — from the beginning all the way to final selection,” Epperson said. “The last thing we want to do is field something they absolutely hate and refuse to carry.”

Industry participants who are vying for roles in future night-vision development understand that their main goal is to enable individual soldiers and Marines to see better in the battlefield.

“A key question is, how do you balance performance with soldier load?” said Billy Fabian, a former infantry officer in Iraq and now a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

“As our dismounted soldiers get more protection — body armor, etc. — as well as advanced optics such as night vision, it adds a lot of weight,” Fabian told National Defense.

The next generation of night-vision technology will address these issues, Fabian believes. Such capabilities would amount to a “pretty huge step,” he said. “All of the improvements would make the dismounted soldier and Marine more lethal and survivable.”

One example of this on display at AUSA was a picture-in-picture display.

While still allowing the soldier 40 degrees of horizontal and vertical visibility, the ENVG-B binoculars could incorporate a small, picture-in-picture image from a second source, Breaking Defense reported.

“Any info that can make it to a tactical radio, as long as that’s in Nett Warrior, can be populated into the picture-in-picture mode in the video,” said Bollengier.

The most immediate uses of this feature would be live video from other cameras on the battlefield, including those carried by planes, drones, or other sensor-rich vehicles, Breaking Defense reported.

Another possibility is that a soldier could upload a complete 3D model of the hill they are fighting around, drawn from the Army’s One World Terrain database.

While originally designed for training, One World Terrain is designed to be a comprehensive 3D map of the entire world, shared in a common library that can be adapted to training or battlefield needs.

Again, it sounds more like a video game, than a grunt up the hill, to destroy the pillbox.

The primary challenge, the Army says, will be maintaining that connectivity and making sense of the information as it arrives. Ah yes, the information.

When bullets are zooming past your head, and an enemy position must be taken, will any of this tech really be of help, or a hindrance?

All these things are nice, but I think I’d just keep my head down.

— Breaking Defense, National Defense