TNVC conducted a Civilian Night Operator’s Class at the Telluric Group facility, Brunswick GA July 23-24, 2011. This was an open enrollment class and attended by civilians, defense industry members, and law enforcement officers. It was our first civilian training class and certainly not our last.
T1 was hot and humid. July in Georgia reached the upper 90’s with about 100% humidity.
T2 was the same.
But, none of this matters as we were indoors the entire time. That’s right: the Telluric Group facility features an indoor range with non-lethal shoot house and classroom. We were chilling in air conditioning all day. Yes, you read that correctly: all day! Normally, night vision classes need to be conducted on a reverse schedule. But, the Telluric Group facility can be completely blacked out, allowing us to conduct the class during normal hours. We got ramped up at about 0800 and finished off the day at about 1730.
Guns and Gear:
This is not a shooting class, it is a night vision class. So, students are expected to show up with proper weapon handling techniques and have their shit squared away in the gear department. This is not the time to be trying out a new piece of kit or weapon. All kinks needed to be worked out during day-walker hours and prior to the class. Obviously, pitch black under NODs is not the time to be finding out that your shiny new blaster doesn’t like the ammo you bought.
That said, there were no issues with anyone’s guns or gear. Everyone in the class ran an AR of some variant. This first class was populated with shooters who have squeezed a trigger before and knew what they were doing. Gear was a mixture of Crye Precision, Blue Force Gear, Eagle, Safariland, Ops-Core, Wilcox Industries, Norotos, and BAE Eclipse. Everyone had a rig they were familiar with and there were no problems.
The student body consisted of mainly civilians with a few industry professionals and LE folks thrown in. Pretty much everyone in the class had experience operating NODs to some degree or another, so we were able to move pretty quickly. This was a very motivated class. Everyone was eager to learn and switched on. Everyone put forth a lot of effort, so we were able to get a lot accomplished.
TD1 started off with everyone congregating in the Telluric Group classroom. Introductions were made by instructors and students. We jumped right into the classroom portion of the course. “Classroom” you ask? Yes: classroom. The TNVC Night Operator’s Course is not designed to let you just stand on the range and blast away with NODs and lasers. Anyone can do that. This class is designed to teach novice and intermediate student how to run their NODs. So, this starts out in the classroom. In fact, not a single shot was fired during all of TD1. But, it was where the most learning occurred. Anyway, we started off with familiarizing the students with night vision and how it affects the user’s ability to accomplish otherwise, simple tasks. Skills and techniques were introduced to enable the students to maximize their ability to mislead and disorient adversaries while using night vision. We discussed the capabilities, limitations, techniques, and strategy for no-light and low-light operations and how they are significantly impacted by NODs and peripheral equipment. Something to note is that all the techniques covered in the class are constantly evolving. The information taught is one way to accomplish the task, but it is not the only way. Students were encouraged to seek instruction with a variety of teachers to best round out their skill sets. Another thing worth noting is that since this is a civilian class, certain TTP’s were not covered. There are still some things that need to be kept close to the chest to ensure our Warfighters maintain the edge.
A key lesson learned by the students is that the use of NODs can provide a significant advantage to night operations, but has the possibility of becoming a giant liability if not employed properly. This technology is not magic and constant training is required to maintain proficiency. Arguably, night vision operation requires more constant training than firearms manipulation. The reason is that every task you perform, whether it be walking or picking up an object, needs to be relearned under NODs.
The students were introduced to the OODA Loop. OODA is a decision-making process observed and detailed by John Boyd. It is used to train fighter pilots, but applies to everyone on the planet and affects every decision and action we make. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This process is used to accomplish every task from picking up a glass of water to shooting Usama Bin Laden in the face (though, one of those decisions is much quicker than the other). The importance of this process was stressed to the students in that every part of it becomes more deliberate under NODs and they need to be cognizant of that fact in order to speed up reaction times. The instructors stressed that normal day tactics should undergo minimal or no change under NODs.
