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This company wants F-35-style helmets in future tanks

A top U.S. military technology company has announced that it's working on new technology to give tank and armored vehicle crews a 360-degree view of the outside even when they're buttoned up in armor with no windows.


Basically, crews will be able to see a virtual view of the world through the steel-plated sides of their tanks.

It's going to be a brave new world for armor crews. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rebecca L. Floto)

The new helmet technology being developed by Raytheon BBN Technologies is part of a project initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to develop futuristic survivability tools for armored vehicles.

"Our team is developing a virtual experience that gives the crews of armored military vehicles greater awareness of what's going on outside the vehicle, while also reducing their vulnerability to attack," David Diller, a program manager for Raytheon BBN Technologies, said in a press release. "We're creating a three-dimensional model of the environment in real time that gives users views of their outside environment that would not normally be possible from inside the vehicle."

The team aims to incorporate trackers for friendly forces, hostile fire, and known threats into the crew's displays so the troops can concentrate on maneuver and tactics.

The system aims to use lidar, the same laser-imaging science that is in Google's self-driving cars, to create the map of the surroundings while high-definition video lets the crew see what is going on around them.

A Paladin crew member inspects the firing chamber of his vehicle. Armored vehicles like the Paladin are cramped with few windows and openings, but new technologies could let the crew see the battlefield around them. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Hector Corea)

Pilots who fly the F-35 Lightning II currently have a system that uses that plane's sensors to achieve a similar effect, allowing the pilot to "see" through the aircraft. While the F-35 program has come under fire for cost overruns and delays, pilots and program managers have pointed at the tactical awareness the helmet gives as a game-changer in future fights.

If tank crews can get similar awareness when they're going toe-to-toe with enemy armor, that could tip the scales in their favor during a decisive battle.

Raytheon BBN Technologies is owned by the Raytheon Company and is working on DARPA's Grond X-Vehicle Technologies program, which aims to improve America's vehicles by enhancing mobility, agility, crew augmentation, and signature management.