Nightfighting | Low-Light No-Light Woes and Solutions

I wrote the title in all caps to get your attention. Add in a mental knife hand if you’d like.

The difficulties of nightfighting - fighting in low-light or no-light conditions.

Early on in the Iraq and Afghanistan war, infantrymen and many specialized unit personnel started out with subpar illumination for fighting at night. Issued weapon illumination tools were practically non-existent outside of SOF formations, though there were a few units that open purchased them. There was only one contemporary issuee light I can recall. It took a bunch of AA batteries (and burned them quick) and mounted on the bayonet lug of an M16.

It was simply terrible.


This lack of issued white light was offset in many “field expedient” ways, with individual Soldiers and Marines literally duct taping D-cell Maglights to the underside of their rifles. That’s not a new idea at all, as anyone who has seen footage of troops in Grenada or Panama – or of the SAS at the Iranian Embassy – will agree. It looked like entire infantry platoons were armed with M203 grenade launchers! This lack of quality WML options was more than just an annoyance, however, once our troops launched into urban combat and had to clear out dark buildings. The nonsensical and willful oversight badly interfered with their ability to properly engage targets.

The difficulties of nightfighting - fighting in low-light or no-light conditions.

The laser illumination was one technology that money was being put into, from the AN/PEQ -4 (which was nothing more than a single IR laser) to the more feature-laden AN/PEQ-2 laser/illuminator. The systems were meant to be used with a head mounted NVD, but were of little use indoors.

I needed something for myself and my team, so I cobbled something together myself.

The first two systems I used included a handheld Surefire 6P which boasted a whopping 60 lumens and an Insight M3 weapon light, both of which used the extremely-hard-to-find CR123 battery (remember this is the 2002-2004 timeframe). I found a barrel clamp mount for the SureFire, which I used to attach the light to the barrel immediately in front of the front sight tower of the M16. It wasn’t until the M4 carbine and M16A4 became more abundant in both the Army and Marines that you saw wide spread use of issued white lights being mounted. Until that trend caught on, guys had to find field fixes using personal lights taped, strapped, tied and zipped to their issue weapon.

Many younger combat veterans who have served more recently will not recall how bad it was but ask around — the halcyon days of awesome accessories available for individual purchase (or God willing by the unit) did not begin until much later.

Grunts: halcyon.

The difficulties of nightfighting - fighting in low-light or no-light conditions.

That SureFire setup I cobbled together was pretty simple to use. I bought and broke at least a dozen tip-off filters over the years, and used them on all my weapon lights. You could illuminate a potential target with IR light, and identify if they were deserving of a bullet. Next, you could leave the light on by twisting the tailcap, and then engage using the IR laser of your PEQ. Indoors, you flipped off the IR filter to use the white light. The Peq-15 came out, which had a slaved visible and IR laser that helped to field zero, and useful filters for each teammate so you didn’t get confused with who’s beam was whose.

SureFire Handheld Lights - SureFire Weapon Mounted Lights - SureFire Suppressors
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This was a huge step up in the laser department and is still being issued. It is by far my favorite accessory to use. Evolving weapon light technology increased runtime and manifested as better designs as the years went by, but the majority of lights still used tip-off, fragile IR filters.  The lights shrunk in size, and weight, while gaining better durability through LED bulbs and better design.  What didn’t change was the lack of a good IR illumination system.

In fact, it wasn’t until the last few years that IR illumination really made any progress, and even still you have limited options.

The difficulties of nightfighting - fighting in low-light or no-light conditions.

The best options on the market as of this writing (in my opinion) are SureFire WMLs like the RAID, Millennium and Scout styles, which use white light/IR LED heads. The second would be the current SOCOM issue L-3 Insight WMX200 Dual Spectrum Illuminator, which has some nice features but is crazy expensive and rather large. The last but most light and simple option is the Inforce WML with IR feature. For under $200 bucks, it’s simple and affordable to pretty much everyone. The downside is the lack of remote pressure pad feature, and not everyone likes the built-in pad. This has a lot to do with your individual choice of how you hold the forearm of the weapon. It works great for thumbs-forward and C-Clamp users, but not so much for those who prefer vertical grips.

The difficulties of nightfighting - fighting in low-light or no-light conditions.

If I was pressed back into service to fight World War 3, this would be my solution. As a huge fan of the SureFire Scout light (as are many) I would arrange things thusly:

SureFire Scout (with several mounting systems included, if I was not certain of which blaster I would be using or if there was a chance I’d have to switch back and forth), the M620V Scout Light with build in Vampire head, or simply a KM2 conversion head for one of my many existing Scouts.  That would give me about two hours of 150 lumens, on a lightweight, adaptable light with the ability to use a dual pressure pad to control both the IR beam of the PEQ-15 and weapon light. Twist the light’s head, and now you are back to white light with no worries about a filter or separate light.

