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.[PAGEBREAK]
ITT builds its own night vision devices from ITT intensifier tubes. Consequently, it can offer many different types of equipment for practically any nighttime application.
The Night Enforcer product line is designed especially around law enforcement needs. The product line starts off with the Night Enforcer 150, a Gen 2 monocular that can be found in the $1,500 range. A step up is the Night Enforcer 160, which is the same basic unit as the 150 but with a Gen 3 intensifier that bumps the price up to about $1,700. The Night Enforcer 220 and 222 are binocular systems that use Gen 2 and Gen 3 technology, respectively. These two systems are adapted perfectly for patrol and fixed position surveillance use.
ITT’s PVS-14, while at the high end of the price range $3,500 offers an impressive list of accessories. The Gen 3 PVS-14 is adaptable to just about any use you can imagine for a night vision device. It allows the user to adjust the gain control in varying light conditions.
The monocular PVS-14 uses a military-style intensifier tube in a compact housing designed for multiple uses. This unit can be handheld as well as head-mounted, or adapted to a camera or camcorder. The PVS-14 can also be weapon-mounted in a number of configurations. ITT offers the Night Enforcer 6015 for about $500 less than the PVS-14, the only difference being the absence of a variable gain control.
ITT’s PVS-14 and Night Enforcer 6015 can be mated to a high-power rifle scope for precision shooting. They can also be used on a rail-mounted system on M4/M16 or MP5 weapons. The precision shooter system uses the EOTech holographic night vision capable sight or Aimpoint Comp MXD in line with the PVS 14 or Night Enforcer 6015.
LAMSA Weapons Systems
LAMSA Weapons Systems is dedicated to providing a number of products to the Law Enforcement community. In its night vision line, LAMSA offers the American Eagle. This miniature pocket scope is an image-intensified night vision device with a removable 1X 25mm C-mount objective lens and built-in infrared light emitting diode (IR-LED) as standard equipment. It is available in Gen 2, Gen 2-plus, and Gen 3 configurations, and features automatic brightness control and bright source protection to maintain the best possible viewing image and to protect the tube from damage. American Eagle pricing starts at under $1,000.
LAMSA also offers the NVPS-10, an advanced image-intensified handheld night vision viewing system that provides rugged durability and high performance in a compact package. Designed to be a versatile, easy-to-use pocket scope, the NVPS-10 functions as a handheld viewer, head-mounted monocular surveillance platform, and as part of the NVPS-10 rail weapon system. The NVPS-10 is offered in different high performance configurations and costs approximately $3,300.
The military has been using the AN/PVS-7 night vision goggle for years. LAMSA offers this system in a number of configurations, installing different quality intensifier tubes based on the needs of the users. The intensifiers range from refurbished military Gen 2 to “hand selected” Gen 3 intensifier tubes.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. The systems start at approximately $2,300. The AN/PVS-7 can be used as a handheld device or with a helmet or head-mounted system. This system is versatile enough to be used for patrol work, surveillance, or even SWAT entry teams.
Litton Industries has been a top name in night vision equipment for years. Last June, Northrop Grumman acquired Litton and since then, the company has taken the night vision ball and really run with it. Litton/Northrop Grumman and ITT produce the new Gen 3-plus tubes and are currently working on technology that may be defined by the military as Gen 4.
On the more mundane Gen 2 and Gen 3 front, Litton/Northrop Grumman produces the AN/PVS-18 monocular, which comes in two models: the M982 (Gen 2) and M983 (Gen 3). The AN/PVS-18 allows independent use of each eye, letting you switch instantly from night to ambient vision. It is submersible to 20 meters, and available in 3X, 4X, and 6X models by attaching afocal lenses. The modular design permits camera adaptation, and the system includes an IR illuminator.
The AN/PVS-10 is an integrated day and night long-range sight for the M24 sniper rifle system. It offers 24-hour operation without sacrificing established shooting techniques and is offered in two objective configurations and features top-mounted, push-button controls that can be operated with either hand.
The 8.5X magnification AN/PVS-10 has been adopted by the U.S. Army as its standard day and night sniper sight to be matched with the M24 Remington sniper weapon. The reticle and ballistics of the AN/PVS-10 match the 7.62 NATO round. A larger 12.2X magnification version is currently under consideration by the U.S. Marine Corps as a Long Range Sniper sight to be matched with the Barrett M82A1 rifle. The reticle and ballistics in the 12.2X version are calibrated to the .50 caliber BMG ammo of the Barrett rifle.