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Own the Night

Night Vision Devices and IR Lasers are the Peas and Carrots of Shooting in the Dark

Photos by Blake Rea

In an ever-evolving world of threats, our adversaries’ weaponry and technology is changing the way we fight. The easy acquisition of night vision devices (NVDs) and even technological advances in smartphone architecture are giving them the capability to operate and fight at night — an ability that for years was the sole territory of advanced nation states.

During daylight hours and areas of full light, the game is fairly even. Once the sun goes down, whoever has the best tech and training has the advantage. Adding an infrared laser device to your blaster, whether you’re military, LE, or civilian can give you the edge in owning the night, regardless of your mission set. The military has been using IR lasers for a couple of decades now — let’s face it, a lot has changed since Sept. 11.

While early forms of NVDs were being employed by U.S. troops in Vietnam, advancements in technology have decreased their size and weight, while increasing resolution.

While early forms of NVDs were being employed by U.S. troops in Vietnam, advancements in technology have decreased their size and weight, while increasing resolution.

One of the great things about effective use of NVDs is that they enhance the capability of other assets, such as military working dogs.

One of the great things about effective use of NVDs is that they enhance the capability of other assets, such as military working dogs.

War has challenged companies to produce better IR capabilities for the military, LE agencies, and society as a whole. Prior to Sept. 11, smartphones didn’t have the mapping applications they have today and the ability to e-visit people via live chat applications around the world. The same is true for IR lasers and NVDs — capabilities once reserved for the military are now available globally with the click of a mouse.

Above, left: The B.E. Meyers MAWL is available in both military and civilian-compliant versions, making IR aiming/illuminating technology available to the consumer.

The B.E. Meyers MAWL is available in both military and civilian-compliant versions, making IR aiming/illuminating technology available to the consumer.

This same availability applies to the enemy as well, whether overseas or on sovereign soil. Nearly every government agency in the world uses IR lasers teamed with NVDs. You need a good understanding of the military, LE, and civilian applications before you as a consumer lay down your hard-earned cash for an IR device. It goes without saying that a good IR laser in conjunction with NVDs will increase your ability to operate 24/7. Half of the year is dark; why limit yourself to being able to effectively engage targets 50 percent of the time?

Military Use of IR Lasers
When the sun goes down and the stars come out, the U.S. military and her allies gain an advantage with their capability to operate and fight at night. Darkness allows us to exploit our enemies’ weaknesses using IR lasers in several different operational roles. Used in conjunction with NVDs, their main role is to locate our enemies at night, observe, mark, and navigate. IR lasers are offensive accessories to our weapons, whether we’re assaulting a building or moving up a mountaintop;  they allow nighttime target acquisition and rapid engagement without giving away our position to the unequipped enemy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnight vision

Nearly all IR lasers have both a pointer and an illuminating cone. The pointer is your zeroable aiming device that indicates the POI of your round, while the cone is an illuminator, whose field of coverage may be adjustable depending on the device. When moving from a LCC (last covered and concealed position) to a target building, IR lasers are turned on, and the users will be scanning windows, doors, and the surroundings of the target building in order to detect threats. SOF units also fight green (i.e. using NVDs and without visible light) inside the house when applicable. IR lasers used on their lowest setting and illuminators that project a wide field of view create ideal conditions for conducting CQB and gaining the element of surprise.

The pairing of quality NVDs with IR lasers/illuminators make it possible to not only engage targets, but mark points of interest and communicate with your team in total darkness and complete silence.

The pairing of quality NVDs with IR lasers/illuminators make it possible to not only engage targets, but mark points of interest and communicate with your team in total darkness and complete silence.

Snipers employ IR lasers, with the ability to detect and engage at extended distances depending on the sophistication of the device. Weapon-mounted IR lasers are also used in a supporting role to observe and mark enemy positions and points of interest to advancing troops. In conjunction with supporting night vision equipment, IR lasers can be used to illuminate potential targets for surveillance purposes. You’ve heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words?” So very true when this picture is passed on to an advancing assault force. IR lasers, when used as pointers, also aid in navigation and can illuminate terrain features and key points along infiltration and exfiltration routes to and from targets.

Above: A well setup carbine, augmented with IR technology, gives shooters the ability to operate day or night with minimal light and sound signature.

A well set-up carbine, augmented with IR technology, gives shooters the ability to operate day or night with minimal light and sound signature.

Often when prosecuting a target, there are friendly units providing outer containment. IR lasers can assist in marking your location for other friendly forces in the area as well — a simple figure eight rope of your laser in the air can signal your location to friendly units, and may assist in guiding aircraft to your extraction HLZ. The military has and will maintain its need to own the night. As the availability of technology increases for us and our adversaries, fighting at night with a weapons-equipped IR laser will only increase one’s survivability and lethality.

