“Responding to established needs,” said Dr. TJ Turner, Lead Engineer for Combat Support Technology, “RX partnered with Lumitex, of Strongsville, Ohio, to further develop methods established by the Army. Lumitex Inc. produced a fiber optic cloth that RX researchers realized could be used to develop a more accurate system of identification.”
Specifically cut to military specifications, the sheets of fiber optic cloth are laminated into layers used to form lighting devices that can be worn under the clothes, on outer tactical vests, on one’s arm, or on a helmet. This woven cloth creates a uniform light-emitting surface that is undetectable by the un-aided eye. In addition, TRON has 3 intensity levels and 3 strobe modes. It weighs only three ounces, and is capable ofrunning for 200 hours on two AA batteries.
“The TRON I System was first tested at the Team Patriot exercise at Volk Field, Wisconsin,” Dr. Turner explained. “Feedback from Army aviation units showed that the system clearly allowed them to identify friendly forces on the ground. Design changes were also suggested by Army and Air Force personnel, which will lead to the future development of TRON. The improved system includes a rugidized electronics package, modified flash rates, and a new case design.”
108 prototypes of TRON were produced in a period of six months. Following the system’s success, Air Force Special Operations Command operators requested larger units to help detect friendly forces from the air. This request led to the development of TRON III. TRON III is six times brighter than TRON I, making if easily detectable from a great distance. Using the same fiber optic cloth, it hooks into a vehicle’s power supply, so there is no need for an external power source. A prototype of TRON III was developed and has already been put to test.
“Currently, TRON I and III are being used in deployed locations, and were used at Red Flag, a joint air operation exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.,” explained Dr. Turner. “In real world conditions, TRON I was used to successfully mark and cordon an unused improvised explosive device, enabling a bomb disposal team to come in and quickly identify and destroy it. It has also been used in over 40 close air support missions. TRON III has been used for at least two successful close air support missions.”
TFOT previously covered a flexible integrated energy device, which is actually a garment capable of charging electrical devices with power generated by the wearer’s movements. The new technology has numerous potential applications, the most immediate one being military – the garment will be incorporated into uniforms of combat soldiers, increasing the soldiers’ maneuverability and decreasing their weight load. TFOT has also covered several other advanced garments, including light emitting textiles developed at the University of Manchester, and Philips’ Lumalive light emitting garments.
More information about TRON is available on the U.S. Air Force official website.