T-90M’s thermal camera matrix is Russian-made under French license

An interesting video appeared a few days ago. It was informational and featured the Russian T-90M Proryv tank. Observant users noticed the wording Thales on the fire control system. Accordingly, various speculations began.

One of them is that the Russian tank is equipped with a thermal imaging matrix produced by the French company Thales. Comments and speculations began that France was supplying Russia with its thermal imaging matrices. Others have suggested that Russia once bought such dies from France and quite possibly has them in stock.

However, there is a third possibility that is supported by facts. BulgarianMilitary.com does not claim this possibility to eliminate the other two, but for the sake of argument and objectivity, it should be exposed to the public.

T-90M's thermal camera matrix is Russian-made under French license
Photo credit: Reddit

2nd generation Catherine-FC

The T-90M Proryv was introduced in 2012. One of the main features of the tank was the fire control system [fire control system] called Kalina, which included the Sosna-U sight and the Hawk’s Eye panoramic sight.

Both sights are based on French 2nd generation Catherine-FC thermal imaging matrices operating in the 8-12 micron range. The fact is that these matrices were not delivered en masse to the Russian Federation, but were produced. The production was carried out under the license of NPO Orion for AD VOMZ with 80% localization. Only the control unit was supplied from France and was not manufactured in Russia.

There is one more fact: since 2015, Russia has been the 4th country to master the production of its own thermal imaging matrices of the 2nd and 3rd generation. The claim that Russia has run out of thermal imaging sights due to economic sanctions is also exaggerated.

Quantitative production

When thermal imaging matrices are produced, they are not produced for a specific number of military equipment, but quantitatively for an entire military domain. For example – ground combat vehicles. I.e. Russia has produced thermal imaging arrays for both its tanks and APCs, MTLBs, self-propelled howitzers, and other infantry fighting vehicles.

T-90M's thermal camera matrix is Russian-made under French license
Photo credit: Twitter

There have also been claims that Russia has a shortage of tube components that is preventing sight assembly. This information is also contradictory because Russia has a problem, not with tribal components, but with FPGA chips. Russia just didn’t produce FPGA chips before, so they had to be bought from Xilinx and others.

But they were not made until 2020 – now the situation is different. For example, the new Russian FPGA chips of the 5578TS084, 5578TS094, 5576ХС1Т series can replace imported counterparts, and in fact, according to sources, this has already happened precisely because of the imposed economic sanctions against Russia.

T-90M's thermal camera matrix is Russian-made under French license
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

For example, the R-168-25UE radios have an internal FPGA and ADC from JSC VZPP-S, which means that the situation is similar in the sight control units. In the latest photos of the T-90M 2022, it can be seen inside that there is no Sosna-U sight, it has been replaced by a PNM-T sight with a homemade Irbis-K thermal imaging module from NPO Orion, as in fact the PK PAN Hawkeye sight.

Comparison

How good Russian thermal imaging matrices are compared to French – this is a comparison that is difficult to make because it depends on many factors. But let’s present a comparative technological characteristic between the Russian matrix PNM-T and the French Catherine-FC.

Catherine-FC has two fields of view, a range of 8-12 microns [LWIR technology], matrix resolution is 754×576 pixels, detection of infantry at a distance of up to 6 km, armored vehicles at up to 10 km, helicopters at 14 km.

The Russian PNM-T has two fields of view, a range of 8-12 microns, a resolution of 640×512 pixels, detection of infantry at a distance of 5 km, armored vehicles at 11 km, and helicopters at 14 km.

T-14 Armata

As you can see, the resolution of the Russian matrix is lower, but the picture is more detailed since the processor has more advanced DSP and image processing algorithms. In addition, the picture from the Russian thermal camera is more contrasty and does not have strong interference when the environment is very hot, which means that the T-90M and T-72B3 can see perfectly both day and night.

Russian 3rd generation thermal imaging matrices with a sensor substrate made based on gallium arsenide [GaAs] from NPO Orion are said to have a resolution of 800×600 pixels with uncompressed interpolation up to 1024×720 pixels. Such thermal imaging cameras are installed on the T-14 Armata, but their picture is on a completely different level.

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