From there, the students were exposed to a little biology lesson on the workings of the human eye and how it is affected by changing lighting conditions. We all know that our vision is governed by the rods and cones in our eyes. This is taught in every high school biology class. But, the importance of covering this topic in this course is in the way our brain processes this information. Your eyes do not see images. They merely present information to your brain which processes it and tells us what we are seeing. Because your vision is based on lessons learned, you can decipher things like perspective and depth in your mind. Visual blind spots and techniques for using your known visual cues to “trick” your brain were also discussed. From there, the instructors talked about Dark Adaptation Factors and how to protect your eyes so they stay in the best shape for night vision, Depth Perception Cues, Optical Illusions and Effects such as Relative Motion Illusion, Autokinetic Illusion, Flicker Vertigo, Moth Effect, and Veiling Glare. Basically, this portion of the lecture covered the “meat and potatoes” of how the mind wraps itself around night vision, darkness, and responses to changing light situations. While yes, this is all scientific and can make your head hurt, it is crucial for the night operator to understand these topics so they can be factored into his/her successful employment of NODs.
The next part focused on the night vision devices, themselves. Technology, function, history, and methods of employment were covered. This led to the discussion of proper use. We covered Field of View and other limitations as well as the ways to make up for them. Various lighting conditions were covered, and methods of achieving and maintaining the advantage over foes. After that, we did a little hands-on round table discussion of the latest gear and accessories. It is important to stress that night vision goggles do not allow an advantage by themselves. In order to accomplish the mission successfully, the operator needs to make proper use of a multitude of accessories such as mounts, helmets, IR illuminators, lasers, beacons, etc. The students were able to play with a bunch of these accessories, while learning about their proper use. We were also lucky to have Jeff Goddard from STS as a student in the class. Jeff is a sales rep for Sensor Technologies Systems (a division of The O’Gara Group). He is also a former operator from the SOF community. STS is the manufacturer of the excellent AN/PVS-21 and a host of other incredible accessories. He gave a talk about the merits of these units and how they are increasing the fighting effectiveness of our Warfighters. This was a real treat because it is not every day (or night) that people get to play with such cutting edge kit. We also discussed the newly-available, civilian-legal, Class 1 IR Lasers from Laser Devices, Inc. The best way to run NODs is on your head while using an IR Laser for aiming your weapon. Until recently, civilians and individual law enforcement officers were unable to obtain IR lasers because of FDA restrictions on non-eye-safe devices. But, LDI has recently released a line of FDA compliant, Eye-Safe, Class 1 Lasers in the 0.7mW range. These units are a complete game-changer for the civilian market and are affective out to 200 yards. Several of the students ran these for the class.
This block took up the morning portion of TD1. We broke for chow and came back, ready to move on to familiarization exercises. Everyone broke out their NODs and helmets. It is worth noting that everyone ran a modern helmet. Wearing NODs is not the most comfortable thing in the world and can be a real pain in the ass with an issued skull crusher or other inferior mounting solution. Having a “comfortable” mounting solution is imperative for proper implementation of night vision because it allows you to focus on the task or mission and not on the suck factor of pain in your neck and shoulders. The group ran an assortment of the helmets, but most had the new Ops Core FAST Base Jump Helmet. These awesome helmets are the best thing since sliced bread and add a whole new level of comfort to running NODs. The lights were turned off and we commenced games of catch. Students picked up beach balls and tossed them back and forth to one another. This simple child’s game proved somewhat difficult under NODs and was a perfect representation of the challenges posed by night vision. Depth perception and field of view were changed, so even the simple exercise of playing catch proved embarrassingly hard. But, through repetitive tries, everyone started getting the hang of it and we moved on to using kick balls. The kick balls were smaller targets and students tried dribbling them and bouncing them off walls. The targets were again reduced in size and tennis balls replaced the kick balls. Most of the students had never tried these exercises and were surprised at how these otherwise easy activities became exponentially more challenging under NODs. The lesson learned was that simply having night vision goggles, no more makes you an effective operator than owning a guitar makes you a rockstar. Sure, high speed kit like NODs has a high CDI factor, but once they see you can’t even catch a tennis ball, the ladies will move on. Bottom line: practice running your night vision gear as often as possible. Perform mundane tasks in the dark to familiarize yourself with the limitation posed by the technology. With practice, you can overcome these obstacles. We moved on to an obstacle course that was set up throughout the shoot house. Students began the course by setting a stop watch and reading the instructions at the first station. Each task had to be successfully negotiated before moving on to the next. If you failed to complete the task as outlined in the instructions, you had to start over. Each station presented a unique challenge dealing with movement, field or view, dexterity, etc. Let’s just say the class developed a new appreciation for 2x4’s… These evolutions very effectively showed the advantage of dual tube systems.
