Pulse news magazine

Volume 30, September 2020

More than meets the eye: Using EO/IR to see the full picture

Detecting and generating light are two critical capabilities to enhance mission survivability for our warfighters.

At BAE Systems, detecting and generating light are two critical capabilities to enhance mission survivability for our warfighters.

Photons and electrons: two words you may not think about on a daily basis. Yet, they are two of the most prevalent particles that make up the matter of your everyday experiences – both seen and unseen. They create the energy, light, and images that fill your senses whether you realize it or not. The radio waves you hear from your music station, the visible light you see when you turn on a lamp, the digital photo you take with your smartphone camera, and the heat you feel from a fireplace. These are a few things you experience when electrons convert to photons at different frequencies and wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a term used to describe the entire range of light. And when light is converted at certain points across that spectrum, we can use it for different applications. It can be used for weather mapping, X-ray imaging, agricultural detection, and so much more.

At BAE Systems, detecting and generating light are two critical capabilities to enhance mission survivability for our warfighters. Electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) systems have both passive and active applications. They increase situational awareness and provide a full picture to identify and neutralize inbound threats. Solutions range from buried mine detection, air speed sensors, secure laser communication, light detection and ranging, next-generation infrared countermeasure defeat mechanisms, and everywhere in between.

For the Optical Attack Solutions product line, known as OAS, generating and converting laser outputs is something the team excels at. Building on decades of experience and legacy products, the team is creating solutions to respond to emerging threats. “Threats are evolving at a rapid pace,” said Jennica Dearborn, OAS product line director for the Countermeasure & Electromagnetic Attack Solutions business. “Solutions need to be agile and threat-agnostic. They need to serve multiple purposes while meeting size, weight, and power requirements for the platform. The complex battlespace requires holistic solutions that can detect and counter threats across the spectrum.”

BAE Systems’ material growth lab is a key discriminator in the company’s ability to develop high-quality crystals for use in optical systems. This in-house lab produces crystals and other materials for use primarily in shifting the wavelength and frequency of laser light. “We are one of the few suppliers in the world that can grow these non-linear crystals,” said Julia MacDonough, Sensor Technologies product line director for the FAST Labs™ business. “This capability enables us to develop new technologies faster and deliver on our customers’ evolving needs. We have the skillsets and facilities to do things that no one else has been able to do.”

In order to streamline rapid innovation, a certain level of collaboration is required. Sharing of knowledge, resources, and talent across the business is needed to bridge the gap and accelerate time to market. “Our deep expertise, customer mission understanding, and ability to mature technology into deliverables uniquely positions us to innovate and execute,” said Andy Radl, technology director for OAS. “There’s a great deal of momentum around getting capabilities to customers faster. We are not only able to rapidly prototype, but we have the ability to turn that prototype into something we can manufacture.”

To outpace adversarial threats, new to the world capabilities are needed. The status quo won’t be enough. Investment in technologies that serve as building blocks for future solutions across the spectrum will provide the critical edge. “As a leader in EW, we use every part of the electromagnetic spectrum to counter threats – moving from independent systems to integrated systems,” said Leonard Lublin, Advanced Technology Warfare Solutions product line director for the Electronic Combat Solutions business. “Across the business, we are advancing technology that has never been done before. There are lots of opportunities to be part of the ‘first ever’ and make history. It’s truly rewarding to work on solutions that protect our warfighters.”

Optical EW continues to be a growing focus. The multi-domain battlespace demands new EO/IR solutions to paint the full picture – providing the situational awareness needed for our U.S. Armed Forces and allies to detect and respond with the appropriate countermeasures. “We solve our customers’ hardest problems through different means,” said Dearborn. “Converting and manipulating light isn’t easy, but we are really good at it. And we provide the EO/IR solutions for modern and emerging threats.”

So the next time you turn on a lamp or take a digital photo, remember the electromagnetic spectrum. It is these electrons and photons at work that enable you to see the visible and invisible world around you, and create the life-saving technologies that protect the warfighter.

By Chelsey Canavan, Communications, Merrimack, New Hampshire