In the dynamic landscape of modern warfare, the integration of cutting-edge technology plays a pivotal role in shaping strategic advantages. Among these advancements, Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) systems have emerged as indispensable tools across military domains. From airborne platforms soaring through the skies to land-based operations and naval vessels navigating the open seas, EO/IR systems are driving transformational changes. In this article, we delve into the market and technology trends surrounding EO/IR systems in military applications.
Understanding Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Systems
Electro optics is a subfield of electronics and material physics that deals with devices, components, and systems that rely on the transmission and interaction of light with diverse materials.
Electro-optical or EO systems refer to devices that make use of a mix of optics and electronics for generating, detecting and measuring radiation in the optical spectrum. The systems can measure electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths in the 0.1-1000 micrometers range, which comprises visible light, infrared radiation and ultraviolet radiation.
An electro-optical sensor is capable of changing light into electric signal, while the infrared sensor can identify any structure in its vicinity through the detection or emission of infrared radiation. EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) systems are imaging systems used for military or law enforcement applications which include both visible and infrared sensors. Because they span both visible and infrared wavelengths, EO/IR systems provide total situational awareness both day and night and in low light conditions.
Common applications of EO/IR systems include airborne homeland security, combat, patrol, surveillance, reconnaissance, and search and rescue programs. Electro optical systems are largely utilized by law enforcement and military agencies to improve situational awareness of environments during the day, night, and even in low-light situations. Electro optical systems, which include electro-optical and infrared sensors, can provide precise optical data, both during the day and at night. Critical features of EO/IR systems are long-range imaging abilities and image stabilization.
Military Applications: Enhanced Situational Awareness
The increasing focus on information superiority by militaries and situational awareness is leading to the procurement of military electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) systems worldwide. Additionally, the increased demand for battlespace reconnaissance and greater adoption on airborne platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), fighter aircrafts, helicopters, among others are the major factors driving the military electro-optics/infrared systems market, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. EO/IR sensors are usually mounted on aircraft or vehicles, used at sea, or are hand-carried, and must be able to identify targets, track moving targets, and assess threats from a distance and in challenging environmental conditions.
EO/IR systems provide military forces with unparalleled situational awareness, enabling them to detect and identify threats even in challenging environments. These systems combine electro-optical and infrared sensors to capture both visible light and thermal radiation, offering a comprehensive view of the battlefield. This heightened awareness empowers commanders to make informed decisions swiftly and effectively.
Electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) systems are largely used for military applications in airborne, land-based, and naval platforms. Airborne EO/IR systems comprise optic sights, night vision systems inspection systems, and helmet-mounted displays. Land-based systems include weapon mounted sights, optronic devices, night vision devices, thermal imagers, designators, and laser range finders. Naval based systems consist of infrared imagers and detectors, thermal imagery systems, surveillance & tracking systems, and photonics mast systems.
In the realm of military aviation, EO/IR systems have evolved to become integral components of airborne platforms. From fighter jets and helicopters to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), EO/IR sensors facilitate reconnaissance, target acquisition, and surveillance missions. Modern EO/IR systems feature advanced image stabilization, longer detection ranges, and enhanced target tracking capabilities, enabling airborne forces to operate with unprecedented precision.
Nowadays, long-wave infrared (LWIR) systems are most commonly integrated with military systems to provide advanced thermal imaging capacities and improved target detection and recognition. In low light conditions, night vision cameras are used for better performance with less power consumption and optimum output. Moreover, laser range finders are also used in both day or night conditions and in nearly all weather conditions, including haze, smoke, and rain.
Developments in electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) systems are key to providing the enhanced capability needed by military forces to meet the current and emerging challenges created through an increasingly difficult and complex range of operational conditions. Such enhanced operational capability must often be delivered against commercial demands for lower costs and reduced timescales together with operational requirements for size weight, and power (SWaP) reductions.
Moreover, defense agencies across the globe are strengthening their position with huge investments in the development of new technology and systems. For example, the development of indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) detector system allows imaging in short-wave infrared (SWIR) without the necessity of an external cooling system. In addition, it also consumes less power and delivers images at high frame rates. It also offers real-time detection during the day or low light conditions. Thus, such technological advancements are driving the growth of the military EO/IR systems market.
Several technology trends are shaping the evolution of EO/IR systems:
- Miniaturization: Advancements in sensor technology and materials are leading to smaller and lighter EO/IR systems, making them more accessible and adaptable to various platforms.
