The wars of the 21st century will be fought with the aid of a horde of robotic eyes.
Leonardo DRS announced Oct. 8 that it was the recipient of up to $800 million in funding from the Department of Defense for ground combat electro-optical/infrared systems. Those electro-optical/infrared systems are the sensors that will watch the battlefields of the future, transmitting what they see to humans safely ensconced in armor, or observing the vehicles remotely, some step removed from the danger of simply watching with bare eyes.
Those robot sensors include horizontal technology integration second-generation FLIR, for ground vehicles, which Leonardo boasts as providing “armored vehicle crews with the ability to see clearly, regardless of light level, adverse weather conditions, and battlefield smoke and dust.”
In another contract, Leonardo will provide stabilized infrared camera sensors for assault breaching vehicles. While most armored vehicles are designed to face some danger, the assault breaching vehicles are built to clear paths through minefields and over explosives, so anything that puts more distance between the humans in the vehicles and the danger is good.
Other contracts from Leonardo include a lightweight laser targeting system to guide precision munitions, a thermal weapon sight for SOCOM and Marine snipers, and a family of uncooled infrared weapon sights for the U.S. Army. Of those, the most stand-out futuristic feature is that ability of the improved night observation device thermal weapon sight to “import data and export images,” adding a hint of data collection and analytics to the delicate practice of putting a bullet in a person from far away.
Taken altogether, the Leonardo DRS contracts are both less and more than they seem. They are, first and foremost, a snapshot of one company’s recent portfolio success, a business happy that business is well. When it comes to the actual applications of the products sold, it is instead a key component of understanding future war, where vision itself will be mediated in real time by cameras and data processing. It’s a set of super-human capabilities in the works, and also a potential new place for vulnerabilities to manifest, if basic cybersecurity isn’t taken into account.