Night Vision Equipment selection
Night Vision Devices or NVDs are a much more common piece of support gear as compared to just a few years ago. Today quality NVDs can be purchased at a reasonable price, the utility of owning a set of NVDs is not lost on the average person who fully understands how much an NVD can enhance their low light / no light defensive capabilities . When purchasing NVDs keep in mind certain considerations....
The price of quality night vision is much more affordable today, but we don’t want to make uninformed decisions and find out that the newly purchased NVD will not suit the requirements of our specific needs.
What exactly is Night Vision? It’s magic. When one looks through a little tube at night a special magic happens which allows the user to see what was once unseen. Or it could be called science, either way both accounts seem pretty much on point. Night vision has many different names; starlight scope, Infrared scope, night vision, Night Vision Device (NVD), Night Optical Device (NOD) Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) and the list goes on. All of these names are generally correct.
NVDs generally have an objective lens where the ambient light enters, a power supply, and an intensifier tube aka the Photocathode tube. The intensifier tube takes the existing ambient light, from stars, moon, street lights, Infrared light, etc and changes the Photons into Electrons. The intensifier tube then amplifies all of the electrons creating more of them, the electrons make their way to a phosphorus screen, at this point the electrons are now changed back into visible light which our human eye will see when pressed up against the eyepiece of the NVD. That is a really really over simplified explanation of night vision technology.
So, when you hear someone say to pick an intensifier tube that is of the highest quality they are really saying pick a tube that has a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) x System Resolution (SR) which gives a high FOM scale. SNR x SR equals the Figure of Merit (FOM) the higher the FOM the better the tube contrast should be.
example: an NVD spec sheet says the device has a SR of 64 lp/mm (lines per millimeter) and a SNR of 25 the FOM scale will be 1600.
FOM scale for Gen 2 NVD is under 750, FOM scale for Gen 2+ is 750 to 1200, FOM scale for Gen 3 is approximately 800 to 1600 FOM. We are using FOM as a quantifiable range for comparison of different monochromatic image intensified cameras, or NVDs.
Lets look at a few initial user requirements to help us pick a NVD best suited for our needs. First determine your budget. A high quality night vision monocular will cost between $3500.00 to $4000.00 depending on quality selection of the intensifier tube you choose. Pick the highest quality intensifier tube you can afford. The quality of the tube is directly related to the performance you will observe at night through the NVD.
Once you have a budget in mind we need to next determine what role you foresee the NVD being used in. Is the NVD going to be solely for home defense, is the NVD going to be used for hunting, will the NVD be used for long range surveillance, will the NVD need to be magnified?
There are as many different scenarios and considerations to take into account as there are NVDs available to address those specific needs. In order to focus on a specific use case for NVDs we will use a pre-canned set of needs / requirements of our NVDs.
Determine the best piece night vision equipment for the following uses-
One of the first and one of the most prevalent and all around general purpose NVDs is the PVS-14 style NVD. This device is a monocular design that can be handheld, worn on the head, or mounted on a weapons system. Lets look at these mounting solutions and talk more of how these would apply to specific scenarios.
Note: I am using the nomenclature PVS-14 in a general sense, there are many different names and models that the PVS-14 monocular will generally encompass, using the PVS-14 nomenclature in a general term will help save time in not identifying every single manufacture and model of hand held night vision monocular.
Using a PVS-14 NVD handheld is a great way to make general observations in a quick manner, switching between different tasks then returning to the handheld NVD is very easy. The device is held in one hand and held to the eye while scanning an area. Using an NVD in a handheld method is not well suited for walking or employing weapons on a target, primarily using an NVD in a handheld mode is best suited for scanning and observation.
Next lets talk about co-witnessing the PVS-14 to a red dot optic. Co-witness between two optics in general means that both optics are aligned to each other- taking in account the red dot sight height as compared to the NVDs height. Considerations should be taken to ensure the mounting solutions selected will match up with the correct height between the two mounts. Having one mount higher or lower than the other will cause the co-witness between the optics to fail, the view will be obstructed.
Here are a few examples of a PVS-14 style NVD co-witnessed to a red dot optic on a fighting rifle.
Co-witnessing an NVD to a red dot sight is extremely effective. PVS-14 style NVDs do not have an aiming point. using a red dot sight or a laser aiming device is the only way to accurately use a weapons mounted NVD.
When a NVD is attached to a rifle and is utilizing a co-witnessed optic, we consider this to be passive. No external indicators are present, if another observer using an NVD was present the observer would not be able to discern if a weapons system using night vision was present in the area (generally speaking, there is always a chance of light spillage If the NVD is not properly used).
A quick example is when we wear a head-borne NVD we no longer have an aiming point, we must now utilize either a visible or Infrared laser aiming device attached to our fighting rifle, the lasers are very noticeable by both the human eye in the case of a visible laser, and in the case of an observer wearing an NVDs the visible and IR laser are also extremely noticeable. Using a laser aiming device is considered active aiming. Lasers can quickly compromise or give up your position, just keep that in mind when utilizing them.
