THREE DAYS OF DANCING IN THE DARK AT TNVC’S NIGHT FIGHTER COURSE
Three Days of Dancing in the Dark at TNVC’s Night Fighter Course
Not terribly long ago, night vision was the stuff of action movies. While it did, in fact, exist somewhere in the real world, nobody of even remotely average means was ever going to touch, see, or experience night vision short of a few hazy green cutaways in a flick full of roundhouse kicks and amazing one-liners. Fortunately for the rest of us, advances in technology typically come with the added benefit of making existing technology more affordable and more accessible. Once coveted by guys with bushy beards who storm airplanes, greeneye goggles are now more available at a more reasonable price to the commercial consumer.
Notice how we said “reasonable price” and not “cheap.” While it’s possible to find night vision devices for $250, those pieces aren’t of a quality we’d recommend for anything more than showing off to your friends in your backyard.
Any NV device that’ll be integrated with the use of firearms needs to be of a quality guaranteed to save your life if and when necessary.
Enter TNVC — Tactical Night Vision Company. (Hey, at least the name leaves no doubt as to their product offerings.)
TNVC produces all manner of night vision devices, primarily under military contract or agency purchase order. But they’ve also made earnest strides in recent years to reach further into the consumer marketplace. As part of this effort, they’re not only selling the equipment itself, but also offer training courses for end users.
TNVC’s Night Fighter course comes in two flavors: Night Fighter Level 1 and Night Fighter Armed Professional. The former is open to civilians, while the latter is restricted to Mil/LE end users. We recently had the opportunity to attend one of the Armed Professional courses, offered at Alliance Training Center in Ohio. While the Armed Professional course is restricted attendance,
it covers all the same material as the open-enrollment Level 1, with the addition of a Team CQB portion.
We’ve always been a fan of seeking out the best subject-matter experts in a given field we want to talk about. Who better to teach us about the use of night vision than law enforcement and military veterans who’ve not only used NVGs in the real world, but now work for a company that manufactures and sells night vision as well. While this author, and most of the RECOIL staff, used night vision at one point or another in their previous lives, nobody’s too badass for the basics, and the TNVC Night Fighter course brought back a couple long-forgotten lessons that we now pass on to any of you who may consider making night vision a part of your hunts, personal protection plan, or even just your next night at the range.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
Regardless of whether you’re running single- or dual-tube NVGs, your field of view through the tubes is only about 17 degrees. What’s that mean for you as a shooter? It means you’ll quickly learn just how much you take peripheral vision for granted. Our instructors continually reinforced the importance of deliberately scanning your environment. The old axiom of keeping your head on a swivel becomes quite literal under NVGs since, essentially, you must be looking directly at something to see it. In the shoot house portion of the class, our cadre made this point through the inconvenient placement of furniture in and around entryways. The author, three months later, still has a scar on his shin from inadvertently trying to punt a coffee table while button-hooking through a doorway. Why? Because he didn’t properly scan his surroundings on the move.
In addition to the reduced field of view, night vision also severely limits depth perception. The use of multiple lenses in the physical construction of the tubes, as well as the monochrome green (or white) display, distorts how your eyes perceive distance. Bumping into doorframes and car doors is a pretty common occurrence for firsttime night vision users, but the brain can be trained to compensate for this. One exercise suggested by TNVC staff is to play catch while wearing NVGs. Rebuilding the hand-eye coordination required to catch an object mid-air will translate directly to other, more important tasks like reaching out to open or close doors, execute a magazine change, or clear a malfunction. There are few things more embarrassing, and potentially dangerous, than stabbing a full magazine blindly into the air because you can’t find your mag well.
Another technique to help navigate is to manipulate your environment from large to small. It was explained to us this way: When you approach a door to
make entry, first reach out and touch the door. Then, use the door to find the doorframe. Then, use the doorframe to find the knob. While it may not be necessary to perform this process by the numbers every single time, it’s an excellent index method that can help when you’re either still readjusting that spatial awareness or entering an unfamiliar environment.
KNOW WHERE YOUR GEAR IS
The process of integrating night vision into your shooting, regardless of the context, needs to start long before you drop those tubes down over your eyes. In fact, it might begin before you even purchase your night vision at all. Since your field of view will be greatly restricted, you’ll not be able to see what you’re shooting at and also see your gun or any gear you may be wearing. Whether it’s a plate carrier or a fanny pack, any place you may be storing extra ammo or equipment will have to be accessible instinctually. The TNVC instructors put on a rather in-depth block on instruction on how to configure both your weapons and your personal kit for night vision operations. While the examples used in class were geared toward tactical operations, including things like chem lights to mark cleared rooms and flex cuffs for securing detainees, the principles are universally applicable.