- Intelligent Processing: Integration with artificial intelligence and machine learning allows EO/IR systems to autonomously detect and classify objects, reducing operator workload and enhancing accuracy.
- Data Fusion: EO/IR systems are increasingly integrated with other sensors and data sources, creating a comprehensive picture of the operational environment.
Furthermore, the adoption of new technologies such as LWIR system by the military forces provide armored vehicles with advanced thermal imaging capacities and improved target detection, recognition, and identification of the range. In addition, the imaging capability provides actionable information and crew protection in the war conditions. Likewise, the usage of EO laser guidance systems has been increasing for special military missions. This system has an imaging camera, which acts as a sight and target seeker for small weapons and missile systems. Also, it is a cost-effective and lightweight with highly accurate solutions for target acquisition and weapon guidance.
Low C-SWaP EO/IR ISR Sensor Technology
The goal is to develop low-cost, size, weight, and power (C-SWaP) Electro-Optical Infra-Red (EO/IR) sensor technology to support distributed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in contested environments (CEs). Future engagements may necessitate operations in CEs, putting high-value platforms and associated sensors at risk. As such, future missions may utilize lower-cost, attributable platforms to support operations in CEs. Associated ISR sensor technology is required for such platforms where C-SWaP constraints are more significant than for traditional platforms. Technology advancement is required in many sensor modalities, including, but not limited to broadband EO/IR, multispectral, hyperspectral, polarimetric, and LIDAR. Research and development can include full system-level designs or advancement of component technology, such as detector materials, telescopes, transmitters, receivers, real-time data processing hardware, etc
EO and IR systems are likely to benefit from recent advances in material research, for example new carbon-based materials, nano-materials and metamaterials. These new materials promise new EO properties that could significantly change the way EO and IR systems are designed and built, e.g. new detector systems with enhanced properties or negative refractive index materials which could radically change the way optics are designed.
The performance challenges faced by future military systems will continue to evolve and grow. To address these challenges, EO/IR system designers will need to draw upon the ongoing developments in underpinning technologies such as new materials, focal plane arrays, image processing, data fusion, and emergent sensor concepts such as spectral processing, computational imaging, and polarimetry. Modelling and simulation is increasingly becoming an enabler for maximizing performance and optimizing operational adaptability and its interaction with trials and validation is a subject of topical concern.
Advanced technology by itself is not sufficient to give new and/or advanced capabilities. Systems have to be designed and developed in a way that will enable their reliable and cost-effective manufacture. This will involve adopting rigorous development and system engineering techniques. These are as crucial for the successful exploitation of sensor technology as the detector, optics and electronics. The performance and required characteristics of sensor systems are critically dependent on the platform and the application. Many sensor payloads are now being fitted to autonomous vehicles and drones which present new challenges in design and integration. Applications areas that are currently receiving interest include target detection and tracking, area monitoring, mine and IED detection, environmental monitoring, and border security. There is also growing interest in wearable imaging devices which have their own unique challenges at the sensor designlevel, the exploitation of the sensor data, and the interconnection of multiple sensors.
SpaceX to explore ways to provide weather data to U.S. military
SpaceX has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Space Force’s Space Enterprise Consortium to explore the feasibility and long-term viability of a “weather data as a service business model.” The contract is part of the Electro Optical/Infrared Weather System (EO/IR EWS) program, which aims to enhance global terrestrial weather capability through a space-based environmental monitoring EO/IR system.
SpaceX’s role involves investigating how weather data could be provided as a service from a commercial company. This could potentially involve utilizing their Starlink satellites to collect and distribute weather data, either independently or in collaboration with a weather data services company. The program’s goal is to create a more resilient and high-refresh capability for weather data, benefiting both military and civilian applications.
Computational Imaging, e.g. Pupil Plane Encoding, Coded Aperture Imaging, Compressive Imaging, etc, is another family of emerging technologies that will radically alter the way sensor systems are designed. These techniques combine optics and processing to provide a useable output from the sensor and can provide functionality not possible or practical with conventional system designs. Computational Imaging will require developments in specialist sub-components, non-standard optics design and algorithm development to reconstruct the image.
