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Answering the big questions for aerospace & defence

Thin film coatings give optics superpowers - the competitive advantage that delivers overmatch to allied forces on the battlefield.

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Image © Raytheon Elcan

Image © Raytheon Elcan

In fiction and in fantasy, superpowers enable heroes to see faster, further and in contested environments. For critical aerospace and defence applications, thin film coatings give optics superpowers to keep pilots safer, enable soldiers to identify targets at longer distances and help satellites see from space.

Thin film coatings are layers of material deposited onto a substrate to manipulate specific wavelengths of light. These layers range from a single atom to hundreds of layers in thickness, depending on the requirement. These layers absorb, reflect or block energy to meet mission requirements on air, land, sea and space platforms.

“Our optics help provide the competitive advantage that delivers overmatch to allied forces on the battlefield,” said Sean Dieing, associate director of business development and program management at Raytheon ELCAN.

Breakthrough solutions that push the edges of science and expand the possible

When raindrops act like bullets

Infrared homing or heat-seeking missiles use an infrared sensor, sensitive to heat emitted by an aircraft engine, to track and home-in on the infrared signal. This puts allied pilots in danger. The threat from heat-seeking missiles was responsible for 80% of the aircraft losses in Operation Desert Storm.

Using internal research and development funding, the thin film coating team designed a custom, high-durability coating that met customer requirements. This coating reduced damage at higher speeds and in driving rain and improved transmission loss. This coating is now an industry-leading coating, qualified and fielded on IRCM and Infrared Search & Track systems. Several allied militaries are moving to put infrared countermeasures on land vehicles to help reduce weight while keeping soldiers safer.

Image © Raytheon Elcan

Reducing transmission losses in complex systems

The ELCAN Specter line of sights have continued to evolve since the introduction of the C79 to Canadian forces in the early 1990s. These rugged, high precision optical sights have evolved to include dual role and digital sights. As these sights have become more complex, more optical elements are necessary to meet mission requirements.

To compensate for transmission loss without sacrificing image quality, Raytheon ELCAN leveraged its experience and heritage in cinematography to develop industry-leading thin film coatings that set the standards for optical quality and capability.

“We take decades of experience and apply a different mentality to ensure durability and compensate for extreme environments…we design in the ruggedness and durability,” said Kristy Dalzell, associate director of engineering at Raytheon ELCAN.

Leveraging experience to solve customers biggest problems

Raytheon ELCAN has more than 70 years' experience designing and manufacturing proprietary and custom coatings, pioneering performance improvements to meet customer requirements. These coatings include anti-reflection or A/R, high reflection and hard-carbon protective coatings for eye and sensor protection, beam splitting, electrical conductivity and other applications for aerospace and defence applications.

Our thin film coating department is a 10,000-class cleanroom, with an additional 1,000-class cleanroom within the department. Coatings range from high reflector metals (gold, silver, aluminium and copper, among others) to UV, visible, near-, mid- and far-IR that are A/R coatings, filters, beamsplitters, bandpass, conductivity and laser-specific coatings.

Raytheon ELCAN uses many industry-leading techniques for coating deposition depending on the performance requirements for the system, the substrate and coating requirements. Techniques used include chemical vapour deposition, physical deposition and sputtering. Fine-line and detailed reticle patterns are created through a process known as photo-resist imaging or photo-lithography. Patterns are etched onto substrates using ion-assisted etching.

Thin film coatings are a critical enabling capability to meet customer requirements on weapon guidance and seekers, targeting systems, cockpit avionics, IRST and CM, high-energy laser weapon systems and space ISR and communications.

“How can optics withstand higher thresholds of laser damage? How can they withstand higher temperature stresses or blowing sand at higher speeds?“ asked Mike Lewis, director and general manager at Raytheon ELCAN. “These are all areas where we're driving investment, looking at new capabilities from new equipment, new manufacturing processes and new design approaches to meet our customers' demands.“

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