Written by Loretta Haring
Office of Strategic Planning and Communication
The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Program on behalf of the Office of Boat Forces (CG-731) recently completed a research project on newer night vision technology. As a result of that project, CG-731 developed policy and training that allows qualified Coast Guard pursuit coxswains operating the Coast Guard’s over the horizon cutter boats to use night vision technology in the execution of their missions.
Since technology is constantly changing and improving, CG-731 asked the Coast Guard Research and Development Center to research capability improvements in the latest generations of commercial off-the-shelf night vision devices (NVD). Counterdrug and migrant interdiction operations sometimes require the ability to see in low-light or no-light situations, necessitating NVD use.
“We knew night vision capabilities had significantly improved in recent years,” said Lt. Tyson Finn, who is the program lead for this initiative within the Office of Boat Forces. “We wanted to see if the newer capabilities could provide increased performance and safety for our pursuit forces. Working with the RDC and the Deployable Specialized Forces community, we did exactly that.”
The RDC first issued a commercial request for information to determine the state of the NVD market and its new capabilities, said Michael Coleman, an RDC researcher and project manager for the NVD evaluation. Researchers also communicated with commercial entities and government and military agencies to get as much information as possible. They found advancements including field of vision, depth perception, amplification methods and performance characteristics. From that research, a group of NVDs was down-selected and an evaluation methodology developed for underway evaluations.
Limited user evaluations (LUE) to assess NVD capabilities based on specific missions sets using simulated tactics were conducted in both protected and open water in San Diego, and Charleston, South Carolina. NVDs were evaluated for performance, utility and ergonomics; boat evaluation platforms were modified by filtering lights and changing light bulbs to mitigate impacts on NVD use, Coleman said.
Coxswains involved in the limited user evaluations were excited by the increased capabilities of the NVDs.
“Extremely effective, I can see really well,” one coxswain told researchers.
“Looking through the NVD it seemed like a bright sunny day in the fog,” another remarked.
The newer NVD technology demonstrated increased field of view and improved depth perception as well as significant clarity and resolution improvements.
Based on the LUEs, the RDC provided recommendations to CG-731 on specific NVD capabilities and use, Coleman said. The Office of Boat Forces used the recommendations to develop policy on specific NVD use for certain mission sets and established a training and qualification process.
“In time as the cost for this technology decreases, we hope to further evaluate whether this newer NVD technology can be safely and effectively employed on additional platforms and other missions,” said Cmdr. Mike Keane, chief of the boat forces policy division.
Coleman said it is especially satisfying to see the RDC’s research transition to the workforce.
“These updated NVDs provide another tool for the coxswain to use that can be advantageous in completing their mission,” said Coleman.
“Having the ability to evaluate how advancements in technology and equipment can make Coast Guard Boat Forces more capable is key,” Finn said. “The RDT&E Program is an important tool we have available to help us advance how boat crews execute their missions safely and effectively; without their assistance this project would not have been as successful.”
“It is the RDT&E Program’s goal to transition meaningful and impactful projects to the field to enhance mission performance,” said Steve Hager, Surface Domain lead for the RDT&E Program. “This project is a fantastic representation of how partnering with the RDT&E Program can further capabilities in the fleet at the deck-plate level.”