By Jennifer Bacchus, AMCSeptember 15, 2011
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- For many years, Anniston Army Depot's optics branch has focused on tanks and Dennis Butler, supervisor for optics, says employees have become experts in that area. In the future, however, he would like to see more diversity in the workload.
"We've whittled ourselves down to where all we do is tank optics," said Butler. "We do that well, but that is all we do."
Butler would like to see optics employees, most of whom have at least a two-year degree in electronics, regularly repair or overhaul Stryker equipment or other types of scopes alongside the M1 Abrams and Paladin tank components that make up their present workload.
The technical education possessed by optics employees is vital for the technology they handle daily.
While the panoramic telescope employees overhaul for the Paladin isn't designed for targeting small objects, the scopes for the Abrams tank give it the ability to focus on very specific targets.
"The M1A1 can shoot a trash can at 5,000 meters," said Butler. "That's what is impressive about this equipment. It enables you to hit a moving target at any speed."
The optics shop is a highly technical, cutting edge work area, with the latest tools and software needed to test and repair the thermal scopes of the M1 tank, including unique machinery designed to run each fully-assembled optical device through a battery of tests before it is reintegrated into the vehicle.
These hot test stands -- for the commander's integrated thermal viewer and the gunner's primary sight -- allow equipment to be tested in the same way it is used in the field.
"Our employees run through the exact same start-up process used on these scopes when they are in the tank," said Butler.
Employees also upgrade the sights and scopes as new technology becomes available. The men and women of the optics branch regularly take the older optical technology of the M1A1, strip it to its bare components and bring it up to the level of the latest configuration M1A1.
"It's much cheaper to repair and upgrade tank optics than to replace it with a new part," said Butler.
In thermal viewers, newer technology reduces battlefield noise -- the bright flashes of light that can obscure a tank's target when thermal viewing is enabled.
Butler said similar repairs and upgrades for Stryker thermal viewers or other types of optical components could be done easily with only a small learning curve. One of the few needed shop upgrades would be a test stand for final inspection before the equipment is placed in the vehicle.
"We might need a different test stand, or a modification to one of our existing stands," said Butler. "But, with software designed to test the equipment, we could easily grow into any work that comes out way."