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Life on Board: What Optical Components Are Used on Warships?

27th Jul 2020

Modern-day warships, vessels and naval technology employ a host of high-specification components to ensure optimum performance across the navy’s equipment and provide first-class safety for its personnel. Here, optics are used in a range of systems for navies all over the world. As a trusted supplier for naval engineers, Knight Optical – the leading supplier of on-spec, metrology-tested optical components – has explored the use of optics within this discerning sector. 


As documented in Channel 5’s recently broadcast documentary ‘Warship: Life at Sea’, there’s a whole host of technologies employed on warships. The 152m-long HMS Duncan, for example, is equipped with an abundance of radars, guns, decoy systems, missiles, aircraft; plus, many more systems – several of which rely on technologies that make use of high-precision optical components.

Electro-Optical (EO) Naval Technologies 

As the name suggests, naval electro-optical (EO) systems (an amalgamation of optics and electronics) employ a large selection of optical components, covering the ultraviolet (UV), visible, near-infrared (NIR) and infrared (IR) spectrums.


One particular device is known as the “eyes of the Royal Navy fleet”. Otherwise recognised as an electro-optical director (EOD) mount, this device is used for visual tracking, gunnery control and situational awareness1. As the name suggests, an EOD is made up of a range of infrared (IR) and visible optics. However, EODs aren’t the only electro-optical (EO) systems used for naval use. There are a whole host of EO-based devices that employ a wide range of optical components – from fire control and precision tracking to observation systems.


Of course, these systems’ production all varies, and different manufacturers have individual blueprints with project-specific optical components integrated into their design. However, there are a handful of optical components that are regularly specified for these naval EO systems, namely:


Thermal Imaging Naval Technology 

Not only are thermal imaging technologies used on naval vessels, but they’re also used for other maritime applications; such as superyachts and cruise ships; for instance. For naval purposes, in particular, thermal imaging cameras can be used for a multitude of purposes, such as overboard detection, long-range threat detection and for preventing breakdowns and potential fires within ships themselves.


Here at Knight Optical, we stock a range of IR optical components that are used for marine thermal imaging applications. With a wide-ranging portfolio of stock and the capability to supply high-precision made-to-measure optics, we are a go-to supplier for engineers working on naval thermal imaging applications. Our most common substrate for this naval category is the sought-after material, Germanium. We offer a variety of Germanium optics, including:

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Naval Technologies 

Perhaps more commonly known for its use in today’s autonomous vehicles, Light Detection and Ranging technology – or LiDAR, as it’s often referred to – is also used for marine and naval purposes. From situational awareness to detection, LiDAR has proved itself as a critical cog in the wheel for today’s warships. What’s more, there are wider benefits continually being explored by navies globally that’s tapping into the full potential of LiDAR technology.


For example, in a 2019 article for CHIPS – an official U.S. Navy website – Robert Palomares from the Naval Surface Warfare Center (Port Hueneme Division) explains how LiDAR scanning can “locate and repair areas of a ship faster and more accurately than they have previously2”. Meanwhile, another article published on USNI News’ website explains how a LiDAR system provided “a $50,000 investment in laser scanning equipment saved the Navy nearly $2m during the planning effort for USS George Washington’s (CVN-73) refuelling and complex overhaul3”. With plenty of scope for development and a substantial utilisation within the navy, LiDAR systems are certainly here to stay for such discerning, ultra-precision applications.


As a long-term supplier for many manufacturers working on LiDAR systems – from automobile to naval applications – we supply a wide variety of optical components suitable for LiDAR utilisation.


LiDAR optics commonly specified for naval technologies are:


Optical Coatings

Not only do navies require on-spec, premium-quality and reliable optical components, but they also demand the appropriate optical coatings to guarantee durability and protection against any harsh environments these high-tech devices may have to endure.


Here at Knight Optical, we offer a range of coatings suitable for marine and naval use. A few frequently specified coatings include:


Please click here to view our full range of optical coatings.

Why Choose Knight Optical? 

Here at Knight Optical, we have been supplying a range of optical components for high-specification naval applications. Discerning engineers working on such applications rely on Knight Optical not only for the premium quality of our output and in-house state-of-the-art Metrology Laboratory and QA Department’s capabilities but also because – as well as a range of stock optics (available for next-day dispatch) – we also offer a sought-after made-to-measure service. When customers opt for custom-made optical components from Knight Optical, not only do they receive fit-for-purpose, project-specific optics, but they can also choose the optical coatings that will enhance their end device.


If you’re looking for premium-quality, bespoke optical components, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Technical Sales Team today.