I have had, used, or serviced a number of night vision devices, and seen a lot more over the years. So aside from showing what I have, thought it might be worth explaining everything.
To follow, my history on:
- Night vision scopes and observation devices, clip ons
- Laser aiming devices*
- Night vision photography
Eventually. Someone else should talk about strobes, and IRR ID panels, since I know for a fact I am behind the curve on those. At least, as allowed on an open forum.
* And probably need to talk about how well the Mepro works to shoot behind without a riser. Hmm...
Head Mounted Night Vision, and Mounts:
While I'd looked through NODs since at least 1999, my first useful experience was more like 2004. As part of a training org I used mostly PVS-7 (both Gen 2 and 3) as part of OPFOR, for training lanes, etc. I was one of the bigger nerds around, so often grabbed them, back in a time period people didn't understand or trust them, so they were often spare!
During my time with this group, I learned a lot — by making many mistakes first — and became effective enough with them I learned how to entirely clown the students, even when they were also issued NODs. I recall one time they had not taped up the radios, so despite moving quietly in a draw, were lighting up the tree canopies along their route, so I had the OPFOR team follow along the woodline edge, and then when they turned and came feeling their way down a dark path towards us, stood in the middle of the path and lit them up at like 10 yards range. Felt a bit like this:
Yeah, exercise admin told me to stop murdering everyone, reset the students
Okay, to earlier lessons, I once spent about 6 hours with PVS-7s on a non-flip-up skullcrusher, following some enemy sneaking around the woods near our OP. Just to finally sneak up on them when they took a listening halt and absolutely scare the crap out of some deer.
At some point in here I became aware of shrouds, mounts and so on, and mounted this all to "bump helmets" by converting DH132 (CVC) shells into high cut helmets. Get 4 point harnesses, velcro, OA pads, stencils, spraypaint, glue. I made probably half a dozen of these, sold a few to Lightfighters back in the day. Definitely didn't ship any to other countries as that would be an ITAR violation:
Here's a totally shit photo of me in one with a not-great three point harness and PVS7 mounted, c. 2006.
This all led to me being The Night Vision Expert for this trng group, so when they got some cash, they decided they needed to add night vision training schedules, wanted to buy a dozen or so monoculars, but what? So, they had me decide.
I ended up specifying the D300 with Gen 2+ SHP tubes. Very good stuff, all in all, and despite being damned heavy compared to more current offerings, they are still in service so that seems to have panned out.
The name is stupider, but the D300 seems to still be sold as this unit now.
Engraving the units, stenciling the boxes, and so on (2008)
I do not know really who makes these. At the time it seemed they were Western Euro tubes, made in Denmark so I heard, if they have a tube factory. Maybe, the whole unit is from some vague euro country? I never found out. But they seem nice. Despite having zero parts in common with the PVS7/14, they are the same size, take normal J-arms, and have the switch in the same place, moving the same way. The lenses are even the right diameter to take compasses and magnifiers. So, they worked just fine for this.
A number of people associated with the org bought similar units for themselves, and didn't regret it, but as it goes: upgraded them over time.
IMPORTANT NOTE: One thing to take away from this history is the timeframes. You cannot do what I did anymore, and you cannot trust older threads about what night vision to buy. Many of those deals/devices do not exist anymore; the trustworthy foreign imports disappeared for various reasons, and have been replaced by sketchy foreign imports. It used to be you could buy any night vision device from eBay or Craigslist and had a 98% chance of getting what you were promised. Now, every idiot and their grandma builds night vision from parts, and you cannot trust what tube is in it, or what life is left on it. A good trick is people tweaking the pots on the power supply to brighten up an old tube. It'll work, but for 5-10 hours only.
So, unfortunately, these days you have to buy from trusted sources, including very good friends, authorized distributors, and the few good rebuilders.
A few other friends got the MiNi14/MUM-14 in this timeframe. Light, because of a plastic case, which is great but also pretty marginally designed for serious work. Seen a few broken switches and so on. And, just weird. My least favorite is that it has no 1/4-20 thread so no standard J-arm, which means lots of wobble at their custom terrible interface, only their J-arm works, and it's pretty expensive and awful. And a really odd green on the phosphor side. Used them a few times, but never wanted to buy one of them.
