New technology promises to give tankers an unprecedented view of the battlefield around them—without exposing them to lethal enemy fire. Camera systems, often linked to VR headsets, can provide soldiers with a real-time view of the world outside their tank, eliminating the often severely restricted view tankers are forced to fight with.
Tanks are large, lethal, imposing beasts, surrounding their crews with layers of thick steel, composite, and even uranium armor. All of that protection makes it hard to see outside the tank, however, and tankers usually must rely on small vision ports to make sense of things. Seeing to the tank’s flanks and rear is particularly difficult, an often unnerving prospect because those are areas where a tank’s armor is thinnest.
New tech borrowed from fighter jets promises to change that. One of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s most fascinating features is its so-called Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, which uses a network of infrared cameras on the outside of the F-35 to provide the pilot with views in all directions—including behind the cockpit and straight down through the cockpit floor. This provides the pilot with greater situational awareness in training and combat.
A Ukrainian company is testing a form of DAS for tanks. The company, LimpidArmor, says its Land Platform Modernization Kit “enables a 360-degree real-time battlefield environment delivery" to the crew of armored vehicles due to 4 sets of cameras that merge streams and displays it in an operator's augmented reality glasses. It increases safety of both vehicle operators and people outside by enabling its crew to see even in so-called “blind zones.” Installed on a Ukrainian Army T-84 main battle tank, Land Platform Modernization Kit uses sixteen image-stabilized cameras that provide both day and night vision views in all directions outside the tank.
The key to the kit is the use of a commercial technology, specifically Microsoft’s Hololens mixed reality headset. The Hololens attaches to a tanker’s helmet like a pair of night vision goggles, allowing outside camera views to be projected into the user’s field of vision. In addition to camera views the Hololens can project other data, including the “telemetry of all systems of the combat vehicle, task statuses, goals, interactive hints, placement of friendly and hostile units. It can be connected to the fire control system and to receive data from the UAV.”
LimpidArmor isn’t the only company to market AR-enabled headsets for vehicle crews. Israeli defense giant Elbit Systems has its IronVisionsystem, promising “seamless 360 degree line of sight,” the ability to spot vehicles at ranges of up to 300 meters, and a “look-lock-launch” fighting capability. European arms contractor Hensoldt is also marketing its Local Situational Awareness System, or LSAS.
“See-Through” tank technology is likely to become very big in coming years. The technology is simple, inexpensive, and very useful to vehicle crews. It can also be retrofitted to existing equipment, making it a quick and efficient upgrade for literally tens of thousands of existing tanks and armored fighting vehicles.