Window into DSS: Why multispectral glass is key to defense innovation

We’ve all heard the old cliché that two eyes are better than one. But the realities of today’s battlefield have rewritten that old maxim for warfighters. Today it’d be more accurate to say one eye is better than two – or even four.

Defense imaging systems that once required apertures for every wavelength — visible light, near infrared (NIR), mid-wave infrared (MWIR), and long-wave infrared (LWIR) — are being reimagined with multispectral glasses. True to the principle of e pluribus unum — out of many, one — these glasses do the same work as multiple individual glasses, ultimately making possible lighter, more compact imaging systems that maintain situational awareness across the entire spectrum.

This is just one example of where defense technology is headed, and one major topic of conversation at the SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing (DSS) conference in Baltimore. As the military community pushes engineers and scientists to conceive new tools that lower the size, weight, power, and cost of military equipment, so too must these tools achieve higher levels of performance for the warfighter.

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The defense community is demanding that engineers do more with less and find more efficiencies in new and next-generation equipment that offers the U.S. warfighter a fundamental advantage over adversaries. Multispectral glass stands ready to do exactly that by adding capability and minimizing SWaP in future military imaging equipment from thermal imaging cameras to laser range finders to night vision systems.

For years, the size and weight of imaging systems was dictated by the number and size of apertures needed to collect information from various optical paths and wavelengths. But new multispectral glasses encompass the visible, NIR, SWIR, and LWIR to enable light of different wavelengths to be focused together and collapse multiple optical paths into one. That offers new flexibility for designers to trim the size, weight, and power consumption of traditional imaging systems.

As with all discussions of doing more with less, the issue of quality arises. Can a single pair of glasses doing the work of four or more glasses function at the same level as each of those glasses individually? SCHOTT has developed a line of chalcogenide multispectral glasses that answer in the affirmative. The high-performance design of the IRGX line not only maintains quality, but further reduces costs by optimizing manufacturing processes through new molding preforms and inexpensive raw materials.

As the science and engineering behind defense technology earns new scrutiny in the push for smaller, lighter, and more power-efficient equipment, researchers will find new ways for materials and components to do more with less. And at least as far as imaging systems go, that future is coming into focus.

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