TD2 was a balmy 97 degrees and rising. But, we were nice and cool indoors. At 0800 we ramped up the shooting portion of the class. When most people think of running guns under NODs, images of rifles with lasers come to mind. But what about the blaster on your hip? There are a variety of ways you can effectively run a pistol with NODs, including your iron sights. Oh yes: iron sights! The students underwent a brief presentation on pistols and how they can be used with NODs. Weapons manipulation was quickly covered because everyone there was an experienced shooter and knew proper and safe weapons handling. One of the prerequisites for the class is to have undergone prior weapons training from a reputable instructor. So, you are expected be able to do tactical and emergency reloads, malfunction clearance, and know where your mags are located blind. Remember all those skills you were taught about weapons manipulation and doing everything in your workspace throughout all those carbine and pistol classes you took? Well, now is when it all comes together. The purpose of being able to carry out all these tasks while keeping your eyes focused on the threat is great during the day. But, it is required at night because you literally cannot see your mags or your weapon. Everything must be automatic. You’ve been running that same rig for years. You know where your mags are! You don’t need to look at them. You know your guns and how to operate them by feel and you know how to do a press check without looking. These skills are required and should be automatic when there are no lights. Don Edwards gave us the Five F**k Safety Brief before we stepped foot on the range: Keep your F’ing finger off the F’ing trigger until you’re F’ing ready to F’ing shoot the F’ing target! Yes, we covered the standard four golden rules of safe firearms handling as well. And, we were off to the races!
Most people will tell you that shooting your pistol under NODs without a laser is impossible. Well, they are wrong. Is it difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. We spent a couple hours on the range, engaging targets with our irons. While the shot groups were not what they would have been with the lights on (well, except for Jeff who ran AN/PVS-21’s, giving him an incredible advantage), they were respectable. We shot groups and failure drills on the line. Soon, we were incorporating changing lighting conditions. The students would be told to engage their target with one magazine while an instructor would intermittently flip the lights on and off to simulate the changing conditions of the field in real life. This conditioned the students to shift their focus from their aided eye to their unaided eye. Transitions began to get faster and the cadence of fire increased when the lights were on. Overall, shooting with irons under NODs is not the most practical, but it can be done. We then moved on to lasers. Lasers are like cheating, plain and simple. They are fast and accurate, allowing the operator a significant advantage in the fight. Students were taught about the effectiveness of using visible and IR lasers on their handguns as well as multiple uses for said devices.
Groups tightened up quite a bit when the lasers were turned on. The bottom line is that iron sights can be used with night vision, but they should only be employed when stealth has given the operator a decided advantage or when there is nothing else at his/her disposal.
We broke for chow before returning to the classroom and discussing rifles and their employment under NODs. Students learned about the merits of both head and weapon-mounted NODs when using a long gun. We talked about the use of monoculars and how switching them from non-dominant to dominant eyes can allow the shooter to engage targets using a night vision compatible red dot sight. But, like pistol, using lasers on the rifle is much more effective. Again, it’s like cheating. But, you should never fight fair, so take any advantage you can get. If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly. Students were also briefed on the merits of switching between head-mounted and weapon-mounted night vision and their place in field operations. This is where the excellent TNVC TM14 comes in. The TM14 is a quick-change mount for the AN/PVS-14. It clamps around the Objective Lens Locking Ring and provides an interface for the Aimpoint Twist Mount Base. It allows the helmet mount adapter (J-Arm) to remain attached to the goggle, so the operator can instantly switch between a head and weapon mount depending on field conditions.
