Multi-Color Long-wave Infrared (LWIR) Imagers for Infantry Applications
Navy SBIR 2019.1 - Topic N191-001
MCSC - Mr. Jeffrey Kent -
Opens: January 8, 2019 - Closes: February 6, 2019 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Multi-Color Long-wave Infrared (LWIR) Imagers for Infantry Applications


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Battlespace, Electronics, Sensors

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: Combat Optics (PMM140 Infantry Weapons)

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 3.5 of the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop an uncooled long-wave infrared (LWIR) imaging sensor with multi-color capability that increases a Marine’s ability to identify potential dangers while also retaining capabilities for day and night target acquisition, utilizing one imaging system.

DESCRIPTION: Reduction of a Marine’s overall weight loaded by heavy systems is a prime goal of the Marine Corps Systems Command. Current Marine Corps-fielded LWIR (typically defined as 8-14 micron wavelength) imaging systems for infantry applications are general purpose devices, mainly for target acquisition tasks, and utilize a single-color, broadband sensor. Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) is an advanced technique for identifying materials by their spectral signatures and is highly amenable to automatic target recognition when coupled with a library of known threats. The need to divide an imaging band into many tens or hundreds of colors necessarily extends the time required to record a measurable signal, and many HSI systems build images with a slow scan, utilizing stabilized optics. Many HSI platforms are typically aerial or space borne, with availability usually exceeding demand. LWIR systems are more versatile than other imagers as they do not rely on reflected light from the sun or other sources. The longer wavelengths are also more effective in penetrating smoke, dust, fog, and aerosols.

Multi-color systems divide the imaging band into two to tens of colors, but fall short of the many tens to hundreds of colors associated with hyperspectral imaging. A multi-color LWIR imaging sensor could combine capabilities, reducing weight and creating a more effective system. Passive LWIR multi-color systems are desirable to retain the capability to operate in daylight and darkness without supplemental illumination; provide broadband modes comparable to currently fielded imagers; and operate at video speeds to present real-time imagery to the operator. Multi-color LWIR applications to be demonstrated are disturbed earth detection, homemade explosive and chemical weapon constituent/precursor detection, and concealed/camouflaged object detection. Although full hyperspectral capability is likely required to identify specific signatures, it is intended that multi-color capability provide basic object of interest discrimination from the natural background to alert Marines of potential dangers.

Previous experiments in passive LWIR hyperspectral imaging indicate that targets of Marine Corps interest can be discriminated during daylight and darkness, without supplemental illumination. However, the Marine Corps has not pursued further research to determine the minimal number of spectral color bands required to allow a trained operator to detect potential targets of interest within otherwise uniform scene features. Uncooled (e.g., microbolometer-based) thermal imagers are the preferred embodiment for Marine Corps infantry applications, as they have significantly reduced size, weight, power, and cost when compared to cooled systems. The ability to revert to a broadband imaging mode, for long range target acquisition, would eliminate the need for Marines to carry a redundant imaging system. Marines currently utilize two representative uncooled LWIR handheld imaging systems within the Rifle Squad and Platoon, the AN/PAS-30 Mini-Thermal Imager (NSN 5855-01-554-4673), and the larger AN/PAS-28 Medium Range Thermal Bi-ocular (NSN 5855-01-573-2483).

The Phase I effort will not require access to classified information. If need be, data of the same level of complexity as secured data will be provided to support Phase I work. The Phase II and III efforts will likely require secure access, and the contractor will need to be prepared for personnel and facility certification for secure access.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DSS and Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Utilize existing and/or newly collected, unclassified data (Note: The performer may utilize its own or open source data) for performing an analysis to determine the minimal number of colors and scene integration time necessary to detect hidden threats utilizing uncooled LWIR imaging sensors. Perform an initial assessment of applicable technologies for LWIR color filter techniques. If feasible within the constraints of Phase I resources, demonstrate representative technologies for multi-color LWIR imaging that would meet Marine Corps needs. The Government will consider requests for samples of representative targets, hosting of range collection events, and/or Government-owned hyperspectral data files for use during the Phase II effort. Throughout all phases of the effort, the performer shall provide target and environmental modeling assumptions and sensor/optical parameters. It is recommended that performers utilize the Night Vision Integrated Performance Model (NV-IPM), which may be obtained from the U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate [Ref 6]. Develop a Phase II plan.

