US commandos want full-color night vision and silent drones

The Pentagon office in charge of outfitting America’s secret warriors is asking industry for new technologies that will allow commandos to target and track bad guys through goggles or a head’s up display in their weapon sights, see colors at night and fly small surveillance drones that are nearly undetectable.

The new technologies sound like something from science fiction, but the spec ops gear buyers want to see what industry has in the works that could get to troops behind enemy lines in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya.

According to an official industry solicitation, U.S. Special Operations Command will hold a so-called “Military Utility Assessment” at Camp Blanding, Florida, in mid-November to see what capabilities are out there to enhance special operators’ ability to see the enemy in adverse conditions, surveil bad guy positions at great distances and tag and track targets without detection.

Current night vision equipment either enhances available light like stars or the moon or uses thermal imaging to see heat. Both technologies can be digitally modified to present the images in limited color, but the detail is usually poor.

The special operations community wants to see if there are options out there that help commandos identify objects and people in the dark with better resolution.

Afghan and coalition force members provide security during an operation in search of a Taliban leader in Kandahar city, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. The leader manages a network on Taliban informants throughout Kandahar province, gathering intelligence for the network's use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also participated in public executions of Afghan officials, has assisted in the facilitation of weapons to local fighters, and was directly associated with Abdullah Wakil, the former ranking Taliban commander for Panjwa'i district. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Hulett)

Afghan and coalition force members provide security during an operation in search of a Taliban leader in Kandahar city, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Hulett)

The command is looking for night optics “that aid in target discrimination, mobility, combat identification, identify friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner.”

“The need is from clear sky no moon to daylight conditions,” USSOCOM says. “A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination is of interest.”

The special operators will consider systems that either attach to existing goggles, scopes or optics or entire new night vision equipment that can replace them. The key is keeping down the weight and increasing battery life, the command says.

SOCOM also wants to see if there are options out there for passive targeting scopes that will allow commandos to move a cursor to their target and share that data with other assaulters and snipers. They even want to be able to call in air strikes using the embedded targeting capability.

U.S. Army Rangers from 75th Ranger Regiment shoot at targets on Farnsworth Range, Fort Benning, Ga., July 27, as part of a stress fire competition as one of the events of Ranger Rendezvous 2011. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Marcus Butler, USASOC Public Affairs)

U.S. Army Rangers from 75th Ranger Regiment shoot at targets on Farnsworth Range, Fort Benning, Ga., July 27, as part of a stress fire competition as one of the events of Ranger Rendezvous 2011. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Marcus Butler, USASOC Public Affairs)

Clearly, unmanned aerial vehicles have become an important part of warfighting these days, and SOCOM wants to see how it can take advantage of the bleeding edge of technology for unmanned systems. The command has asked industry if it can field drones that are unseen and unheard above a target and can see details like vehicle license plates or the types of bombs loaded on a parked plane.

The special operators want “technologies that can be programmed to orbit or perch and stare at an area or object of interest,” it said. “Technology should be visually and acoustically undetectable by persons or systems resident at an observed area or object of interest, while providing users VNIIRS 9 or better video quality in real time.”

SOCOM is asking for technology proposals that are either on the drawing board or have prototypes ready for field testing.

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