Considerations for using a passive or weapons mounted NVD-
In a static defense or observation post. Maximum stealth may be required, utilizing a visible or Infrared aiming laser could quickly give away your position.
Another case for weapons mounted PVS-14 is due to monetary constraints preventing purchasing additional lasers and head mounting systems; allow for purchasing other components over time, utilizing a weapons mount is a quick way to get an NVD into the fight at a lower price point.
Accuracy is increased when co-witnessing an NVD to a red dot sight. The primary reason accuracy is increased when shooting at distance, is due to the fact when the NVD is co-witnessed to the red dot sight, the NVD, the sight and the rifle are working together as one unit. Marksmanship fundamentals are just the same as mounting a rifle with no NVD co-witnessed. An example would be; achieving a proper cheek weld with the stock of the rifle. With Co-witness optics the cheek weld is the same as always. A quick contrast to the difference between shooting a fighting rifle with a laser aiming device is the NVD will be head mounted, head mounted NVD even when placed over the non-firing eye, will be very difficult to mount the weapon in a manner to have a perfect cheek weld and maintain the proper firing position to support the fundamentals of marksmanship. We will talk more on firing with a laser aiming device in a second, don’t get all huffy just yet, we aren’t saying you can’t be accurate with a laser aiming device, what we are saying is if you need the most fundamentally accurate position, using the co-witness NVD and optic will provide for that.
Con’s of the Co-witness NVD are many. Here are a few of them. When a weapons utilizes a Co-witnessed NVD with optic, the operator will need to always mount the weapon and point the weapon at whatever he is interrogating with the night vision, think about being on a dismounted security patrol and the NVD is mounted to the weapon. To utilize the NVD the weapon will be mounted in a firing position, scanning your area of responsibility for the entire patrol, while walking, this is not sustainable or very effective. When the NVD is mounted to a rifle, walking or running, utilizing the NVD is nearly impossible.
We have pointed out the benefits and detractors of having a weapons mounted NVD, let's now focus on the benefits and detractors of a head-borne NVD setup.
Wearing a head mounted NVD requires an explanation of the parts required to make the NVD attach to a head mounting system. First lets talk about the head mounting host, the thing that will be connecting your head to the NVD.
Standard Head mount system aka the Skull Crusher, this is by far the worst way to wear an NVD on the head. The skull crusher is uncomfortable for long term use, when running or other vigorous activity the head mount flops around and in general is a poor base to host the NVD.
An alternative to the standard head mount is an aftermarket version often referred to as a night vision face mask. The face mask system is much better than the skull crusher but it is also much more expensive.
Another head-borne host for an NVD is the Nightcap by Crye Precision. This requires additional accessories to fully mount to an NVD, be sure to read up on all of these different systems prior to purchasing, they all have very specific accessories required to have a fully working system.
Another head-borne host is the helmet. The helmets come in many different types and prices, from a modified skateboard helmet all the way up to state of the art ballistic helmets. The helmets will provide a solid base for your NVD to connect. If you have never worn a head mounted NVD for any length of time you will find out quickly that it can get very tiring. I personally use a Team Wendy Carbon Fiber bump helmet, the carbon fiber is extremely lightweight which allows the wearer to be less fatigued over time. Team Wendy helmets comes with a built in shroud. A shroud is the connecting point between the hinge and the helmet. Many helmets do not come with a shroud, you must buy the shroud separately.
Here is a picture of just a shroud. They come in single hole mounting option and 3 hole mounting options. When purchasing a helmet the manufacture will often times pre-drill holes for a shroud. When looking for specifications on the helmet note if has already been pre-drilled for a 1 or 3 hole shroud. Depending on the type of helmet hole configuration will depend on the type of shroud which will fit the helmet without modifying it yourself. Note that some helmet manufacturers such as Opscore and Team Wendy utilize a built in shroud design in their helmet. No additional shroud is needed to make this type of helmet work with a helmet mount.
Below is the hinge that connects from the helmet shroud to the J arm of the NVD. The standard issue Norotos PVS-7 / PVS-14 helmet mount is often times referred to as the Rhino mount. When the mount is flipped up without an NVD attached it looks like a rhino horn coming out of your helmet. The new helmet mounts are much lower profile which levitates stress on the neck as compared to the standard mil-spec helmet mount, the newer mounts are about 3 times as expensive, you will literally have a small baby cow when you see how much some of the latest helmet mounts are going for.
Helmets to host NVDs
Above is a modified skateboard helmet, note that this helmet will require a shroud to be installed. A single hole or triple hole shroud. The material is very flimsy compared to a purpose built bump helmet or ballistic helmet, but the price on this type of NVG host helmet is around $100
I wear the Team Wendy Exfil Carbon Bump helmet with a built in shroud ( connect the rhino mount directly to the built in shroud) The price on the Carbon fiber bump helmets are around $450
Below is a Team Wendy Exfil LTP it is just the same as the Carbon fiber version but made of a different material. The price for the LTP is around $299
Below are 2 of the helmets we offer. Each comes with a NVD shroud. Perfect host for head borne NVDs
Last but not least in the things needed to connect an NVD to a helmet is the J arm. The J arm connects the PVS-14 to the helmet mount aka Rhino mount. When you buy a PVS-14 often times it will come with a standard mil-spec J arm, always check the included accessories, some kits will leave out things which will cause you frustration and expending more money in order to have a working setup. A mil-spec J arm goes for around $60.
