The term infrared signature is used by defense scientists and the military to describe the appearance of objects to infrared sensors. An infrared signature depends on many factors, including the shape and size of the object, temperature and emissivity, reflection of external sources (earthshine, sunshine, skyshine) from the object's surface, the background against which it is viewed and the waveband of the detecting sensor. As such there is no all-encompassing definition of infrared signature nor any trivial means of measuring it. For example the infrared signature of a truck viewed against a field will vary significantly with changing weather, time of day and engine loading.
Infrared stealth is an area of stealth technology aimed at reducing infrared signatures. This reduces a platform's susceptibility to infrared guided weapons and infrared surveillance sensors, and thus increases the platform's overall survivability. Infrared stealth is particularly applicable to military jets because of the detectable engines and plumes from non-stealth aircraft, but it also applies to military helicopters, warships, land vehicles and dismounted soldiers.
A military aim in studying infrared signatures is to understand the likely infrared signature of threats (and develop the equipment required to detect them) and to reduce the infrared signature of their own assets to threat sensors. In practice this might mean equipping a warship with sensors to detect the exhaust plumes of incoming anti-ship missiles while also having an infrared signature below the detection threshold of the infrared sensor guiding the missile.
Two fairly successful examples of defining the infrared signature of an object are the apparent temperature difference at the sensor and the contrast radiant intensity (CRI) definitions.
Apparent temperature difference
The apparent temperature difference method of defining infrared signature gives the physical temperature difference (e.g. in kelvin) between the object of interest and the immediate background if the recorded radiance values had been measured from perfect blackbody sources. Problems with this method include differences in radiance across the object or the immediate background and the finite size of the detector's pixels. The value is a complex function of range, time, aspect, etc.
Contrast radiant intensity
The contrast radiant intensity method of defining infrared signature is to take the difference in average radiance of the object and that of the immediate background and multiply this by the projected area of the object. Again the CRI value will depend on many factors.
- osmosis is free software currently being built to allow basic infrared signatures simulations.
In the design phase, it is often desirable to employ a computer to predict what the infrared signature will be before fabricating an actual object. Many iterations of this prediction process can be performed in a short time at low cost, whereas use of a measurement range is often time-consuming, expensive and error-prone.
A number of software houses have built infrared signature prediction software packages. These generally require a CAD model of interest plus a large set of parameters to describe a specific thermal environment and the internal temperatures of the platform and thermal properties of the construction materials. The software then solves a set of thermal equations across the boundaries and for electromagnetic propagation in a specified infrared waveband. The primary output is a measure of infrared signature, though usually surface temperatures can be given (since this usually has to be calculated to obtain the infrared signature prediction) and also visual representations of how the scene may appear to various imaging infrared detectors.
Infrared signature prediction models are very difficult to validate except for simple cases because of the difficulty in modelling a complex environment. Both sensitivity analysis of this type of software and experimental measurements has shown that small variations in weather can have a significant impact on the results. As such, there are limitations on what can be achieved from modelling the infrared problem, and sometimes experimentation is necessary to achieve accurate knowledge of the nature of an objects physical existence in the infrared wavebands.
An example of a commercial infrared signature prediction tool is the Ship EDF software offered by the Italian company IDS.
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