Around 2010, a surplus dealer we bought lots of radio supplies from got a lot of surplus Oregon NG PVS-5s in. I got one, for some insane price (way under $1000, but I forget exactly what). They were so nice they made people angry; I know several folks who drove bumpily across Iraq with these on their heads, but the pads all worn out and covered in duct tape so it was pain.
Yes, they were legit surplus. Advertised, he had hundreds, and it came with the yellow stickers on the transit cases, which I kept.
I found them delightful in many ways. Really good optics, and despite being Gen 2 (there are gen 3 aviation sets, but not mine) they were very bright, high resolution units. Better than many people's gen 3 units I got to try out, side by side with them.
As much as adjustment for monoculars is important, adjusting binoculars is CRITICAL, and these had enough adjustment to make them work okay. Good interpupillary distance adjustment, and individual focus. PVS-7s only have one focus, and a poor adjustment for interpupillary distance, that doesn't work so well for me (they have two outputs so are effectively binoculars for the sake of the occular side).
However, this was a step back for me in many ways, as I had used the Rhino and J-arm for a while, and not being able to flip them up, or away, was an issue. This is not a problem with good modern dual-tubes, but it is important.
For example, one time I came around the corner while driving a truck in the dark, and there are streetlights. The dew on the window or something glared more than usual, I couldn't see a thing. Before I could get things straightened out, there's a bump, then a Big Bump, then I am heading 30° downhill. I stopped, and didn't crash, but had threaded the truck (cleared by inches) between a telephone pole and a steel T fencepost.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your experiences are your own. I do not think dual/single tube is a decision that is universal, much as (see below) no-counterweights is not a 100% universal truth. Missions vary, as do humans. I, for example, have the fairly common "non-coincidental vision" or phoria. I trained myself to use RDS properly but still don't use binoculars as well as I could, or do both eyes open with iron sights every time. Binocular NODs have never given me all the supposed benefits of things like a sense of depth, but that may be me. You may do much better.
There is no test for this. You need to try to get behind several NODs. Go to a training or demo day, or just pony up a few bucks to rent some. Yes, they have rental places, I can suggest one or two. I know a few people who have been very happy they tried before they bought like this.
The various issues put me vaguely in the market to get back to monoculars. I have over time come to really like monoculars. Aside from size and weight (and cost!) they also allow a nice flexibility. You always are looking at the real world, so can better use the system at dawn and dusk, as you enter lighted areas, to identify visible lights, muzzle flash, tracer. Once the other eye is night acclimated, you can use the NOD to navigate, but the other eye to avoid branches, and so on, as even on the darkest night outside, you can see a little bit.
After some casual searching, I ran across and bought, for a similarly crazy price like $800, an ENVIS with all the bits and cases and paper. Had to drive to Nebraska to pick it up from a guy's house. The M703E is the Evaders Night Vision System, and is deliberately supposed to sound like ANVIS. After the Bosnia Grady shootdown and evasion, USAF decided to include a night vision pocketscope in the survival vest. This is purportedly it, though it's unclear if that's 100% true, and if the fairly few on the market are surplus or over-runs or what. They are so poorly marketed, I tend to buy they are real, though more likely over-runs than surplus.
Regardless, they are a plastic cased pocketscope, about the size of a PVS-14.
They have a weird pushbutton power switch, a somewhat poor battery case, and have a 1/4-20 thread in the wrong place to mount them. You can make adapters, and eventually I bought a better purpose built one, to head mount it as shown above. They take most PVS-7/14 bits, such as the LIF, compass, and rear filters.
Tubes are generally great to amazing. They are — supposedly, but apparently from quality and inspection — reject ANVIS tubes, so very bright, very high resolution, just with some flaw or other. Mine has a few spots, but is still among the best tubes I've used.
Thin filmed, so it's pure dumb luck I didn't ruin it before I knew better, as I have weapon mounted it, and even did a behind-scope setup on my .308 once! No gain dial, which is the only real downside.