The next discussion was about dedicated night sights such as night vision scopes. Night vision scopes have tremendous advantage in the field because they offer the brightest and highest resolution image available. This is because the gathered light has the least amount of lenses to pass through before the operator sees it. The problem has always been that the operator needed to carry a second, dedicated rifle or upper to accommodate the dedicated scope in the field because they cannot be used in the day. But, this is no longer the case. Enter the Telluric Group Small Arms Collimator. The Small Arms Collimator has quietly been taking the military special operations community by storm and has been noticed by the U.S. Marine Corps, who has authorized individual units to purchase them. The Small Arms Collimator comes in several caliber variations and is an easily-transported device that allows the operator to quickly zero his/her weapon in the field without firing a shot. Obviously, this has tremendous advantages for the SOF operator who can confirm his zero after an airborne insertion or other rigorous activity. But, it allows the hunter and civilian shooter to replace his/her day scope with a night vision scope in the field, and zero it on the fly without firing a shot! No longer does the civilian need to carry multiple rifles for changing lighting conditions. The entire line of Small Arms Collimators will soon be available from TNVC, Inc.
We then covered the basics of team movement and communication. Obviously, the major advantage of night vision is stealth. The ability to observe, target, and engage adversaries and prey when they have no clue you are there is an incredible advantage in the field. But, all this is for naught if you compromise stealth with noisy gear or poor field craft.
The class progressed into live fire on the range with rifles. Students engaged their targets with their standard rifle optics (a mixture of Aimpoint and Eotech), via their non-dominant eye, which became their dominant eye in the dark. Weapon optics were night vision compatible and allowed the students to engage their targets while wearing their night vision goggles on their helmets. Using this method, targets can be acquired, albeit, not as quickly as with a laser. From here, students transitioned to using weapon-mounted lasers. Like the pistol, lasers on the rifle proved to be the fastest, most accurate, and lethal method of engaging the target. Standard “Up” drills were run using these different methods, but the laser proved the most effective.
Most students were running the new civilian-legal Class1 IR lasers from Laser Devices, Inc. (LDI). The most prominent laser was the DBAL-I2.
Lessons were demonstrated about the offset, crossover (merge), and opposite offset that a visible laser has when viewed through the goggles and unaided eye, simultaneously. VTAC barricades were brought up to the firing line and students had the opportunity to shoot around them and through the narrow ports. The ports presented a new challenge. Students utilized the barricades with and without lasers. Engaging targets through the ports, without lasers proved difficult at best and really made the students appreciate the lasers. When shooting from unconventional positions, it is near impossible to acquire your red dot optic through a helmet-mounted night vision goggle. Lasers make all the difference. It is possible to rest the weapon in one port, view the target through another port, and quickly/accurately acquire and engage.
The first TNVC Civilian Night Vision Class was a great success. The students learned a ton of valuable lessons about night vision operation and its proper use. They left having learned how to wring more out of their NODs than they ever thought possible. Night vision is a tool. Used properly, it can be an incredible asset. Used improperly, it can be a liability. The bottom line is that it is not magic. But, having the proper tools, training, and know-how to employ it is crucial for both the civilian and Law Enforcement user.
Make sure to contact TNVC if you are interested in attending or hosting a class. Our Mobile Training Team can travel to your location. I would like to extend a special thanks to the following:
Wild River Ranch
Sensor Technology Systems
The indoor range facility.
Navigating the "Hall of Broom Handles." Students had to bob, weave, duck, and climb over broom handles at various heights. If they knocked one down, they had to start all over after replacing it. This was the first of many obstacles in the obstacle course. Oh yeah, did I mention the students were timed?
Everyone's favorite obstacle: the balance beam walk. A Everybody bit it several times during this evolution. Students had to negotiate across three eight-foot 2x4's that were precariously balancing on target stands. If you fell off, touched the floor or walls, you had to start all over again. Oh yeah, and there was that whole thing about being timed...
Each obstacle on the course had a set of instructions that the student needed to read before continuing.
This obstacle had the students tossing flash bangs into the next room where they had to come to rest within a marked area.
Bouncing a beach ball against the wall may seem like "Baby Town Frolics," but I assure you it is much harder than you would imagine under NODs.
Getting kitted up for some weapons manipulation.
Who says you can't shoot pistol iron sights under NOD's?
Of course, using a laser makes pistol shooting much easier under NODs.
Breaking out the long guns
This student is brain surgeon who owns and operates a hog-hunting ranch in Texas on the side and still finds time to come train.