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Secondary Weapon Sights and Lights in a NVG World

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::Editor's Forward: Bill Blowers of Tap-Rack Tactical shares what being truly night vision capable actually entails. Understand that due to his experience, this is largely based around law enforcement SWAT teams–but that doesn't mean you can't gain a glimmer for your own particular situation. Read on.

It's no surprise that SWAT teams around the country are looking to update, or initially equip, their men with night vision goggles (NVG) and an appropriate laser/illuminator, like a B.E Meyers MAWL for work. There are plenty of good reasons for this but command personnel should recognize that an NVG isn't just cool, it’s a piece of mandatory safety equipment.


Suspects stay safer because it's hard to fight what you can’t see, and suspects might surrender versus fight in such a disproportionate circumstance. In addition, stealth gives the professional team options for less lethal tools, or even disengagement if necessary, to allow suspects time to sober up where they can make better decisions. Obviously, this is not always the case and some criminals will fight, regardless of how bad the odds are.

It's those 1% guys that we need to be mindful of when we select our equipment, and prior to using NVG as part of the job. Officers stay safer because they are harder to detect and thus be shot at. And when officers get shot at, we will return fire.

Getting two guns in the room simultaneously.

Last is innocent citizens who may need to be evacuated under the cover of darkness. NVG-equipped officers can guide them to safety both in and out of buildings with fewer opportunities for bad guys to see.


The main focus seems to be on the NVG and rifle laser only. Or maybe it just happens to be first since the NVG and laser/illuminator is required for NVG operations. But teams need to recognize that it's just the first step. To be completely night-capable, secondary and tertiary weapons will also need to be outfitted at some point.


First and foremost is the pistol. By today's current standard, rifles and pistols both have a white light on them for SWAT jobs. Back in the day before the advent of pistol lights, most of us did not have a light on the handgun. We either maintained control of the MP5 while transitioning and used that light while shooting one-handed, or we used the pistol in conjunction with our buddies light on his rifle. The former was better because you controlled the light, versus the latter where you were dependent on someone. Both methods were trained until pistol lights became small and durable enough to become mainstream. Now we all have them for a lot of good reasons.


Now let’s consider that transition while under NVG. Irons sights are dang near worthless under NVG. In most cases they require the officer to activate white light in order to see his sights and/or target. The problem with this is that the white light has now elevated the suspect back to an equal playing ground. He can see just as well as everyone else in the room, which means he can also acquire sights and target officers as easily as they can to him.

Lots of people will say, “Well you wouldn’t transition unless your rifle went down in the middle of this gunfight. And if that happens your partner is probably shooting so muzzle blast will be lighting up the room.”


Two things on that: firstly of all suppressors, on team guns will prevent almost all muzzle flash–one more good reason to have a silencer if you’re doing night missions. Secondly, I might transition for a variety of reasons besides a broken rifle. Confined spaces are generally cleared more effectively with a handgun, so I need to be able to see and aim without white light. I could also have laser failure occur, batteries might go at the exact worst time or the device might just quit working. I still have work to do, so transitioning would make sense without even being in the middle of a gunfight. Micro red dots like the Trijicon RMR coupled with an X300V or IR Lasers like the Surefire X400V-IR would allow a good SWAT man to transition without giving away his location or lighting up everyone else. A properly equipped handgun is MANDATORY for team NVG operations for safety and mission success.

The last piece on transitions is the time it takes. Based on my experience with my own team while conducting training around the country, most cops without a properly equipped pistol are slower than they are during day time transitions.

If the officer is equipped with dual tubes or is covering their dominant eye with a single tube, they must tilt or turn their head to acquire irons with white light.


Because the head position is different from normal daytime shooting, most officers take longer to acquire sights. The test is not passing the PD qual course, the test is whether or not the skill set is comparable across all spectrums; daytime, low light, and under NODS. Most cops with an MRDS equipped pistol can match their daytime performance with little effort under NVG.


Tertiary weapons need to be equipped in the same fashion. Less Lethal guns should be set up to engage people and structures without a need for white light. Gas teams are often called upon to maneuver on barricaded, armed subjects to deliver chemical agents to drive suspects out in the open. The cover of darkness is absolutely an ally during these events.


An RDS and IR flashlight should be sufficient since these guns rarely require the speed of the shot. Breaching shotguns should be able to illuminate their own space without interjecting white light into the environment. They should also be able to be used in a lethal role if the situation rapidly dictates it. Breaching guns should have white light and sights for day ops, and Illuminator with an aiming method for NVG ops. Easy setup is a Surefire X400V-IR since it provides both white and IR illumination and an IR pointer for aiming and engagement.


The road to being completely NVG capable is a long and expensive one. For sure, get the NVGs and rifles squared away first. During the train up period to be mission-ready with it, make sure you budget to get the pistols, gas guns, less lethal guns, and breaching guns ready for that first job.

The train-up period will usually be a year or more if you are just starting an NVG program. If you have an existing program, are you really 100% ready if you have to compromise the environment with white light? The answer is no, and it is a huge concern for the safety of everyone in the structure. If you can’t afford everything all at once, make sure you have a 2-3 year plan to get everything needed for safety and success.

You can read Bill's other articles on RECOIL here, and you can visit his company page here.

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