No one freak out because we still have more to talk about. Lets get into the multi-host configuration. Yes, at times you may have a need to co-witness your NVD behind your optic, but then just as quickly you may need to slap it on your helmet. There is a solution for that and it comes in the form of quick disconnect mounting rings. All of the devices below use a very similar design. a ring is attached around the front of the PVS-14 objective. The ring is semi-permanent, at the base of the ring is a connection point, this connection point will mate up with a base on the fighting rifle. this will allow the user to quickly transition from head mounted to weapon mounted NVD.
Another mounting solution is by GG&G The Multi-Flex night vision mount. I had one of the early models and it worked as advertised.
ModArmory has a really slick looking mount called the Ultimate Weapons Mount -UWM. The mount only weighs in at 2 ounces, talk about light-weight
Samson has a PVS-14 mount called the RAM Flip to Side mount
TNVC has an interesting mount called the PRI M-69 PVS-14 Weapons Mount
There is a lot of adjustment in this mount. Having this much adjustment will ensure a proper co-witness with the primary optic.
TNVC also has the TNVC TM14 PVS-14 Weapon Mount, a very lightweight minimalist PVS-14 mount, this mount has two parts, the Twist mount and the Twist mount base. They are currently running a 15% of code on the product page
TNVC also has the standard PVS-14 picatinny mount. This sometimes comes with certain PVS-14 kits, be sure to check the included accessories when ordering the PVS-14 NVD. I personally do not like this mount, there are far better mounts available. This is depicted because it is often included with PVS-14 NVD kits.
American Defense MFG, LLC has a really nice, lightweight PVS-14 weapons mount, and the price point on this mount is very reasonable ($129)
Sightmark makes a PVS-14 STS QD weapons mount and the price point on this mount is very reasonable also ($119)
NVGstore has the SNVG DLOC-PVS NVD weapons mount for a reasonable $190
We have covered a lot, from picking the best intensifier tube you can afford to selecting all of the accessories needed to mount the PVS-14 on a weapon or helmet. In order to use the helmet mounted NVD we need to outfit our fighting rifle with some form of laser pointing device. This device can be a visible red or green laser, or it can be an invisible to the naked eye, IR laser aiming device. IR lasers are classified as civilian models and Law Enforcement and Military models.
The Food and Drug Administration classifies and regulates laser devices. It is not illegal for a citizen to own a laser classified for Military or Law Enforcement use, it is however against FDA regulations for retailers to sell restricted laser devices to those outside of the Military and Law Enforcement. As ridiculous as this rule is, it really doesn't matter because most manufacturers of quality Laser aiming devices make class 1 civilian compliant devices in the same form factors and offerings as most restricted laser aiming devices.
One of the rational behind restricting Infrared laser devices to civilians to a specific power level is the FDA doesn't trust us to not run around and shine these lasers in peoples eyes. An IR laser of sufficient power i.e. Military grade IR laser, can permanently blind a person. When an IR laser is pointed at the eye, our eyes don’t sense a bright destructive light therefore we don’t send signals to our eyes to blink or close our eye we just keep looking right at the invisible laser light until our eye is permanently damaged.
Enough about why we can’t have nice things. Lets look at the laser aiming devices available.
Laser aiming devices come in different form factors and with different functions. The main thing we need to aim a fighting rifle while wearing an NVD is an aiming point. The LDI CQBL-1 has a visible laser and a class 1 IR laser. Both of these laser are slaved together so when you zero one you zero the other. Some laser pointing devices with dual lasers have independent laser zeroing requirements.
LDI ITAL with Class 1 IR laser only. The ITAL is an Inline Tactical Aiming Laser. If you have a fixed front sight post select the OTAL laser.
For those who are running a fixed front sight post use the LDI OTAL Class 1 Offset Tactical Aiming Laser.
Dual beam Visible laser with Class 1 IR laser. Each laser is individually zeroed. LDI DBAL- I 2
Lets do the math. We are going to make our selections on the high side. Because that's the way we do things.
PVS-14 NVD $4195.00 (top of the line hand selected intensifier tube)
Wilcox L4 G11 mount (Rhino mount) $265.00
PVS-14 J Arm $90.00
LaRue Tactical QD mount LT114 $162.00
Team Wendy Carbon Fiber bump helmet with shroud $450.00
LDI CQB-1 visible laser w/ class 1 IR laser $800.00
Drum roll please…………………………..$5962.00
Don’t forget to add in qualified training and plenty of practice to include rounds down range on your own time. To own the night is much more than just buying all the right gear, one must train and understand the new challenges which follow the night fighter into battle.
Join us this fall for the “S12 Optics Enhanced Night Fighter” course. The course will cover the fundamentals of night fighting equipment and it’s proper usage.