Night Vision Equipment

History is a great thing to learn from. And one of the details that we can look to history for lessons on is the basis of issue: how many of what things a given unit should have. This is often hard to work out without any kind of experience, so let’s look to some troops with experience. The following is based off of notes from Marines in Iraq circa 2003 or so and the related Marine Gunner’s Conference, so some of the equipment may be a little out of date. I’ve noted alternatives where applicable. These marines saw combat and used their equipment heavily. The overall base unit here is a rifle company (182 men), so the numbers for items will be referenced on that basis.

PVS-14 (Night Vision Monocular): These should be issued one per man (182). Monoculars are liked because they allow one eye to remain open for peripheral vision or shooting if another optic is mounted on the weapon. PVS-14s are Gen 3 light amplification devices and are still pretty good. There are alternatives that integrate thermal at present. One other thing noted in the report: helmet mounts are required. The strap mounts aren’t very good, and don’t work well with helmets.

3X Magnifier: None of these were listed on the table, and our veterans differed a little. The 3X magnifier is a useful observational tool, especially in the desert. The panel recommended at least enough magnifiers for stationary gunners and forward observers (40), if not enough to also equip the fire team leaders (67). A handheld magnifier is useful for observing without necessarily orienting one’s weapon toward the target. Note that there are also 6X magnifiers available at present.

PEQ-2 (IR Laser sight): The PEQ-2 is a laser sight to aid in aiming with night vision devices. The findings were that every weapon that could mount a PEQ-2 (i.e. basically everything that wasn’t a pistol) needed a PEQ-2, which works out to 176 units. The PEQ-2 is heavy and bulky. It is outmoded, if not obsolete. Much better choices exist today, including the DBAL, ATPIAL, and the MAWL. The MAWL is best of breed as I write this.

VLI (Visible Light, i.e. flashlight): The standard flashlight, capable of being used in the hand or being mounted on a weapon. The findings were that every rifle needed a light, especially for urban operations. This works out to 134 lights. Additionally, the marines agreed that the VLI itself was too big, too heavy, and needed too many batteries. They requested a smaller, lighter flashlight. The Surefire M600 Scout Light comes to mind as an excellent long gun weaponlight choice today.

If you’re curious about IR illumination for use with night vision devices, there are variants of the M600 (and other flashlights) that can output infrared in addition to white light. Also, many laser sighting units come with a built-in IR illuminator.

PVS-17B (Night Vision Weaponsight): The PVS-17B is a dedicated night vision weaponsight, complete with reticle and 2.5X magnification. This was found to work well on support weapons, including the M-249, AT4, and SMAW. This works out to 39 PVS-17Bs. It was not favored on rifles, because a PVS-14 could be mounted in front of the RCO, giving similar capability for less weight and hassle. The PVS-17B is pretty heavy and bulky. These days, the PVS-22 is often preferred. The PVS-22 is designed to give night vision capability to an existing optical sight rather than replace it like the PVS-17B. However, given that the PVS-17B is also a 3rd Generation light amplification unit, it’s not outmoded.

PAS-13 (Thermal Weapons Sight): The PAS-13 is a thermal imaging weapon sight. The original model was quite heavy and bulky. It was favored by the committee only for machine guns (M-249 and M-240 gunners), which works out to 33 units. The committee did suggest that machine gunners carry both PAS-13 and PVS-17B sights. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, newer versions of the PAS-13 that are significantly lighter and less bulky have come out. The PAS-13G is even reasonably sized to mount on a rifle.

RCO (ACOG): The Marines RCO of choice is the ACOG. They favor the TA31F, which has the red chevron reticle with fiber optic and tritium illumination and fixed 4X magnification. Marines love ACOGs, and the Gunner’s Committee was no exception. The magnification is very useful for target acquisition, identification, and discrimination. They sought one per rifle, or 134 ACOGs for the company.

IR Beacons: This is a little blinking IR light used for identification. While none were on the allocation table at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are very useful for helping identify friendly units and avoid blue-on-blue incidents. The committee figured every fire team and every platoon sergeant should have an IR beacon, which comes to 5 per platoon, or 25 per company.

Laser Boresight System: Not a combat weapon, this is used for boresighting. Duh. It is also useful for boresighting the aforementioned night sights and rocket-type weapons like the SMAW or AT4. Every squad needs to be able to boresight its stuff. They figured 20 boresighters per company would work well.

PEQ-4: This is a powerful IR laser pointer. For pointing while using night sights. It’s powerful and can be distinguished from the PEQ-2 lasers. PEQ-2s aren’t really able to be seen well by vehicles or aircraft if they’re not right on top of the user. The committee recommended 10 per company for platoon leaders, company leaders, and machine gun leaders. The aforementioned laser sights that have replaced the PEQ-2 are also a lot more powerful, and have obviated the need for these.

M-24 Mini Binoculars: Not night vision equipment. These have 7x magnification. Despite having ACOGs on their weapons, squad and team leaders found binoculars to be very flexible and useful. The committee recommended 27 per company.

The committee also realized that the above recommendations are not without their own issues. These devices add quite a bit of weight to the Marine’s rifle. These devices have their own switchology that requires training, require batteries (other than the RCO–ACOGs don’t need batteries), and add maintenance requirements.

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