Quantum techniques are also being investigated to assess their potential for sensing systems. Quantum Imaging and Ghost Imaging are examples of quantum techniques being investigated by different teams. Any Quantum system will require specialist components e.g. sources, optics, detectors, electronics and processing as well as providing scope for unconventional system design. Processing of sensor information has become a vital component of EO/IR sensor systems for display-driven, semi-autonomous, and autonomous applications. The timely extraction and presentation of pertinent information in a usable format is the ultimate goal in most developments, although the design flexibility to support hardware upgrades and meet emergent operational needs must be considered. Dual and multi-sensor system designs provide additional information, and offer increased performance under a wider variety of conditions. The combination of such sensor information to provide both increased performance and robustness continues to present many design challenges despite the ongoing research into data fusion technology.
Military EO/IR Market
The global market for Military Electro-Optics/Infrared Systems estimated at US$12.8 Billion in the year 2022, is projected to reach a revised size of US$20.7 Billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% over the analysis period 2022-2030.
Increasing demand for safety and security and the growing need for a developed defense system is expected to benefit the market during the forecast period.
The demand for electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems is expected to grow at a rapid pace in the future, owing to the increasing demand for battlespace awareness by defense forces, growth in demand for electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems for unmanned vehicles for surveillance applications, and technological advancements resulting in improved performance efficiency.
In the networked digital battlespace, the need for better sensors that can enhance situational awareness of the military personnel on the battlespace is increasing. This is anticipated to act as a major driving factor for the military electro-optical and infrared systems market. The increasing miniaturization and improving accuracy, along with high reliability and availability at low costs is propelling EO/IR systems utilization across all platforms. The significant investment on R&D and necessary certifications to meet military-grade requirements can act as challenges for the entry of new players in the market.
Increasing procurement of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with integrated electro-optical systems is expected to play a significant role in driving the market during the forecast period. The application of unmanned vehicles is expanding for various commercial and military purposes such as navigation, surveillance, policing, photography, and agricultural monitoring.
Also, ongoing developments in electro-optic systems is projected to offer remunerative opportunities to the market. For instance, they have enabled 24-hour situational awareness, guidance for defense gunnery, automated object detection, and 360-degree rotation, among others. Such factors are expected to benefit the industry growth during the forecast period.
The military electro-optical and infrared systems market has been segmented based on type, sensor technology, platform, and region. Based on type, the market has been segmented into image intensification, laser, and infrared. The image intensification segment is the largest segment of the military electro-optical and infrared systems market. The segment is also expected to register a high CAGR during the forecast period. This is due to the increasing use of EO/IR by the military forces for image intensification.
On the basis of sensor technology, the market has been segmented into scanning, starring, multispectral, and hyperspectral. The hyperspectral segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. This is due to increasing security threats have forced the defense industry to modernize and upgrade their existing technologies used in aircraft, combat vehicles, and ships. It has added pressure on the market to evolve with new and compatible systems and technologies.
Air, one of the segments analyzed in the report, is projected to record a 6.2% CAGR and reach US$13.9 Billion by the end of the analysis period. Taking into account the ongoing post pandemic recovery, growth in the Land segment is readjusted to a revised 4.6% CAGR for the next 8-year period.
The sea-based segment of the market is anticipated to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. The growth of territorial conflicts and border issues have led to increasing emphasis on surveillance, target detection, and target identification at sea. This is generating a need for better sensor systems that are highly reliable and are available at low costs for maritime patrol and improve situational awareness. In addition, as the naval vessels are isolated from the terrain, it becomes important for them to possess advanced threat detection and countermeasure systems for their long-time survival from impending threats
The device is a third-generation 18-millimeter image intensifier for the AN/PVS-14 night-vision monocular and several weapon sights. It is also a part of the U.S Army Enhance Night Vision Goggle-Binocular (ENVG-B). Such developments in the market are projected to augment the market size in the forecast period.
Based on system, the military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market has been segmented into targeting system, electronic support measure, and imaging system. The imaging system segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period. Multispectral sensors are broadly used in military applications for terrain classification, camouflage detection, change detection, among others. Many electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) multispectral systems for intelligence, and surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) applications are a combination of, at least, one thermal-band infrared sensor and one reflective-band electro-optic sensor.
Based on technology, the military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market has been segmented into uncooled and cooled. The cooled segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period.
Tejaswi Singh, Aerospace, Defense and Security Analyst at GlobalData, says: “The demand for military EO/IR systems will continue to rise across the globe. This can be attributed to the increasing dependence of warfare platforms on EO/IR systems for situational awareness, threat detection & countermeasure, target acquisition, surveillance & reconnaissance, among others.