The ENVIS lenses are desired, and most of all the lens mount is. They are not secured from inside, but are normal C-mount. So, you can unscrew them and change lenses if that is your thing. Hence, they are beloved for astro-photography nerds and the like. I have something better for photography myself, but still, it's a thing so I got a call early last year from Pete Lesbo at I2, who said he knew I had one I didn't love, how about selling it.
I instead said I wanted to keep the tube, so upgraded to a VYPER case. That's a thing. If you want to build a NOD, you can get one built. There are aftermarket cases that are PVS-14 compatible, but have various improvements. I don't understand them all but the VYPER is a plastic (fiber reinforced, well regarded) case that is generally stronger than the issue PVS14 aluminum, for a tiny fraction of the weight.
NOTE: There is indeed a whole world of refurb and options, if I still had the PVS5s today I'd send them off to get turned into dual tubes with a bridge. That is cool enough I have thought slightly about snagging some if I see a deal and doing that when I have spare money. If you blow a tube, or want to upgrade your tube (WP anyone?) then there are people who can stick a new one in for generally a lot less money than buying an all new unit.
NOTE: I have been ASSURED three times as I kept asking, that some power supply issues in PVS14s have been traced to Lithium batteries. Alkaline give such poor life they aren't a good answer, so the best is NiMh, rechargeables. So, I am using those as I have a bunch. Not awesome for long life storage of spares, but it is what it is. If anyone else has heard this, or can dismiss it, go ahead.
My current setup for my personal night vision is this:
Helmet: An MSA MICH. Nope, not an ACH, but somehow I ended up with an early production surplussed MICH, and the original MSA MICH cover (among others), starting to look more than a little natty now.
Yeah. It's a ratchet strap. I have done various bolt on systems, but for my main helmet still use the ratchet strap. On purpose. First because it is a snap, without tools, to change covers. I know almost no one else has to do that, but I do and it helps. But also because it is very secure, and easy to fix: loose? Just tighten it up. No tools needed. Never caused me any issues at all.
The suspension is OA pads, on the original velcro. Yeah, I have tried others. Do not like. These work. Note that there's a gap along the sides. This allows use of earpro. I wear Sordins most of the time I have this on, so I just pull the crown pad, wear the earpro under it, no problem.
The earpro has some sort of snazzy top cover and replacement foam, so on the off chance anyone shoots at me, and hits me in the top of the helmet, I have a decent chance of the sordin foam and band protecting me from the helmet secondary impact, also.
Harness is an Ops-Core X-Nape. Seems to be more stable than the H, so what I suggest always.
Helmet band! Mostly, to get the cateyes, but I ran across someone doing the custom ones with the offset name cheap so got away from sharpie.
Crye Nightcap: More often than not now, I use the Nightcap instead. It is what it is, and is awesome. As stable as any platform I have used. Everyone who borrows it then goes and buys one.
Back velcro has a single big GITD marker and an IRR/GITD name.
Shrouds: I do not recall which shrouds I have. Can find out if it matters to you all.
Wilcox L4G11: I still personally own a couple of the Norotos aluminum, have many more for CWG stuff, and have messed with the titanium Norotos improved model Rhino. The basic one is fine. Nothing awful, but adjustment range can be an issue.
Largely solved with the titanium one, but it's titanium. Some bad choices for adjustment systems, and it binds up. I disassembled and painted one for someone else. Didn't work great. I did get them basically workable by making a titanium friendly lube of baking soda and lithium grease. No, really.
The L4 G11 is another step up. YES, it's the force-to-overcome model, not the pushbutton, but I like that because the way the springs work, they push down constantly. It cannot get loose like the pushbutton ones can. One wobble, eliminated. Also, a bit of give in the system if you bump stuff. More than once my NOD has ridden up from a branch or falling. It works.
YES, it's the bayonet system, not the dovetail. Mostly because for classes we loan, interchange, try out each other's stuff, and I don't want to be the "no, my stuff is too cool" guy. But after all I am happy with it.
And not by default to justify being happy. I do not need bungees to keep from wobbling. I have recently set up friends with bungees, because their setups still shake. I've just stuck some silicone in voids on the J-arm interface, and you push hard to get it on. This is functionally the same as a bungee: an elastomeric component takes up slack.
