Optics and electro-optics (EO) have played an important role in warfare throughout the history of mankind (for purposes of this discussion the terms “electro-optics,” “optics,” and “light” will be used to encompass visible, infrared, and ultraviolet wavelengths). In many periods of conflict these technologies have been critical determinants of the outcome of the conflict. A primary reason for the early impact of optics on warfare is that by far the largest amount of data input to the human brain regarding its surroundings is through the eyes. They quickly present enormous amounts of information to the brain due to the massive parallelism of these human imaging sensors as well as to the large dynamic range, angular resolution, and color acuity of the eyes. It is estimated that at least 25% and perhaps as much as 40% of the human cortex is involved in visual function.1,2 It therefore comes as no surprise that any optics that can enhance the performance of the visual sensors of the warrior can provide a great advantage in situation awareness and functional war-fighting capabilities.
The telescope was an early optical aid to the warrior that provided extension of visual acuity beyond normal distance and resolution. Binoculars allowed both eyes to be engaged and provided enhanced depth perception—especially if the two entrance-optic apertures were spaced further apart than normal eye spacing. This enhanced depth perception facilitated the three-dimensional fixing of target location and effective engagement of the target. One of the greatest technological developments of World War II was the Norden bombsight, which combined optical imaging functions with mechanical computations such that ballistic aiming of bombs could take into account airplane velocity and direction, elevation, wind speed, etc., and provide greatly improved bombing accuracy. The emergence of electro-optic means of image capture and display since World War II has made possible the use of a wide variety of remote platforms for image collection as well as the extension of imaging into spectral ranges beyond the response of the human eye. This has greatly enhanced the impact of imaging on defense activities. The rapid maturation of defense display technology has also introduced the means of presenting the warrior with a diversity of dense arrays of image and non-image data. Defense R&D is now immersed in an information-intensive age within which the timely collection and distribution of information to the defense user is a critical part of success on the battlefield. The battlefield display is the critical interface between the warrior and the extensive defense information network that is coming together.
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