Now before you say, Well, just use the issue PEQ-16 with built-in white light!, think about this — the PEQ-16 is a huge, lunchbox-sized unit that has a terrible (by today’s standards) 60-lumen output white light built into it. You can’t move the light on the weapon, where you can reduce barrel shadow. The light is on the right-hand side, which means the lasers are on the left, which means C-clamping or using a high grip can interfere with the beam, unlike the right-hand laser of the PEQ-15. Assuming that you are a right-handed shooter, you are better off with the PEQ-15 and off-board IR laser. Besides, the PEQ-16 doesn’t have an IR filter for its “main” 60-lumen illuminator. And even if it did, the mode selector won’t allow white light and IR laser to be used together.

So you’re screwed if you want IR illumination that can actually shine out to a usable distance and an IR laser to engage. It’s a system that forces you into still using a separate weapon light, adding further weight and bulk.

The point of this article is to make you guys out there that actually use IR and NVDs, think about your set up and how you use your gear.

This is all just my observations, but we would love to hear how you use your gear, what works for you, and any personal observations you have on the matter. Technology for light, laser, and mounting systems is evolving all the time, and we learn from experience. Spread the word, share your knowledge, and help your buddies out.  Let us know some options, and tell us what you roll out with.

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2 thoughts on “Nightfighting | Low-Light No-Light Woes and Solutions

  • May 2, 2014 at 12:43 am
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    If you run NVG’s with a rifle setup, it takes a lot of figuring out and training to determine the best method for making everything compatible. One of the first things I realized was that the dedicated NVG mounts for the rifle were absolutely useless. You can’t navigate effectively in the dark by constantly raising and lowering your rifle to look through the NVG (while also attempting to change focus from near to far too.) It’s extremely inefficient, cumbersome, and you’re running into shit more than not. Thus far the best option I have found is the helmet mounted NVG setup. Newer helmet designs and NVG mounts far surpass the comfort and capability of the old PASGT systems with the “rhino” mount. I think this should be the first thing you think about after making your NVG purchase.

    Secondly, you will immediately run into the issue of how to aim with an NVG. Trying to sight over the top of your rifle through your red dot will be difficult and you will beat the shit out of your NVG in short time doing so. Moving it to the non-dominant eye and using your red dot on low intensity brightness is also awkward and doesn’t work for some folks. Forget about it if you are stuck with a magnified optic such as an ACOG, Elcan, Browe, etc.

    Enter the IR laser. This is the second absolutely critical piece I think you need to buy after you sort your NVG/Helmet issue out. With the IR laser you can now comfortably and accurately shoot from either the hip or the high-ready position without beating up your NVG. You also gain the ability to designate targets, which you did not have before. Because of the IR laser, I do not believe it is entirely necessary to buy NVG compatible red dot’s anymore (save as a potential backup in case your laser dies on you.)

    Lastly, you may now require an IR illuminator to further facilitate navigation at night. I’ve seen situations where it’s ridiculously dark out, and the only way to move around with NVG’s was with the aid of an IR illuminator. Be aware that traditional LED technology does not work with IR lens covers. It won’t illuminate. You need the LED bulb designed to work in conjunction with a filter to properly work an IR filter. Additionally, you will find that your lumen output will drastically affect how effective your IR illumination will be. A typical surefire 120 lumen setup with an IR filter does not work very well outside. It’s great indoors, however. For outdoor work, I would suggest you start looking in the 500 lumen range with an IR filter. It is also a very good idea to combine your IR and white light illumination into the same device if you can. Not only to save rail space, but also weight and and the additional training required to mess with each unique device and learn it by heart.

    You’re also going to need to figure out if you can fit all this stuff on your rails and still be able to shoot properly, ambidextrously, and comfortably. I think it’s error to approach the concept of NVG’s as a simplistic “I just need some NVG’s and I’ll own the night!” It’s a lot more complicated and expensive than that. If you’re just tooling around at night without a weapon, that’s one thing. But as soon as the weapon enters the equation, you need to completely rethink your game.

    Oh, and before I forget: don’t just buy an NVG and set it away for that rainy day. Get out there and use the thing! You will never know how you or your gear choice and setup is going to interface unless you actually use it. Night work is completely different from day work.

    Reply
  • May 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm
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    man, this article is about two weeks late. well, i’ll reassess my gear and square it away.

    thanks

    Reply

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