Going Green: Using Tactical Night Vision to Own the Night

| August 24, 2022
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Categories: Gear, Learnin'

Effective marksmanship is about a lot more than just owning the right gear. If you want to excel in any practice, you need to know how to configure a kit to give you the best performance for the given purpose and environment. That’s hard enough by day, it’s more difficult still if you’re night-fighting. It takes more than a pair of NODs to own the night. 

Night Fighter Guide

STAGING GUNS AND GEAR FOR TACTICAL NIGHT VISION

Via the Primary Arms blog

Shooting at night is more than just buying night vision goggles and rigging them to your helmet. It’s a major shift that requires a careful re-examination of what gear you bring and how you set it up.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what considerations you need to keep in mind as you design your firearms and stage your gear, and what changes can be made to a daytime configuration to make it a proper night-time tactical night vision loadout

 

loadout to make it ready for work after nightfall.

Night-Fighting: Guns

When outfitting a firearm for night vision, there are certain features and accessories that will give you a considerable advantage, either in raw performance or ease-of-use.

If you’re looking to get the most from your night vision setup, here are a few considerations that you’ll want to make when selecting your firearm and its components.

SUPPRESSORS

Night vision devices offer two substantial advantages over white light: visibility and stealth. Suppressors allow you to get the most from these advantages.

For tactical use, visibility is obviously important, as it allows you to identify threats from farther away. Detection is the first phase of any engagement, and when you’re working in a low-light environment, any visibility advantage can be hugely significant.

That’s why stealth is equally important. Lighting up an area with a white light creates a clear indicator of your position for anyone around. With night vision, you have a much better chance of seeing a treat before the threat sees you. Because visibility and stealth are so important to night vision, we recommend you equip your rifle with a suppressor, as suppressors complement and enhance both advantages.

By reducing your noise signature, you make it harder for threats to pinpoint your exact location. Suppressors also reduce flash, often substantially, which prevents you from blinding yourself, and again, eliminates a vector of exposure.

If your primary rifle is chambered in a cartridge like 5.56×45 or 7.62×51, you may wonder if a suppressor is worth it. These cartridges don’t have commonly available subsonic ammunition, so even with a suppressor, you’ll produce a very loud supersonic crack with every shot. This is true, but not a reason to forgo a suppressor.

A suppressor will still reduce the audible profile and muzzle flash of the shot. Also, if you are communicating with other members of your team, suppressors will make it substantially easier to understand one another, especially in urban or enclosed settings, where unsuppressed gunfire can be deafening.

If you’re already using night vision to give yourself a stealth advantage, augmenting it with a suppressor is highly recommended. Other than the added weight, there’s little downside.

Barrel Length

Optimal barrel length will vary depending on your firearm and cartridge, but in most cases, shorter is better for use with night vision.

The primary reason is that if you’re using a suppressor—which you should be—a shorter barrel will give you a much more manageable overall package. Most suppressors add 4–6 inches to the end of your barrel, meaning that even with something like an MK18 with its 10.3″ barrel, your effective length after adding the suppressor would be around 14.5–16 inches.

That’s right in line with most full-size unsuppressed fighting rifles, and makes for a manageable firearm, even in tight quarters. If you’re already starting with a 16″ barrel though, your overall length ends up near or above 20″. Such lengths can become unwieldy under night vision, especially when navigating corridors.

The only significant drawback to a short barrel is the effective range. With every inch you give up, you lose a little speed, and it gets a little harder to engage targets at long distance. But how much does that matter under NODs?

Most night vision is used with IR lasers and red dots rather than magnified optics. With quality night vision, you can identify potential threats beyond 400 yards, but accurate engagement would be a challenge.

Since your effective range is capped at a few hundred yards by your visibility and optics anyway, opting for a shorter barrel gives up very little usable ballistic performance, but offers substantial gains in maneuverability.

CONTROLS

One of the major downsides to night vision is the severely limited field of view. An average person has a field of view of about 114 degrees; common night vision devices offer a field of view of just 40 degrees.

Combine that reduced FOV with a manual focus (which is usually set downrange), and you can understand how NODs can significantly diminish your agility and weapons handling. To be effective, you must be able to operate your firearm without looking at it, knowing its manual of arms implicitly.

If you’re practiced with your firearm, you can probably actuate your safety selector and magazine release completely blind. It’s not difficult to learn—both controls can be reached without moving your hand from the grip. Reloading blind is where the challenges begin.

Even if you’ve drilled enough to be able to reload without looking at your firearm in the daylight, the switch to night vision can throw off your depth perception and mess with your muscle memory, especially if you use a night vision monocular instead of goggles.

Investing in enhanced controls can help make your blind reloads faster and more reliable. For example, a larger bolt release like the Geissele Maritime Bolt Catch massively increases the acceptable margin of error, meaning less precision is required to actuate it. When you’re operating blind, the less precision required for a task, the better.

Similarly, larger charging handles like the Radian Raptor make it easier to complete reloads and clear malfunctions without having to look at your weapon.

One of our favorite upgrades, though, is a flared magwell. Depending on your firearm, you may be able to get a lower with a flared magazine well built-in, or you might be able to add an aftermarket one; in either case, an enlarged magwell will increase your success with blind reloads.

