Domestic Night Vision Devices

Technology and Application

At all times military commanders have to solve the problem of night time effective use to complete tactical missions during combat operations. In our country, R&D efforts to develop Night Vision Devices (NVDs) were intensified in the 1930s. At that time, first photoelectronic devices were developed. Kirill Ryabov, a blogger and an expert on this matter, made a correct statement, “This trend has been developed in two directions: one led to introduction of television and digital video of today, the other – to development of electric-to-optical converters (EOCs), which are now used as core components of night vision devices”.


NVD. Historical Background

The “Kvant” system based on the infrared radiation principle became one of the first NVDs developed in the Soviet Union. The device operation required infrared light reflected by surrounding objects while EOC itself had a cathode and a luminescent screen (besides, such a system is still in use but it has to compete with other types of NVD).

The “Kvant” system was originally designed as a quite large-size system intended for installation on airplanes. However, this project was later retargeted to install the system on tanks. Such systems had also been developed for naval forces. Just before the Great Patriotic War, the Black-Sea Fleet alone possessed 15 sets of shipboard night vision systems, and by mid-autumn 1941 additional 18 sets were supplied for naval personnel operating in the Black Sea. In autumn 1943, the All-Russian Electrotechnical Institute specialists developed a night vision sight for firearms. This NV sight was not fitted with a flashlight for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, when using an external IR-radiation source, this system demonstrated good performance. Experts criticized the short range of the system – even in 1945 the best prototypes operated in a range of 150–200 m max.

After the Great Patriotic War, our scientists had the opportunity to compare their developments to captured German equipment. The comparative analysis data showed that the performance demonstrated by the vaunted German equipment was practically similar to the Soviet equipment’s parameters.


Thermal Imaging Devices (TIDs). Advanced Solutions

In a short time, the specialists had managed to develop new-type devices that might be classified as NVDs but since such devices transformed thermal radiation into a visible image, they were called thermal imaging devices (TIDs). Development of TIDs was started in the 1960s. There’s no tough competition between two types of these devices, but note that the thermal imager sales volumes have increased by more than twice in the period from 2009 to 2010.

The fundamental difference between NVD and TID is a light source that is required for the former but not required for the latter.

The most promising trend for development of this type of the device is non-cooled bolometer applications based on high-accuracy measurement of thin plate resistance variation under the effect of thermal radiation in the whole spectral range.

Main types of thermal imagers that are put into service for the Russian Armed Forces and for the Ministry of Internal Affairs special troops are Sych-3TsY and “Katran-3” thermal imaging devices. According to Colonel I. Kozlenko who operates this equipment, “these devices show performance as good as foreign equivalents and comply with all applicable requirements to military equipage. They are mainly used for reconnaissance, installation security, estimation of structural camouflage level, accident response and search-and-rescue operations, mine and stash detection, and unauthorized concealed dumping detection”.

Both devices are designed for all-weather day-and-night operations. Both cameras allow to detect a human target at a distance of approximately 1 km and to identify a target at a distance of 500 to 600 m. In addition, the “Sych” system not only detects the target but also is able to determine its co-ordinates and display data on the electronic terrain map. This device does not require special or scheduled maintenance and provides maintenance-free operation for 10 years! In its turn, the “Katran” thermal imager provides better usability and is fitted with a HD display.

The “Sych-4” is a portable distance measuring thermal imaging camera, it is a brand-new TID, comprising advanced non-cooled microbolometer and safe laser distance measuring technologies. A built-in image recoding system allows to register imagery data throughout the entire operating cycle of the camera.


Field Experience

These devices are often used in the North Caucasus regions where the counterterrorism operation regime is imposed. There they serve as one of the main tactical optical-electronic reconnaissance systems for all weather operations. Reports from service members who regularly use TIDs indicate visual deterioration as one of side adverse effects. In some cases (for instance, during inside work), thermal imagers show worse performance in comparison to NVDs because when working in excess heat conditions, the operator can hardly recognize a distinct outline of a live target.

The service members of one of the Ministry of Internal Affairs special forces units using both NVDs and TIDs made in Russia describe an ideal model of such a device – they need an all-in-one compact-size all-weather thermal imager and sight with a combination of characteristics of both types. The basic criterion is a high-quality blur-free image and the possibility to identify the object.

Border guard service personnel who are traditionally the first users to be equipped with the most advanced thermal imaging systems have the unique field experience related to this matter. They need thermal imagers urgently for operations in plain border areas where such devices are very effective. A thermal imaging camera modification for boarder guard application will be named “Neyasyt” (tawny owl from Russian).


Roman Ilyushchenko,

Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve), combat veteran