PHASE II: Develop prototype hardware to demonstrate critical technologies and collection of data representative of actual threats. Develop technologies of interest that show an achievable path for embodiment in the form of a hand-held system that may supplement or replace currently fielded Marine Corps dismounted infantry thermal imaging devices. Multi-color operating modes shall provide hidden target (with a critical dimension/characteristic size similar to personnel targets) detection at no less than 20% of the broadband operating mode detection range (threshold) of upright, moving, personnel targets (0.75 meter size, 2 deg Celsius Target Contrast, V50 Detect = 1.53 cycles), in clear atmospheric conditions, and should provide greater than 33% of broadband personnel detection range (objective). Parameters include: (1) Broadband personnel target detection range shall be commensurate with the form-factor to be selected by the performer; approximately 500 meters, at 70% probability, for a pocket monocular similar to the AN/PAS-30 MTI, and 1,800 meters, at 70% probability, for a two-handed bi-ocular device similar to the AN/PAS-28 MRTB. (2) The widest field of view viewing mode shall be commensurate with the form factor selected by the performer; no less than 18 degrees horizontal for a pocket monocular and no less than 7 degrees horizontal for a two-handed bi-ocular device. (3) Broadband operating mode shall provide imagery at no less than 24 frames per second (threshold), and should provide imagery at no less than 60 frames per second (objective). (4) Broadband operating mode shall provide imagery with no more than 67 milliseconds of latency (threshold), and should provide no more than 17 milliseconds of latency (objective). All operating modes shall present imagery as complete, full field of view, frames (i.e., not push broom/waterfall presentation) with continuous refresh. All imaging modes shall assume a standing operator, holding the system without additional stabilizing support.
Multi-color imaging techniques that provide a frame rate and latency suitable for continuous panning are favored over techniques that require the operator to maintain a single pointing direction for each frame. Techniques that do not require moving parts during operation or when switching between modes are preferred.

Provide analysis to show the chosen technical approach has a feasible development path to meeting the size, weight, and power goals described in Phase III. It is anticipated that data classified at the SECRET level will be produced during the Phase II effort.

It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Marine Corps in transitioning the technology for Marine Corps use. Phase III activities include optimization of the system for size, weight, power, and performance, as well as refinement of components to reduce manufacturing costs. Demonstration of optimized performance or operation in a wider variety of environments and against additional target samples may be performed. The size, weight, and power goals of the Phase III demonstrator shall be commensurate with the form factor selected. For the pocket viewer form factor, the system shall have a box volume of no more than 50 cubic inches, and a weight (with batteries) of no more than 1.5 pounds. For the two-handed bi-ocular form factor, the system shall have a box volume of no more than 300 cubic inches, and a weight (with batteries) of no more than 4 pounds. Both form factors shall have a single-load battery life of no less than five hours during continuous broadband imaging at 20 deg Celsius, when utilizing non-rechargeable Lithium batteries, such as L91 AA or CR123. Alternative embodiments, such as long-range observation devices, weapon sights, or highly mobile head-mounted platforms may be directed by the Sponsor as the utility of the technology is evaluated. It is anticipated that data classified at the SECRET level will be produced during the Phase III effort.

Multi-color LWIR imagers could be used in firefighting and law enforcement applications because of their imaging capabilities through smoke, fog, or aerosols. Multi-color LWIR imagers could also be utilized for counterfeit object detection, vegetation growth monitoring, and hazardous material leak detection.


1. “Military Utility of Multispectral and Hyperspectral Sensors.” Infrared Information Analysis Center, 1994.

2. Schmieder, David and Teague, James. “The History, Trends, and Future of Infrared Technology.” Defense Systems Information Analysis Center, Volume 2 Number 4, Fall 2015.

3. “Analysis of LWIR Soil Data to Predict Reflectance Response.”, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Aug 2009.

4. “Standoff Detection of Trace Level Explosive Residue Using LWIR Hyperspectral Imaging.” Physical Sciences Inc., Oct 2009.

5. “LWIR Multispectral Imaging Chemical Sensor.”, Physical Sciences Inc., 1998.

6. “Night Vision Integrated Performance Model (NV-IPM).” U.S. Army Communications-Research, Development and Engineering Center.

KEYWORDS: Longwave Infrared; Hyperspectral; Multi-Color; Uncooled; Imaging; Sensors



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