Raytheon marked its five-decade heritage as the maker of Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) technology that has allowed U.S. and international defense forces to track objects in total darkness, often from long distances.
Over the span of 50 years, the devices have shrunk in size and weight – from several hundred pounds to less than two – while providing ever clearer images and more accurate data.
Their history began in 1963 when Texas Instruments’ Defense Systems and Electronics business (later acquired by Raytheon) created a capability to essentially allow the war fighter to see at night. By the end of the 1960s, the first product had been developed and deployed on board a C-47 fixed wing aircraft, nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
From that first platform, and after five decades and hundreds of thousands of devices sold, Raytheon is the world’s top supplier of FLIR technologies that support members of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as international allies. The devices are used on land, air and sea, and in space, to provide intelligence, surveillance, navigation and targeting capabilities.
“Before FLIR, the military’s ability to go out and conduct operations in total darkness was significantly limited. Our forces couldn’t see beyond the naked eye,” said Jerry Powlen, vice president of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems in Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business. “What started as a concept in the early 1960s has become a valuable asset to the warfighter in nearly every major U.S. conflict.”
During the Gulf conflicts, FLIR gave U.S. ground forces an advantage on the battlefield, allowing troops to “own the night,” and not only spot the enemy but also recognize friendly forces. The company has consistently evolved the technology. The next generation will provide a common high-definition view across the battlefield, and high definition resolution and magnification at much greater stand-off distances. This enhancement will help increase war fighter survivability and effectiveness, enabling our servicemen and women to identify and determine threats faster and with more precision.
Raytheon’s FLIR technology is deployed across multiple platforms – from satellites, fixed-wing aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, helicopters, tanks and military vehicles to hand-held thermal weapon sights and missile systems.