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....
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-
- Home defense
- Community defense
- Surveillance (static position) / security patrols (dismounted patrols)
- Weapons mountable (co-witnessed to optic -passive aiming)
- Head-borne (active aiming using visible or Infrared (IR) laser aiming device)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
There is a lot of adjustment in this mount. Having this much adjustment will ensure a proper co-witness with the primary optic.
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.
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.