It is one of the biggest fears of every soldier and officer on the battlefield: attacking friendly forces misidentified as enemies. Avoiding misidentification has been the goal behind a steady stream of technologies intended to improve friend or foe identification at greater distances.
To that end, an Israeli military contractor on the cutting edge of friend or foe ID technology just introduced an innovative thermal radiation system capable of correctly identifying targets at distances of up to 18 km (just over 11 miles). High accuracy at such a great distance reduces battlefield threats by giving military decision-makers more time to react. It also reduces the possibility of misidentification of friendly forces.
How the System Works
Although details of the new Israeli system are limited, the basic mechanics of how it all works are already well understood. Thermal beacons are essentially infrared beacons capable of facilitating identification within the thermal spectrum region of infrared light. The technology combines both optical and thermal observation for correct identification.
Thermal beacons, which can be deployed both at static locations and on mobile equipment, emit radiation that is not anywhere near the visible infrared spectrum. This means they are not detectable by either the human eye or equipment designed to measure signals near the visible spectrum.
A beacon emits radiation while a receiver picks up that radiation and reads encoded data to make identification. The key to the whole operation is equipment capable of emitting and detecting at long distances. A good way to explain it is to think of a television remote control, explains California-based Rock West Solutions.
An infrared remote works very well at close range and when pointed in the general direction of the device being operated. Point the remote away from the device and it will not work. Place the device too far away and you have additional problems.
The idea behind the Israeli technology is to have a system in which infrared beacons emit radiation in all directions and over longer distances. Receivers are designed with greater power to better receive distant signals. It would be like turning your TV on from across the street.
Applications Beyond the Military
The company behind the new Israeli system is to be commended for greatly improving friend or foe ID technology. But the technology has practical applications above and beyond military use. The company is already promoting their system for search and rescue, SWAT, maritime, aerospace, and mountaineering applications.
Imagine being a boater lost at sea due to mechanical failure. We’ve all seen stories of search and rescue missions that have turned up nothing even after the Coast Guard has surveyed dozens of square miles of ocean. An infrared beacon system capable of identification at more than 10 miles could greatly enhance rescue efforts by alerting rescuers to boaters in distress without having to make visual contact.
Even at close distances, visual contact is never guaranteed. It is easy to look out at the vastness of the ocean from one’s perch in a helicopter and still fail to see someone in the water and in need of rescue. Equip boaters with infrared thermal beacons and you increase their chances of survival in the event of an emergency.
Friend or foe ID systems are critical to military success. The Israeli military may soon have an advantage over its enemies thanks to a new system capable of identifying friend or foe from further away. Thanks to some very smart people figuring out how to use infrared thermal energy to their advantage, soldiers in the battlefield will be a bit safer.