Virtual See-Through Tanks from Hensoldt

Hensoldt Optronics, a German manufacturer of high-performance sensors has introduced the See Through Armor System (SETAS) for armored military vehicles. SETAS has dual sensors – a thermal imager and a full color sensor. These sensors are mounted on the outside of a tank or other armored combat vehicle and allow full 360° situational awareness around the vehicle.

HENSOLDT 2 SETAS Warrior red mark resizeSETAS –seen here during trials on a ‘Warrior’ IFV – gives armored vehicle crews full situational awareness. (Photo Credit: HENSOLDT Optronics)

In the past, one way to get this situational awareness was for the tank commander to lift the hatch and put his head out in the open air, allowing him to look around.

FOV of the SETAS system with two sensor modules with two sensor sets each. (Credit: HENSOLDT Optronics)

This, of course, in a combat situation is potentially dangerous for the tank commander. In addition, it does not provide the information to others inside the tank who would need the data. For example, the gunner would want full information for targeting his weapon and the driver would want the information on the terrain ahead. In the top image, Hensoldt has circled the forward-looking sensor array in red.

To get full 360° coverage around the horizon, a second sensor array is required facing the rear. This is visible in the image on the top rear of the tank, although it has not been highlighted. These modules will provide a +45° to -33° field of view (FOV). Hensoldt also offers an optional, upward looking sensor module to fill in the image from +45° to the zenith.

Other sensors can also be incorporated such as an acoustic sniper detector or a laser warning system. This large vertical FOV allows the tank crew to not only search for enemy tanks and soldiers, typically near the horizon, but also drones and aircraft well above the horizon or dangers like mines well below the horizon. One application of this large FOV would be for the commander of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) like the Warrior to examine the surrounding area and determine if it were (relatively) safe for the infantry to exit the vehicle.

Of course, external sensors like this are also vulnerable to battle damage. Typically, battle damage to hardware is considered less important than battle damage to personnel. One of the available options is a ballistic protection cover and another is a cleaning system – battlefields are dirty places.

HENSOLDT SETAS Basic Module resizeSETAS sensor module with two sets of IR/Visible imagers. (Credit: HENSOLDT Optronics)

The SETAS system involves two sensors, a thermal imager and a full color sensor. The uncooled thermal imager operates in the long wave IR region of 8 – 14?m. Hensoldt does not give the resolution of either sensor although they do say SETAS is “Very high resolution (as good as human eye)”. It also says that the thermal sensor can detect people out to 300m, recognize them out to 100m and identify them out to 50m. An optional additional thermal sensor improves this performance to detecting people to 800m, recognizing them to 300m and identifying them to 200m. This range can be increased further by mounting the IR sensor on a pan-and-tilt head. The full color sensor can detect people out to 900m, recognize them out to 300m and identify them out to 150m.

The system supports multiple interfaces such as Ethernet, HD-SDI, etc. Data over the interface would normally be formatted with the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Generic Vehicle Architecture (NGVA) structure.

According to Hensoldt, the images can be shown on a wide variety of displays, including AR/MR/VR HMDs, tablets and existing smart and normal displays inside the vehicle. SETAS can also transmit the images and other data to external destinations. The images can also be fed into battle computers with image recognition that provide, for example, Moving Target Indication (MTI) or object tracking.

When a crew member inside the tank uses an AR or VR HMD, the information can be oriented to the direction the crew is looking. This makes the armored vehicle virtually transparent, similar to what the sensor and AR helmet on the F-35 fighter plane will do or similar to what the crewman would see when “heads up” with his head and eyes outside the protection of the tank’s armor.

“SETAS gives Armored vehicle crews exceptional visibility of their surroundings”, says Andreas Hülle, Managing Director of Hensoldt Optronics. “The user can stay in safety within the vehicle but with a high degree of situational awareness of his surrounding environment outside. Particularly in urban environment this capability is a key enabler for rapid decision making and as such platform survivability”.

SETAS was presented at the 2019 Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) conference in London last September in the Hensoldt booth and on an Eagle 6×6 armored vehicle on the stand of General Dynamics. SETAS will be available from 2020. – Matthew Brennesholtz