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


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

According to Jessica Sinclair, NIWC Atlantic information technology specialist, there’s a saying used within the military that always rings true no matter the scenario or theater of war: “The military principle, ‘If you’re transmitting, you can be found applies.”

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

U.S. Navy Uses AR To Keep Warfighters Hidden On The Battlefield 1
Soldiers using a standard tablet device in the field. / Image Credit: Panasonic Mobility

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 and identify for 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 soldiers to take their eyes off the battlefield, a move anyone with combat experience will tell you is dangerous. 

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 soldiers with an accurate hands-free method for identifying their own RF waves. Currently referred to as ‘Spectrum Hunter,’ the system guides users to detected RF sources using AR visuals layered over the battlefield. 

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

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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.

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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: Image Credit: U.S. Navy, Joe Bullinger

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