Current Thermal Weapon Sights for SOF Are Great, What’s Coming Next is Fantastic

April 26, 2023

Leonardo DRS radars

EO/IR for Special Operations Forces

June 2020 – The latest version of a cooled thermal weapon sight for Special Operations Forces (SOF) is a leap ahead. SOF snipers can clip the thermal sight in front of the existing day scope so that it doesn’t have to be removed, reinstalled, and zeroed out. And it’s also so sensitive that it can visibly trace the bullet’s heat track on the trajectory to the target.

Leonardo DRS’ Improved Night/Day Observation Device (INOD) Block III thermal weapon sight provides night/day and degraded battlefield or weather condition visibility for SOF snipers. The main discriminator for INOD is how far out the sniper can see the target and strike it with a bullet. For SOF snipers, INOD’s cooled, thermal capability gives them an effective range beyond 2.000 meters (about 1.25 miles).

The INOD technology attains that range with advanced sight technology that only needs to be cooled to half the temperature of other sights, while retaining or improving on performance characteristics like sensitivity, power consumption, battery life, and size.

It only takes two and a half minutes to cool down to an operational temperature—half the time of typical cooled weapon sights.

With INOD, SOF snipers can also use the cooled thermal sight without having to remove their day scope.

“Once a sniper puts a scope on their weapon and zeroes it in they never want to take it off,” said Ryan Maynard, senior director of programs dismounted systems, Leonardo DRS. “In the past, though, they had to remove their day scope in order to install the thermal weapon sight. Each time the day scope was reinstalled you’d have to zero your weapon. Or you had to hope that you put it in the same exact spot. With INOD, they never have to take off their day scope. The clip-on configuration allows the operator to maintain the existing day scope zero.”

Another major benefit of Leonardo DRS’ INOD system is that once the initial muzzle flash from the shot dissipates, the range of the sight is so good that snipers can see the heat of the bullet path all the way to the target.

With the range of a day scope or other uncooled weapon sights, by the time the muzzle flash is gone the bullet has already hit the target. INOD, on the other hand, includes a proprietary attenuator that stabilizes the sight extremely rapidly so the bullet is still inflight and its heat trace is visible even after the muzzle flash disappears. That’s a valuable capability for SOF snipers because they can see the bullet trajectory and adjust as needed for the next shot.

INOD has been ruggedized for use with all SOF and U.S. Army sniper weapon systems. Its hot-swap battery capability and/or external power feature allows persistent over watch on extended missions. Rear facing focus knob and controls are optimized for sniper conops. A wired stick remote control replicates INOD keypad functionality and enables one-handed gloved operation. Super elevation mechanism adjustment is incorporated into the mount to accommodate targeting at the extreme range of the sight while ensuring target visualization.

Next-Generation Cooled Technology for SOF

INOD Block III Sniper Thermal Weapon Sight

Not sitting on its laurels with INOD Block III, Leonardo DRS is engaged in a number of weapon-sight programs to provide a next generation capability for special forces.

One of those programs is called the Mid-Range Dual-Channel Weapons Sight.

“The benefits of having dual bands is that you can sometimes see things that you normally wouldn’t,” said Maynard. “For example, a mid-wave SWIR (short wave infrared) system can see through glass. Troops need to see through glass, so that’s where fusion technology plays a role.”

In another example, the ability to fuse views makes it possible to see lasers. Special forces will often have lasers on their weapons but they can’t see them in a thermal environment unless they are heat lasers. The Mid-Range Dual-Channel Weapons Sight provides the advantage of not only seeing the laser but also the thermal image fused together. That gives SOF snipers the ability to mark a target with a laser and then share that with other operators with the same weapon sight so that they can also hone in on that target.

Leonardo DRS is also working to increase the fidelity of what special forces see at very far distances by using roughly the same size weapon sight but quadrupling the number of pixels in that package. With so many more pixels in the same focal point array size, a SOF sniper can see a man-sized target hundreds of additional meters further out. That helps enable early identification, making the weapon sight not only a targeting tool but a sensor to provide key surveillance information.

These innovations are examples of Leonardo DRS innovation built on a deep legacy and expertise in advanced thermal imaging and high-performance SOF systems. With more than a half of a century pioneering infrared detectors, advanced sensor suites and robust targeting systems, Leonardo DRS provides innovative EO/IR solutions that give U.S. and allied special operations forces a critical advantage.