The key for gear on your person is consistency and ease of access. Do you always put your car keys in your left front pocket? Do you always put your wallet in your back right pocket? Those items you can likely retrieve upside down in the dark. But what about your first aid gear? Or your spare mags? If you catch yourself looking down at those items to retrieve them during daytime practice, you may wind up groping around for them in the dark. There’s no one magic “spot” to put stuff that works for everybody. Take whatever vest, pack, or plate carrier you may use and practice reaching every single
pouch or pocket in a dark room or blindfolded. If you can’t unzip, unsnap, or unbuckle a pouch without seeing it, it might be time to sub out some kit.
The same principle applies to your weapon itself. This was primarily a carbine class, and the weapon setup portion was focused on this. For example, if you run both a light and laser on your carbine, are you running two separate tape switches? Can you remember which one is which without seeing them, and can you actuate them instantly every time you take up a firing grip/stance? This is where hand stops and vertical foregrips can offer a real advantage — they essentially force you to place your support hand in exactly the same spot every time you pick up your carbine. If you set a stop or grip where it’s most comfortable for you, then build your light/laser placement around that forward index point; it’ll be much easier to use your illumination devices quickly and only as needed.
KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS
Night Vision technology is not the be-all-end-all of making darkness into light. There are physical and technological limitations to be considered. One of the biggest ones is the use of sights and optics. Shooting an iron-sighted pistol through NVGs is just about impossible. During our time in the Night Fighter course, we saw a lot of red dot–equipped pistols. Since we were running irons on our sidearm, it gave us the opportunity to try both on the range.
The benefits of optics-equipped handguns become abundantly clear within a few rounds. There are a couple of IR laser options for pistols, but the proliferation of slide-mounted optics has even eclipsed these for the most part. When referring to carbines, there are a couple of configurations that can get the job done. The military community has long been running rail-mounted IR lasers. This is probably the most user-friendly solution, if not the most expensive for the consumer.
As an example, we used a B.E. Meyers MAWL C-1+. The MAWL is awesome. But the MAWL is also $2,500 — rifle not included. You can also use an NV-capable optic, such as an Aimpoint or EOTech, both of which have dedicated IR settings. But trying to get a cheek weld with NVGs hanging off your face is challenging, to say the least. It’ll also severely limit your effective engagement range. This can be mitigated with the
use of an IR weapon light, but the cheek weld problem remains. It also narrows your selection of optics. If you normally run a red dot, it’s zero impact. But with more and more shooters using low-power variable optics, it could cramp your style.
Lastly, as a warning against the dreaded Mr. Murphy, if you do decide to run night vision in whatever application suits you best, be sure to have a white light backup if and when the $3 batteries in your $3,000 NVGs take a sh*t at the most inopportune of times. Several high-quality weapon lights on the market today have dual-mode operation. For the class, we used an Inforce WMLx IR, which has a manual toggle to switch back and forth between white light and IR. Regardless of how you skin this cat, remember that having a white light option will give you a redundancy that’ll probably come in handy just when you don’t think you’ll need it.
As night optics technology continues to advance, currently available models of night vision will only continue to proliferate. In addition to their intended role as a force multiplier on the battlefield, they’ve become an excellent tool for hunters who prefer nocturnal prey — particularly across western Texas where night-dwelling hogs are a varmint that damage crops and livestock. Aside from all of this, shooting under night vision is just plain fun. For most of us, the zeroes in our bank accounts would have to line up just right to make a quality night-shooting setup truly feasible. If this is the case for you, make sure you set aside a few duckets for quality instruction from somebody who has experience working under NVGs. Then take the time to set up your gear and practice with it. After that, put fresh batteries in your NVGs, light a cigar, and wait for sundown.
Proper selection and configuration of gear is vital to using night visionef fectively.
Don Edwards of Greenline Tactical was our primar y instructor forthis course.
If your NVGs are a duty or defensive tool, make sure your night-fighting kit is stowed for a fast jock-up.
Piles of ammo on a concrete floor is usually the beginning of a good night.
Additional considerations for those in team environments include incorporating comms and identification markers like IR strobes.
Impaired depth perception make simple tasks like walking down the stairs somewhat more hazardous.
Achieving a proper cheek-weld with goggles on your face is a losing proposition. This is where rail-mounted lasers make all the difference.
The author and instructor Phil Veloso work hallways as a two-man element.