Gunfighting has always been an ongoing study. There are innovations being made constantly, both in the tactical (aka skills) and technical (aka gear) areas. It is a mistake to focus exclusively on one, and ignore the other. For example, one may have very good night combat skills, but his ability to apply will be severely limited if all he has is a 5 shot J frame with a mini maglite. On the other hand, a man with a PVS-14 and an OTAL laser that has no tactical skills will not fare any better. The key then is to have the technical to match the tactical. And when one considers that the tactical is more easily improved than the technical, it makes sense to start with the best kit possible, and then grow into it.
One strong concern for many has always been the “fight at night” thing. Like all conflicts we can divide them into reactive and proactive.
We can typify the “reactive” event as follows. You are walking to your car in a dimly lit parking lot at 11:00 PM and are suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by two thugs. We are not looking at total darkness, but rather at a situation where there may not be enough light to read the Wall Street Journal, but certainly enough to see aggressive physical action directed to you. No need for any lights, lasers, or anything else in a reactive event such as this. The key to victory is the ability to move quickly, and shoot with the visual elements available. Some of these elements may include lasers, mini red dot sights, point shooting, etc.
There is also the “proactive”. Proactive is far different in that you are not “surprised”, but rather have knowledge of what is happening. Having this information, one can get ahead of it rather than being overtaken by events. In years past, trainers offered lip service to the proactive low light problem by teaching the Harries position, or the Surefire hold. A small sub-art was born around the use of the small handheld/weapon mounted flashlight as manufactured by Surefire, Streamlight, etc. Where these sub-arts lack is in the almost exclusive focus on “white light” and its use in “target identification”.
In fact, target identification is only a small part of the problem, and actually quite simple for most of us. Think of this – your wife and two children are behind you in your bedroom. How much actual “target identification” do you need for that 6 foot tall figure with the big knife sneaking around at the end of the hallway?
Other aspects of the problem include operator safety, and I think that takes precedence over target identification. I ran an experiment in class a few years ago. We had an impromptu conflict of sorts during a low light section. One student, a sales rep for a flashlight company, was advocating the blinding and debilitating effects of a super bright candlepower strobe. That it would not only identify and distract the adversary, both desirable characteristics for the police, but make him incapable of any effective response on the source of the light. Always willing to test out a theory, I set up an experiment.
I took a super bright light and inserted it into a cardboard target, lens toward the firing line. I took two military police guys in class, and had them face away from the target. They were armed with MP5 SMGs. I had them close their eyes and wait. Their instructions were that when I yelled “fight”, they were to turn and engage the source of the light as they moved off the X. As they stood by, I turned on the light in the target bright and strobing. I then got out of the way and yelled, “fight!”
In a few seconds, both operators had moved off the X and peppered the target with about twenty rounds each. The flashlight was miraculously not hit, but the target was fairly well destroyed. The bright strobe prevented them from getting a sight picture (like all good guys use), but it did not prevent them from point shooting it a cumulative total of over forty times even if they were “blinded by the light”.
Moral of the story is this – The use of light may identify your threat, but it will also give away your position and safety.
Solution to both identify the threat positively while at the same time keeping you totally safe? That is the tactical application of modern technology – night vision.
To put its position in the realm of history, consider these things. What would Custer have given for several armed and armored Humvees at Little Big Horn? What would Napoleon have given for modern Air Support at Waterloo? It is that much of a game changer.
That the technology is desirable is not an issue. Usually the only concern is cost. Custer and Napoleon would have loved such an advantage…but they would have had to pay for it. All advantages, whether flying a plane, diving to the bottom of the ocean, or driving 200 mph, will cost. And being able to positively identify a face as friend or foe across a large room, and kill it if a foe, also has its price. But in the realm of “fighting at night” it holds the position of being the ultimate solution to the problem.
How costly is it? A complete home defender set up is no more than one would pay to set up a good sniper rifle kit (rifle, optics, and accessories). The main point of discussion is often whether one could save money by opting for an apparently less expensive Generation 1 or 2 unit over a Generation 3. I do not think that is a good option, and here is why.
Whatever you buy has to fulfill the mission. The mission can be defined loosely into thirds. Each third is important. Those thirds are; maintaining operator’s position hidden, positive identification of the threat in darkness, and finally, the ability to deal with the threat successfully. Not one of the thirds, but implicit in the exercise…it has to work. We tested a number of popular, economy-priced units and many failed to work out of the box!
The lack of brightness as well as resolution in the Gen1 and Gen2 tubes isolates the operator from his surroundings. Situational awareness is severely compromised. With these units, one can see a blob, but there is no comparison in identification with what you get in Gen 3. You will often hear that Gen 1 and gen 2 units can be made better with the use of an IR light. That is true, although nowhere near what a true Gen 3 unit will provide. But regardless, you should consider that night vision units are common today and a constantly running IR light will be as much a detriment to you as a constantly running white light, if your adversary is also equipped with Night Vision.
Finally is the issue of lifespan. Generation 1 – Expected lifespan is 1500 hours. Generation 2 – Expected lifespan is 2500 hours. Generation 3 Expected lifespan is 10,000 + hours. Your Generation 3 unit will last over four times as long as the lesser quality and featured Gen 2, and close to ten times longer than any marginally-effective Gen 1 unit.