IR and NVD technology, when combined properly and employed skillfully, allows an assaulting force to conduct CQB in total darkness.

IR and NVD technology, when combined properly and employed skillfully, allows an assaulting force to conduct CQB in total darkness.

LE Application of IR Lasers
More and more LE units, especially special response and SWAT teams, are utilizing IR lasers. Given the threat to the homeland, this is a good thing. Eight years ago, while on the LE training circuit, I was told that a flashlight is the primary means of operating in the dark. Not anymore. Nowadays when I’m training law enforcement at night, the first question is usually, “Can we run IR?” Well, hell yes! If you got them, train with them. Take a look at the bigger picture; it’s only a matter of time until the next domestic terrorist attack happens, whether committed by foreign jihadis or home-grown nutjobs. It’s local LE and federal agencies’ responsibility to protect the home front.

There's now a wide market for NVDs, IR tools, and night-vision-compatible optics. Regardless of your specific application, there's a combination of night-fighting tools that'll work for you.

There’s now a wide market for NVDs, IR tools, and night-vision-compatible optics. Regardless of your specific application, there’s a combination of night-fighting tools that’ll work for you.

Most teams and units in LE utilizing IR lasers are using them for the same TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) as the military, though thankfully without the emphasis on close air support. I get it — I read the news, and while the militarization of police isn’t something I want to see on day-to-day level, we didn’t ask for suicide bombings.

For specialist teams, we need to stack the odds in their favor, and having a good IR laser and NVD allows our agencies to remain undetected in low- and no-light conditions and have the ability to engage a threat without exposing their position. We all see what’s going on in Europe; let’s not take the advantage away from our LE officers when our enemies come try it in America.

Sniper/Observer and Reconnaissance teams utilize both NVDs and IR lasers to conduct surveillance and designate targets for both ground forces and close air support.

Sniper/Observer and Reconnaissance teams utilize both NVDs and IR lasers to conduct surveillance and designate targets for both ground forces and close air support.

Civilian Application of IR Lasers
The average AR shooter is at a huge advantage these days compared to just 10 years ago. High-priced IR lasers once deemed only for military consumption are readily available to the civilian market. The laser industry is regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, which is pretty damn strict regarding exposure and eye safety limits. At one time these regulations made most commercial-grade lasers way under-powered and not worth the money.

Since the military has driven the development of technology over the past 16 years of war, the quality of lasers on the civilian market has greatly improved, as has their availability, while cost has come down. Today, commercial-grade lasers are pretty damn close, if not equal to their LE and military counterparts. While dropping a grand or two on a high-end civilian IR laser is a big commitment, there are plenty of alternatives that offer a 90-percent solution.

Most states with predator and nuisance animal problems will allow you to hunt at night, and if you’ve never been hunting with a set of NVDs and an IR laser, you’re missing out on life — besides a cold IPA, there’s nothing better. While everyone has heard of the situation in Texas, several other states suffer similar depredations from invasive species. In South Carolina, feral hogs are a $115 million problem for the state’s agriculture, livestock, and timber industries, and their eating and rooting destroys just about everything. Hunting with an IR laser device allows for rapid target acquisition and the ability to remain undetected, especially when teamed with a suppressor.

Well-constructed IR lasers are ruggedized to withstand harsh use in a variety of conditions.

Well-constructed IR lasers are ruggedized to withstand harsh use in a variety of conditions.

You have the right as an American to protect what’s yours — your land, loved ones, and yourself. A good buddy in Oklahoma owns an 8,000-acre cattle ranch and lost 45 calves in one night due to cattle rustlers. Yes, it’s on the rise again and not punishable by hanging from the gallows like it was in the good old days. He’s now equipped with a set of NVDs and a high-quality civilian IR laser. Patrolling a ranch while using an IR source to illuminate and observe is a huge advantage, as vehicles can be driven completely blacked out while retaining the ability to rapidly acquire a potential threat with the IR pointer.

In the LE realm, IR/NVD tools allow officers to move through a building undetected. This maintains the element of surprise, a life-saving factor for officers, innocents, and suspects alike.

In the LE realm, IR/NVD tools allow officers to move through a building undetected. This maintains the element of surprise, a life-saving factor for officers, innocents, and suspects alike.

The tactical application and need for an IR laser has been around in the military for a long time, and is growing rapidly in the LE line of work as well. With the current demand from our military to stay on the cutting edge of owning the night, industry will be constantly pushed to improve. What was once an expensive rarity in the civilian market has become both commonplace and affordable, so you might want to consider adding IR capability to your arsenal before some politician decides they’re too good for the likes of you.

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