Little enhancements like finger indexes can be useful as well, helping you to quickly and repeatably place your hand in the exact same location on your firearm, but upgrading the basic controls and magwell will yield the biggest dividends in performance.

finishes will appear extremely dark under night vision—and some metals will even glow under IR illumination. Even if you’re fully camouflaged, a pitch-black rifle can quickly give you away, even at a significant distance.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. In most cases, spray-painting your rifle with a purpose-made camo paint will reduce its reflectivity substantially. These paints are available at almost every major hardware retailer, so you should have no trouble finding options.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. In most cases, spray-painting your rifle with a purpose-made camo paint will reduce its reflectivity substantially. These paints are available at almost every major hardware retailer, so you should have no trouble finding options.

And speaking of patterns, if you’d like to add a bit of flair to your paint job, consider picking up one of our re-useable stencils. These will give you some basic patterning which you can use to further obscure your firearm’s visual profile.

Night-Fighting: Gear

The same challenges affecting your firearm will also affect the rest of your gear and equipment. For that reason, your gear needs to be staged to be accessible without looking at it.

Dump Pouches

Most of us don’t have to look down at our plate carrier to find our mags for a reload. Where you might run into trouble, though, is in retaining your spent or partially full magazines after reloading.

If you’re used to stuffing half-full or empty mags back into pouches on your plate carrier, you may want to think about switching to a dump pouch instead. Even magazine pouches with flared openings can be tough to stuff a mag into, especially under stress. A dump pouch, like an enlarged bolt catch or flared magwell, increases your acceptable margin of error.

If you miss a magazine pouch opening by an inch, your mag is going on the ground. With a dump pouch, you could miss the center by several inches and still retain your magazine.

First Aid

If you’re planning on working with night vision, everything in your kit ought to be navigable by touch alone—especially your first aid. Being able to get to your IFAK and tourniquet quickly and deploy them effectively is crucial and can easily save your life.

Your tourniquet doesn’t necessarily need to be stowed with your IFAK—they can be rigged in separate locations, but both need to be accessible with either hand without sight. This is largely a matter of practice, but location can make a difference, too.

For instance, it’s not uncommon to see a tourniquet stuffed into a pistol mag pouch at a range day or training course. This may be serviceable in the daylight, but if your tourniquet is staged in a pistol mag pouch alongside a couple of other identical pistol mag pouches, then you run the risk of fumbling under stress or injury.

Obviously, this is less of an issue when you can glance down at your waist and find what you need, but when using NODs, a separate and distinct pouch or carrier is advisable. This goes for less crucial equipment as well, whether it’s a flashlight, multitool, or more specialized piece of gear. Each different tool should have a pouch or holster that’s distinguishable by tactile sensation alone.

Within an IFAK, there’s a limit to how far this principle can go; even experienced users would be hard-pressed to tell a pack of combat gauze from an emergency trauma dressing if both are in plastic wrap.

At a minimum, though, you ought to be able to reach and deploy your IFAK with either hand, without looking.

Night-Fighting: Clothing

Clothing is an often-overlooked component of nighttime operations. When we talk about daytime tactics, camouflage is often just assumed to be the outfit of choice. Most users require little instruction to choose appropriate camo; it’s usually as simple as selecting something that blends in with your local environment. When we add night vision to the mix, it gets a bit more complicated.

Under night vision, the material and pattern are less important than IR reflectivity. Many fabrics (especially cheaper ones) are highly reflective under IR illumination and will shine as though you were wearing tin foil. Even good daytime camouflage can be highly reflective to IR light, making you much, much easier to spot if your opposition is using any kind of active illumination.

As with most tactical problems, there is a solution—in this case, in the form of NIR-compliant clothing.

NIR-compliant clothing is specially manufactured to have reduced signature under IR illumination. These garments feature specific materials and dyes in order to avoid reflecting IR light as much as possible. Functionally, this makes the clothing appear darker and stand out less from its surroundings when viewed through night vision devices.

There are a lot of manufacturers of NIR-compliant clothing and a wide range of different camo patterns available. Nowadays, though, most users choose a variant of MultiCam. This pattern works well in a wide range of environments for daytime use. Since it’s so common, you’ll have no trouble finding NIR-compliant apparel and gear to match.

No matter which camo pattern you prefer, there’s one certainty: stay away from flat black patterns. For decades, TV and movies have depicted night fighters in black uniforms, but the real world plays by different rules—especially with regards to night vision.

If you want to blend into your surroundings at night, your uniform should match your surroundings. If you’re wearing a flat black uniform, anyone with night vision will see you as an obvious void in a sea of bright green. The same is true if you get spotted by flashlight. A green environment is just as green at night as it is in the day.

The only time black camo has any benefit is if the wearer is in light and is silhouetted against a perfectly dark background. This is a very, very niche benefit that only applies if viewed by the naked eye. Under night vision, though, black camo provides no benefit and will only contrast you against your surroundings.

Long story short: flat black is poor camo for day OR for night. The whole mythos of night warriors wearing black is just that—a myth for costumes in plays and movies. Look at your environment and find a camo that blends in all 24 hours of the day.

Own the Night

Your night vision device is a big part of your night-fighting loadout, but it’s not everything. Properly setting up your clothing and gear can help you better prepare for nighttime operations and tilt the odds of success in your favor.

From the gun you choose to the clothes on your back, everything plays a part in your combat effectiveness when working with night vision.

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