“In line with this trend, militaries are procuring warfare platforms added with high-resolution electro-optical payloads, targeting systems, infrared-countermeasures, advanced display systems, among others. Moreover, the adoption of various EO/IR products by dismounted soldier such as sights, scopes, spotters, night vision attachments, light intensifiers and fire control sights along with weapon sights & scopes is one of the major drivers for the market.”
Based on the region, the market has been segmented into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. North America is the largest market in 2018. This is due to the rising demand for EO/IR systems across different sectors, such as military, commercial, and public safety. Moreover, due to the high investments in the development and procurement of EO/IR system in the region.
The U.S. Market is Estimated at $5.5 Billion, While China is Forecast to Grow at 7.7% CAGR
The Military Electro-Optics/Infrared Systems market in the U.S. is estimated at US$5.5 Billion in the year 2022. China, the world’s second largest economy, is forecast to reach a projected market size of US$2.9 Billion by the year 2030 trailing a CAGR of 7.7% over the analysis period 2022 to 2030.
Domination of the market can be attributed to the increasing adoption of technologically advanced UAVs. Also, the deployment of modern UAVs for the purpose of surveillance is anticipated to bode well for the regional market in the forecast period. Furthermore, in the region, the U.S Army is projected to be the most significant consumer of the device. According to GlobalData’s analysis, the US will continue to hold a major market share in the military EO/IR systems market primarily due to continuous procurement of airborne platforms, soldier modernization programs and funding towards large-scale EO/IR projects such as Common Infrared Countermeasure (CIRCM) system.
The increasing funding from the US government for R&D activities, modernization and up-gradation of warfare platforms and procurement of new warfare platforms with advanced EO/IR systems are major drivers for sustained demand of military EO/IR systems in the US. The country will account for 21.2% share in the global military EO/IR systems market by 2030.
Among the other noteworthy geographic markets are Japan and Canada, each forecast to grow at 4.4% and 5.9% respectively over the 2022-2030 period. Within Europe, Germany is forecast to grow at approximately 5.2% CAGR.
Europe is the second-largest region in the global market. In 2022, the region is predicted to claim about 22.6% of the total revenue. Development of the regional market is projected to the increasing initiatives by the European government.
Germany, the UK, France, and Russia are the leading country-level markets due to high investments in the development and procurement of EO/IR systems. Most of the R&D for EO/IR technologies is directed towards the development of robust, lightweight, and cost-effective systems significant for critical missions.
Europe today stands testimony to the massive human and economic losses suffered due to an unprepared healthcare system and political underestimation of COVID-19 in terms of the propensity of the disease to spread and cause harm and its ability to bring businesses and whole economies to a halt. Germany which is already in recession is looking towards defense as the first government areas to be wrung for savings. The downsizing will mean delays in defense capabilities improvements. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains causing massive damage for manufacturing companies reliant on China for supplies. These supply chain disruptions will step up the pressure to decouple from China.
Rethinking supply chains will spur the movement of production out of China, including defense products and raw materials for producing these products. Currently, China is the low cost producer and thousands of defense related equipment and products used by the U.S. comes from this country. Production shifts away from China means DoD procurement and sustainment costs will rise in the coming years. Under this scenario, even without budgetary cuts, the ability to purchase defense products and technologies will fall, and with spending cutbacks being inevitable its hard times ahead for all players in the defense supply chain.
Asia-Pacific region is expected to generate the highest demand for military electro-optical and infrared systems market during the forecast period. With the hike in military spending of some of the countries in the region along with increasing territorial issues, the armed forces in this region are now investing heavily in soldier modernization and equipment modernization programs. Soldier modernization programs are a major driver for the military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market in Asia-Pacific. Asia-Pacific is estimated to lead the military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market. China, India, Japan, and Australia are the major countries that offer growth potential for EO/IR systems in the Asia-Pacific region. This market has huge growth potential given the increasing demand for updated and technologically advanced optronics systems. The growth of electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market is also driven by the rising demand for systems equipped with laser technology.