This model also has much more adjustment range, in depth, elevation, and it slides up and down. Good stuff.
ENVIS: The envis is covered above generally. Here's the VYPER case overview:
It has a retention lanyard wire tied to the NOD which is a 3/4" SR. The NOD side one has shrink tube as a silencer. The helmet side has elastic, and an adjustable barrel lock.
The lens cover has velcro cut neatly in a circle. Unusual for me! The hook velcro is on the body, but I think needs to move to the top of the J-arm. There was no cap retention so I added the kevlar cord seen in blue.
Under the cap is the screw-in LIF.
On the back is the screw-in purple filter, which is working oddly well, even with no rubber padding. I will cut up a PVS-14 eyecup to give me a little rubber padding if I ever find myself getting excessively banged in the nose, but it works so far.
I have a spare ANVIS-9 case, which I have ID on, and store my NOD, Nightcap, mount, and some other stuff (IRR tags, strobes, batteries...) so I have one case to grab and go.
When You Put Your NODs On:
A lot of the problems that arise from use of NODs is poor adjustment. This is the process I walk almost everyone through to make sure they know what's up.
- Attach the mount arm. Make sure it is securely attached to the shroud.
- Put the NOD somewhere you can get to it. Pouch, table, etc.
- Loosen the straps for your helmet.
- Put the helmet on. Tighten the straps. Tighten the rear a tiny bit more than you think you might need to.
- Pull the mount arm down firmly. Pull down more. The helmet should move to settle under the weight, but not flop around.
- Move the mount shoe all the way forward.
- Clip on the NOD. Pull, to make sure it is locked in. Attach the retention lanyard.
- Turn on the NOD.
- Slide the NOD as far back as you can, without touching you. Now, shake your head. Left to right, then up and down. If the NOD bumps into you, or the helmet is obviously loose, tighten everything. If you can't tighten more, move the NOD one notch forward.
- [Assuming the old school Norotos Rhino, with few adjustments] tilt the NOD until a complete circle of green is visible. If some is not visible to the side, grab your helmet and twist to center it on your head. Re-tighten straps as needed after this.
- Using the grooved ring near the back end of the NOD, focus the static
- NOW, using the front grooved ring, facing [some specific distant object] focus the image. Look down, notice you need to focus again. Do that for a few objects so you get used to it.
Most people automatically do most steps, so it's not as involved as it seems. Last three are the ones matter, and which have improved the ability of people who have been using issued equipment for years, while getting shot at.
Counterweights: I have never liked them, and have good human factors reasons to think they are not a good idea, at least not for everyone all the time due to weight on the neck. From my limited experience helping some people set them up, and talking to folks who use them full time (e.g. AFSOC using ANVIS in ground role, some notes I have gathered:
- Keep total helmet weight as low as possible. If you have to run a box on the back, get the lightest possible helmet, don't also wear a gopro, remove the strobe unless using it (and get a lighter one regardless), even remove the goggles if you don't use them all the time.
- Don't over-weight the back. There are a couple of battery box sizes, so pick the smallest you can get away with for the mission profile. The goal is to reduce the front drag, but like weight on the muzzle of a rifle, some weight up front stabilizes your view; so do not perfectly balance, or rear-load, but leave the center of gravity forward still.
- De-snag everything. Get the proper length wires, double check all connections, and run them under the helmet cover (or at least through the tubes on a custom cover). Use tape and wire ties if need be, but do not have things get snagged and try to rip your head off when running around the a/c or through the woods. Make sure it's as un-snaggy as possible when NODs are up and down.
- Think about your environment, and try it out. Will a lump on the back of your helmet bang into things when you turn corners in hallways? Will overloading your ruck break your neck as it bears on this? Or shear it off if you are just velcroing it on? Can you get through the top hatch? Will it be comfortable, and not snaggy, in whatever seat you are likely assigned to? Will it be comfortable in that seat for 2 hours? 12 hours? In turbulence or rough roads?
- It is a battery. What happens if it goes bad, or simply runs out? Can you change it, or even just flip the switch to go to internal/other bank, without taking off the hat and having good light to do this? Can you do that with your weapon at the ready? When prone? When wearing a fully loaded ruck? When falling through the sky?