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Compact, Lightweight, and Affordable Mid-Wave Infrared (MWIR) Camera for Shipboard Deployment


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Sensors, Electronics, Battlespace 

OBJECTIVE: Develop a video camera that operates in the mid-wave infrared (MWIR) band and is highly compact, lightweight, and affordable. 

DESCRIPTION: Small, affordable, digital video camera technology has seen a dramatic decrease in cost over the past several years. These cameras have benefitted from the proliferation of cell phone technology and the popularity of digital photography. However, these cameras operate in the visible light band where the commercial market has driven advances in the technology. Video cameras have widespread military use. However, military applications often demand video imaging in the infrared (IR) wavelength bands. Shipboard situational awareness (SA) systems would benefit from highly compact, extremely lightweight, high performance, and inexpensive cameras that operate in the MWIR band. Lightweight cameras are faster to aim and quicker to stabilize. Shipboard cameras are not easily repaired so inexpensive cameras could become viable as essentially disposable items. In addition, other small, highly mobile military platforms (for example, unmanned vehicles and man-portable systems) could benefit from the technology, thereby encouraging economy of scale in further reducing cost. Availability of such a camera is inhibited by three things: 1) lack of a commercial market comparable to the visible band, 2) special technical considerations arising from the particular nature of MWIR imaging, and 3) stringent military performance requirements. However, recent advances in MWIR focal plane array (FPA) technology, including smaller pitch pixels, higher operating temperatures, advanced readouts, and high dynamic range should enable the development of a compact MWIR camera. Chief among the technical considerations are the MWIR FPA, the cryo-cooler required for the FPA to function, and the optics that must be designed and ground for the MWIR band (here we define the MWIR band as 3.7 to 4.8 microns wavelength). Added to this are requirements of adjustable field of view (i.e., zoom), high sensitivity, high dynamic range, and high resolution that are met on commercially available cameras; however, for the intended application, the additional demands of ultra-compactness, minimal weight, and ruggedness are paramount. Cost is also a deciding factor because it can be assumed that the risk of loss during the mission is high (for example, drones crash, man-portable equipment is often damaged in combat, and equipment in maritime deployment corrodes quickly). Objective goals are volume less than 120cm3, mass under 200g, and cost less than $5,000. The Navy seeks development of a compact, lightweight, highly portable MWIR video imaging camera for shipboard and mobile deployment. The innovation may come in any of the component areas (MWIR optics, FPA, etc.) or, most preferably, in the combination of multiple technologies. Distributed apertures are permitted provided the combined volume, weight, and cost address the goals described. For general functional objectives, an image format exceeding 512 by 480 pixels is a threshold requirement. In addressing the FPA, smaller pitch pixel technology may prove desirable. However, noise equivalent temperature difference in high-sensitivity mode should be comparable to current MWIR cameras – that is, better than 0.025°K. Noise equivalent irradiance shall be minimized within the overall objective of optimizing size, weight, and affordability. The camera shall incorporate high dynamic range readout (HDR) capability in two software selectable modes: 1) imaging in normal thermal backgrounds (nominally -10°C nighttime to 45°C daytime) and, 2) imaging with greater than 100 times the nominal flux level of a 25°C (daytime) environment. The camera must be capable of capturing and providing a 64 by 64 (minimum) pixel image at a frame rate of 1000Hz. This “window” must be able to relocate anywhere in the field of view at 50Hz intervals. The full-field frame rate shall be, as a threshold, 30 frames per second and the readout circuit should be able to switch between full sensor and “window” mode with minimal (sub-microsecond) latency. Video output should be in an open, standard (non-proprietary) format, as the image processor and display are not considered part of the camera. 

PHASE I: Define and develop a concept for a compact, lightweight, and affordable MWIR camera, meeting the objectives provided in the description above, and suitable for shipboard deployment in programs deriving from the Combined EO/IR Surveillance and Response System (CESARS) Future Naval Capabilities (FNC)—specifically Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 4. Demonstrate the feasibility of its concept in meeting Navy needs and establish that the camera can be feasibly and affordably produced. Establish feasibility through a combination of initial concept design, analysis, and modeling. Establish affordability by analysis of the proposed components and manufacturing processes. The Phase I Option, if awarded, will include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype in Phase II. Develop a Phase II plan. 

PHASE II: Based on the Phase I results and the Phase II Statement of Work (SOW), produce, test, and deliver a prototype compact, lightweight, and affordable MWIR camera for evaluation. Evaluate the prototype by testing accompanied by appropriate data analysis to confirm the prototype meets the parameters in the description. Address affordability by refining the affordability analysis to reflect the camera concept developed in Phase I, taking into account materials, components and manufacturing techniques. The affordability analysis will propose best-practice manufacturing methods to prepare the camera technology for Phase III transition. 

PHASE III: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology—first to CESARS and then to SEWIP Block 4. Refine the MWIR camera interfaces and packaging for insertion into CESARS and SEWIP Block 4. Demonstrate the technology in an advanced CESARS or initial SEWIP Block 4 prototype system to validate camera effectiveness and reliability in an operationally relevant environment. Support system tests and validation in order to certify and qualify initial production cameras. Produce the final product itself or under license and provide for insertion into the program baseline in partnership with the CESARS and SEWIP Block 4 prime contractors. Infrared imaging technology is pervasive in military, security and surveillance, law enforcement, and scientific use. Advances made in this area have wide application in these fields. 


1: Marcotte, Frederick, et al. "High-dynamic range imaging using FAST-IR imagery." Proc. SPIE 9071, Infrared Imaging Systems: Design, Analysis, Modeling, and Testing XXV, 90710E, May 29, 2014.

2:  Fraenkel, Rami et al. "Cooled and uncooled infrared detectors for missile seekers." Proc. SPIE 9070, Infrared Technology and Applications XL, 90700P, June 24, 2014.

KEYWORDS: MWIR Camera; MWIR Imaging; MWIR Focal Plane Array; Video Imaging; Lightweight Cameras; MWIR Optics 


Myron Pauli 

(202) 404-7675 

Mr. Cedric Townsend Yoedt 

(202) 404-8667 

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