For instance, in late 2018, Electro-Optics Industries (Elop) was selected by the Korean Air Force to supply real-time electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) long-range oblique imagery systems for its F-16 aircraft. The increasing procurement of aircraft, UAVs, rotorcraft, etc., for surveillance missions and maritime patrol, are anticipated to generate demand for better sensors systems like EO/IR sensors embedded in them. Recently, on February 2019, the Singapore Navy displayed one of its two newest Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk helicopters at the Singapore Airshow. The new aircraft has updated avionics software and features that allow tactical coordination officers to operate electro-optical turret mounted on the nose. Such developments in the defense industry of Asia-Pacific are expected to boost the growth of the market in the coming future.
Stagnant product life cycle is a major restraint for growth of military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems. The life cycle for electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems is 15-20 years; these systems are upgraded post the mentioned timeframe. Therefore, the market is prone to remain stagnant in terms of technology for a long time. The military electro-optics/infrared (EO/IR) systems market is also broadly dependent on the new line of aircraft and armored vehicles as well as ships and submarines that are yet to be manufactured.
Key Players are Airbus, L-3 Communications Corporation, Textron Inc, Finmeccanica SpA, Lockheed Martin Corporation, FLIR Systems Inc, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Northrop Grumman Corporation, Thales Group, Rockwell Collins, Elbit Systems Ltd, BAE Systems, Raytheon Company, Thales Group, Unmanned Systems Source, UAV Propulsion Tech, UST, L-3 Communications, General Dynamics, UTC Aerospace, Electro Optical Industries, ASELSAN A.Ş., DRS Technologies, Safran Electronics & Defense.
Since 2014, the US Navy has been looking for persistent multispectral 360-degree electro-optical systems for its naval vessels. As of 2018, this need has not yet been fulfilled, and lots of systems are being tested on-board US ships working in cooperation with usual RADARs and surveillance systems. This system is expected to be the future of warfare and will be a very crucial deciding factor for victory and for keeping friendly casualties minimum.
In January 2020, US Navy placed its first production order for 40 WESCAM MX-10MS electro-optical, infrared (EOIR) sensor suites from L3Harris Technologies in support of their Military Sealift Command Electro-Optical System (MSC-EOS) program. The MSC-EOS System’s primary mission is to provide enhanced visual imagery to augment existing electronic sensors. Likewise, in August 2019, the US Department of Defense announced the agreement with FLIR Surveillance Inc. for the supply, repair, and upgradation of Sea Star SAFIRE III Electro-optics Sensor Systems. The project is expected to be completed by August 2024. Such developments are expected to bolster the prospects for the sea-based segment in the years to come.
Similarly, the Safran Electronics & Defense Australasia was selected by Saab Australia, to provide the latest version of its Vigy Engage electro-optic sensor, as part of the situational awareness system, for the Royal Australian Navy’s SEA 1180 Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) project. The contract is expected to run over the 12-year OPV shipbuilding program, which is expected to include the delivery of 12 new ships to the Royal Australian Navy. Such on-going projects by navies of different countries are contributing to the growth of the segment during the forecast period.
In July 2022, officials of the U.S Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime segment in Aberdeen, Md, announced a contract to the L3Harris Integrated Vision Solutions segment in Tempe, Ariz, and to the Elbit Systems of America Night Vision segment in Roanoke, Va, for MX-11769 image-intensifier tubes. The electro-optical image-intensifier tube has a lifespan of 12,000 hours of continuous use.
- In September 2020, Lockheed Martin Corporation, headquartered in Maryland, U.S announced that it had delivered 700th Electro-Optical Targeting System for the F-35 Lightning II.
- L-3Harris Technologies Inc. reported in December 2021 that it had secured a contract from Armasuisse, the Swiss government body for defense procurement. As per this contract, the firm has agreed to supply the Swiss Armed Forces with around 100 WESCAM MX-RSTA EO/IR systems to assist the latter’s TASYS tactical reconnaissance system.
- Amentum Services, Inc. revealed in December 2021 that it had received a five-year, USD 88.0 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to supply Navy EO/IR Tech R&D Services.
- In April 2022, L3 Harris Technologies, announced to design and build a wide-field-of-view electro-optical system to assist surface warships from modern enemy anti-ship cruise missiles under terms of a potential half-billion-dollar contract.
Navigating the Future
As EO/IR systems continue to evolve, military forces around the world are harnessing their capabilities to gain the upper hand in today’s complex security landscape. The convergence of advanced sensors, intelligent algorithms, and seamless integration will define the future of EO/IR technology. Whether in the air, on land, or at sea, EO/IR systems remain steadfast allies, illuminating the path forward for military operations and strategic decision-making.
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