U.S. Navy Uses AR To Keep Warfighters Hidden On The Battlefield

US military employs hands-free AR to detect RF waves during combat. 

According to Jessica Sinclair, NIWC Atlantic information technology specialist, there’s a saying used within the military that always rings true no matter what: “If you’re transmitting, you can be found.”

While out in the field, soldiers are often equipped with a variety of communication and GPS devices, each of which emitting their own radio frequency waves. Whether it be a cell phone, SOS beacon, hand-held radios, or Wi-Fi, these RF waves are traceable back to their source. As a result, many warfighters engaged in active battlefields will often cut their transmissions and go “radio silent,” essentially becoming invisible to any frequency emission detection devices being employed by the enemy.

The Microsoft HoloLens 2 being used to power Spectrum Hunter / Image Credit: U.S. Navy, Joe Bullinger

In order to ensure every one of their transmitting devices is secure, warfighters currently utilize a 10-pound handheld tablet equipped with a handheld radio to scan for and identify their own frequencies. While the system is technically portable, it does add additional weight to soldiers already burdened with a plethora of equipment. It also forces operators to take their eyes off the battlefield in order to scan, a move anyone with combat experience will tell you is a big no-no. 

As a result, a Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic team has begun experimenting with a prototype transmission detection system that uses AR visuals projected over the user’s real-world environment to provide an accurate hands-free method for identifying their own RF waves. Currently referred to as ‘Spectrum Hunter,’ the system guides users towards detected RF sources using an AR-enhanced heads-up display.  

Operators can navigate through various information regarding the detected RF waves using a combination of voice recognition technology and physical hand gestures, allowing them to locate and deactivate any transmissions while at the same time keeping a look-out for danger. 

Navy personnel experimenting with prototype technology / Image Credit: U.S. Navy, Joe Bullinger

“The Spectrum Hunter system under development is hands-free. As the user packs a similar-but-smaller geolocator receiver in a backpack and wears a headset inside a helmet that allows them to ‘see’ images of RF waves on an augmented reality screen superimposed over heavy sunglasses,” said Sinclair according to Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic Public Affairs. “The helmet is fitted with a sunshade so the equipment operates outdoors.”

“The sky is the limit for potential uses for Spectrum Hunter,” added NIWC Atlantic Acting Executive Director Peter C. Reddy. “Augmented reality can enable an operator to more quickly and easily locate the source; this is a paradigm shift toward capabilities of the future.”

Looking to the future, the Navy hopes to expand its use of AR as an RF wave detection tool, hoping that, eventually, the technology could be used to detect the RF waves of enemy combatants.

Naval Information Warfare Center, San Diego, CA / Image Credit: Carl Jantzen

“Our team is initially focusing on detecting handheld radios and will expand the scope later to detect cell phones and other devices,” Sinclair continued. “In the future, we plan to modify it to identify RF waves emitting from enemy forces.”

The Spectrum Hunter prototype was recently showcased this past July at the Fight the Naval Force Forward Advanced Naval Technology Exercise East at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, during which experts from over 35 government agencies, industry, and academia were able to provide valuable insight on the project in its current state.

Featured Image Credit: Panasonic Mobility

About the Scout

Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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