WASHINGTON — The Army has already seen an estimated 6,000 of its newest, most advanced night vision goggles fielded to troops over the past two years.
Most of that has gone to the active-duty side.
If it’s recent budget request is approved, 7,118 more pairs of Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular will be in the hands of troops by the end of next year.
More than 5,000 are headed to close combat forces on active duty, while another 1,600 will flow to the Army National Guard. The Army Reserve will get 439 devices.
But not every soldier will be getting the goggles soon. Nor will Marines.
The current Army budget request calls for fielding a total of 108,251 sets, which would cover infantry, reconnaissance and combat engineers attached to infantry in the coming years.
The Marines are tied in with the ENVG-B program as well, having sent jarheads to help test and evaluate the device. But for now, they’ve gone instead with the Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggle, according to officials.
Navy budget request documents show Marines added $10 million to equip one infantry battalion and three combat engineer companies with the SBNVG.
The SBNVG device provides white phosphorous I2 vision and thermal imaging as well as hand or helmet-mounted controls, much like the ENVG-B. However, it does not allow for software networking, so Marines may not have the ability to use the goggle for navigation or wirelessly link to a weapon-mounted camera sight that allows for rapid target acquisition like the ENVG-B.
The ENVG-B system connects to the smartphone-based Nett Warrior system and Android Tactical Kit, which allows developers to build applications that it can access.
Soldiers can use the Android Tactical Kit with augmented reality applications to overlay map graphics and blue force tracking capabilities for increased situational awareness, communication and mission planning across day and night operations, according to an Army statement.
They can also add enemy icons on the system and share with others across their network.
Budget documents show the Marines seem to be leaving open a possible switch or upgrade in a program they’ve dubbed “Future Night Vision Goggle.” The Future Night Vision Goggle program would supplement the SBNVG by allowing it to couple the goggle with a “thermal sensor, heads up display and have the capability to connect to a tactical network.”
Military Times recently visited the Washington, D.C., office of L3Harris Technologies, one of two companies providing the ENVG-B to the Army under a $442 million contract issued in October. Elbit Systems of America is the other company building the device under the contract.
The goggle provides a white phosphorus display that far exceeds the shaded, grainy green glow of past devices such as the common PVS-14. The user can link the goggle to the Family of Weapons Sights-Individual attached to a rifle or carbine to see what’s at the other end of the barrel using Rapid Target Acquisition software.
The binocular view gives actual depth perception, a challenge with the older monocular PVS-14 and other night vision devices.
The RTA view can be displayed in three ways. First is a circular weapon sight view that floats as the weapon is moved in the goggle vision. Second is a picture-in-picture mode, much like on a standard television. Third is making the RTA view, from the weapon sight, the full screen seen through the goggle.
The goggle also provides thermal vision. That comes in either a reverse-negative “black hot,” where the heat source is dark and the background is white; or in “white hot,” where the heat source is white and the background is black. Both provide contrast options that help heat quickly jump into view.
Lastly, outline mode gives a near-1980s music video feel with heat lines outlining the source. The view shows contrasts between materials, making equipment, weapons and devices identifiable in detail.
Users on patrol can also select a navigation mode that will give them their compass heading in the top of their view.
L3Harris has provided more than 6,000 pairs of a “directed requirement” version of the goggle, which is a dark black version with the helmet mount, goggle, and battery pack and processor.
The more permanent version is still undergoing testing and evaluation. It is similar but slightly more ruggedized and tan-colored.
Leith Ames, director of business development for L3Harris, said goggles have already gone to the 101st Airborne Division, 25th Infantry Division and 82nd Airborne Division.
Ames is a retired Army officer who previously worked in acquisitions for both the Army and Special Operations Command.
Soldiers are testing the current version at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, Ames said. The device has gone through a few rotations with units at the center.
Soldiers with the 101st also spent three weeks testing the device at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, earlier this year, according to an Army statement.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.