Armor: India Loves Catherine


February 27, 2008: India has bought another 400 French "Catherine" Thermal Imaging systems for its Russian T-90 tanks, bringing total purchases of these imagers to a thousand. Thermal imaging forms a picture based on the heat it detects. Thus it can see through dust storms and fog, and spot warm bodies, and vehicle engines. Last year, Russia ended a 70 year old tradition of not buying foreign (or at least Western) weapons, by purchasing a hundred of the same French thermal imaging sights for its T-90 tanks. The Catherine FC thermal imaging cameras are built by electronics manufacturer Thales, whose thermal imaging systems are popular in the United States as well. The U.S. Marine Corps recently bought thermal imaging binoculars from Thales.

Previously, only aircraft and tanks could carry the bulky thermal imaging equipment. But in the past few years, new technology has made it possible to build three pound thermal imaging rifle scopes, or, the new French thermal binoculars the marines are using. The "Sophie" thermal imaging binoculars have a downside. They are heavy (5.3 pounds), and expensive ($56,000 each). Battery life is three hours (with rechargeable batteries) and they are fragile (mean time between failure is 2500 hours.) But Sophie works. The binoculars can detect large vehicles up to 9,000 meters away (and individuals at about half that distance.) In a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, you can keep an eye on a large area, as enemy troops cannot hide the heat their bodies produce. Afghanistan has a lot of fog and mist that normally hides a lot of activity, and in Iraq you have frequent dust storms. The larger thermal imagers, like those used in T-90, have about the same range as the binoculars, but show more detail and cost about five times as much.

Over 30 nations have bought a total of nearly 4,000 Sophie binoculars for their troops and police. Ten nations have bought the Catherine imagers for armored vehicles.


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