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Features

Own the Night

Rip away the bad guys' best hiding place with night vision surveillance equipment.

May 01, 2002  |  by Dave Douglas


How many times have you worked the graveyard shift and been faced with a commercial burglary series in your area of responsibility? I know that I have had a few of those situations both as an officer and as a sergeant during my time in patrol. The last thing we want to hear after a long night is some day watch officer saying, “Hey, I had to take two more burglary reports yesterday after your shift. What are you guys doing, sleeping out there?”

Most commercial burglaries take place at night, and the darkness works in the favor of the burglars. Maybe it’s time for us to take back the night with night vision equipment.

The military has been using night vision devices for decades. However, because of the prohibitive price of the equipment, law enforcement has little access to the technology. But the price of night vision optics is coming down, and good night vision equipment is now within reach of most law enforcement agencies. Some models are so affordable that individual officers may even want to buy their own.

Night vision devices came into prominence during the Vietnam War. “Starlight” scopes, as they were then called, were used by infantry for patrol work, defensive perimeter security, and in some cases, sniper and counter-sniper duties.

The Vietnam-era scopes were bulky, power hungry, and extremely costly. Today, most night vision scopes are small, light, operate for many hours on AA alkaline batteries, and cost between $250 and $7,000.

At that price, how many commercial break-ins would it take to make up the cost of even the more expensive units on the market? Probably just one.

The heart of a night vision device is the intensifier tube. This is what amplifies the visible and non-visible light so that we can see it. The intensifier tube takes a small amount of light, such as moonlight or starlight from the surrounding area and converts the light energy, or photons, into electrical energy, or electrons. These electrons pass through a thin disk that’s about the size of a quarter and contains over 10 million channels. As the electrons travel through and strike the walls of the channels, thousands more electrons are released. The multiplied electrons then bounce off of a phosphor screen, which converts them back into photons and lets you see an impressive nighttime view even when it’s really dark.

In the night vision world, the term “Gen” for “generation” is used to note the technological advancement and capabilities of equipment. The higher the generation number, the more sophisticated the night vision technology. The first night vision units were Gen 0 and Gen 1. For example, the Starlight scope used by many U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War was a Gen 1 device. Gen 2 was introduced in the ’70s for military use. And Gen 3 was developed in the early ’80s and remains the highest technology available today to consumers.

There are currently only two companies in the United States that make intensifier tubes, ITT and Litton/Northrop Grumman. Consequently, all other U.S. manufacturers use the ITT and Litton tubes to make their devices.

The following is a quick look at some of the more popular night vision equipment used by law enforcement agencies.

American Technologies Network

American Technologies Network Corp. (ATN) manufactures high-quality, technically advanced optical devices and has emerged as one of the leaders in the field of night vision for law enforcement applications.

ATN offers night vision systems that range in price from $250 to $7,000. The Night Leopard, which offers a new super fast lens system combined with a high-resolution Gen 1-plus intensifier tube is one of the company’s latest products. It sells for about $270.

The Night Leopard gives the user a very bright image for a Gen 1 night vision device. It features easy push-button controls, 3X magnification, and a built-in infrared illuminator for use in total darkness. While the image quality is not that of a Gen 3 scope, it is good enough for police surveillance or patrol work.

I’ve had the opportunity to use the Night Leopard, and it offers impressive performance for the price.Night Storm is another model in ATN’s line of night vision products. It is a rugged, lightweight night vision device that features a 6-element, F/1.2 50mm, heavy-coated glass lens that can be totally submersed under water. The unit also has an optional camera adapter, which lets you turn an SLR camera into a night vision camera.

Excalibur Electro Optics

Excalibur Electro Optics Inc. was founded in 1976 as a company that dealt exclusively with night vision equipment. In addition to the products it manufactures, the company is a national distributor for a prime government contractor whose product line features current military night vision sights.

The company maintains an extensive parts inventory for repair or reconditioning, and repairs are made in its facility by experienced, highly qualified technicians. All of the products in Excalibur’s product line and practically any American-made night vision device can be serviced by the company. Most systems can be repaired and shipped within five days of receipt.

One of Excalibur’s premier products is the Raptor weapons sight. The Raptor is a state-of-the-art, Generation 3 night vision weapon sight, utilizing the latest super-ultra 64 grade image tube.

Optional adapters allow the Raptor to be mounted on almost any weapon system, including .50 caliber sniper rifles. Sighting is accomplished with a variable illuminated red inverted chevron ballistic reticle. The reticle is fully adjustable for bore sighting and has a separate control for optimal reticle brightness and contrast for all lighting conditions.

A daylight cover protects the objective lens, as well as the intensifier tube, against accidental exposure to bright light. This daylight cover can be utilized for training and bore sighting during low-light conditions such as dawn, dusk, or overcast days. A pressure-operated rubber eye guard provides operator protection from recoil and prevents light scatter from the image tube.

Excalibur makes a four-power and a six-power version of the Raptor. You can add one of these babies to your agency’s equipment locker for just under $7,000.

CONTINUED: Own the Night «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: Military-related, Duty Gear, Tactical Gear, Surveillance Operations

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