Shooting with Aiming Lights and Night Vision Goggles

A common perception about aiming lights is that all you need to do is point and shoot. Although aiming lights do provide a point and shoot capability, unless soldiers are properly trained, most likely they will point and miss.

. ' The Equipment. The beams of the aiming lights we examined are not visible to the human eye; they can only be seen through NVGs or other image intensification (I2) devices. Hitting targets requires that both the aiming light and the NVGs be properly adjusted. Consequently, ARI took a systems approach in evaluating training requirements, looking at both types of equipment. Specifically, ARI examined alternative means for 25m live-fire zeroing and alternative means for effective dry-fire zeroing with aiming lights. This research also determined the impact of NVG acuity on marksmanship with aiming lights and compared the effectiveness of different field-expedient techniques for adjusting the visual acuity of NVGs.

Both NVG and aiming light technology have changed considerably since their initial introduction. During the period of our night fighting research in the 1990s, NVGs progressed from the AN/PVS-5 binocular model with second-generation I" technology, to the AN/PVS-7A/B head-mounted biocular models with third-generation technology, to the current helmet-mounted AN/PVS-7D biocular and AN/PVS-14 monocular models with improved third-generation technology." The end result of this NVG evolution has been a lighter goggle, one that is more comfortable to wear, and one that provides a better image under poor light conditions. All soldiers used either the 7Bs or the 14s in this research.

Aiming lights have also improved, from the AN/PAC-4A to the AN/PAC-4B, and most recently, to the AN/PAC-4C and AN/PEQ-2A. Newer models have incorporated steady beams instead of pulsating beams. Their effective ranges have also increased from 150m to 300m and beyond, depending on ambient light conditions at night. The AN/PEQ-2A has the added feature of an illuminator. ARI conducted research with each of these aiming lights during the 1990s.

Initial ARI Research. As aiming lights were being introduced to units, increasing attention was given to the difficulty in zeroing them to weapons, a problem identified in initial Army tests. The basic problem with traditional 25m live-fire zeroing procedures is that the beam of an aiming light "blooms" when viewed through NVGs. Because this "bloom" covers up the silhouette in the center of the 25m target, a precise point of aim is almost impossible to achieve when zeroing. To help solve this serious problem, ARI investigated variations to existing 25m zeroing procedures, as well as dry-fire zeroing alternatives.43

Military 25m Zero Target
ARI 25m Zeroing Target for Aiming Lights.

The solution to the 25m zero problem was to provide a target that allowed the soldier to obtain a definitive point of aim. The technique that worked the best was to attach the zero target to the tan side of an E-silhouette and use two strips of black tape to divide the silhouette in half vertically and horizontally. Typically, the best lighting condition was achieved by illuminating the target with a standard Army flashlight, which diffused the bloom or halo of the aiming light. When zeroing, the aiming light was aligned with the target so it fell at the perceived intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines formed by the black tape. The effectiveness of this technique was confirmed by firing at targets from 50 to 300m on a range equipped with projectile location technology (see Chapter 2).

In later work by the Army, it was found that a 3cm hole in the center of the zero target was also effective. When soldiers aligned their aiming lights with the 3cm hole, the bloom disappeared, indicating they were aiming at the silhouette's center of mass.

ARI also explored various dry-fire procedures as potential substitutes for live 25m zeroing. The goal was to develop a procedure that would help soldiers achieve a satisfactory hit probability in emergency deployment situations without having to zero with live ammunition. ARI also wanted a procedure that, when used prior to live zeroing, would help more soldiers hit the 25m zeroing target with their initial rounds. The data showed that when soldiers used a "mechanical zero" setting, many failed to get their initial shot group on the 25m zero target. Thus, it was impossible for them to know what directional adjustments to make.

ARI's recommended dry-fire technique was essentially the reverse of live 25m zeroing procedures. A soldier aimed constantly at the center of a target using iron sights as during daylight. A buddy wearing NVGs then adjusted the aiming light so the beam hit a predetermined point on the target. To support this procedure, ARI developed special targets allowing the soldier to get a precise point of aim and the buddy to determine exactly where the aiming light's beam should fall.

Borelight Target Silohette
A soldier at Fort Bragg engages a silhouette target using an aiming light and NVGs.

Since 1995 the Army has used a dry-fire procedure as the preferred method of zeroing aiming lights. This procedure involves the use of a borelight that works with all small arms. A series of offset targets has been developed by the Army to accommodate the various weapon-device combinations currently in the field. ARI worked extensively with this borelight in during subsequent training assessment research.

The other aspect of the initial work with aiming lights involved the other key component of the system, namely the NVGs. If you can't see a target or the target is not clearly defined, an aiming light does not help. Target detection is a function of NVG technology and how well soldiers adjust or fine-tune their NVGs. The quality of the image seen is affected by the adjustments made to the goggles. When you hear the phrase "I can't see anything with these goggles," you know that soldier does not know how to adjust them properly.

The aviation communities within the Army, Navy and Air Force use indoor "test lanes" or special pieces of equipment to obtain good visual acuity with NVGs. Such equipment and facilities are unavailable to soldiers in the field. ARI compared objects typically found in a field environment to determine which provided the best visual acuity readings for soldiers.45 46 Objects such as a vehicle, a light trail against a dark background, or a star worked best. These high-contrast objects better enabled soldiers to know when a NVG image was the sharpest that could be attained.

To determine the effects of NVG visual acuity on marksmanship with aiming lights, soldiers fired their NVGs with both good and poor visual acuity settings.43 With good visual acuity settings, the hit probability was significantly higher than with poor visual acuity settings. A continuing training problem with NVGs is to provide an objective means for the soldier to determine when he has the best possible visual acuity (diopter) setting on his NVGs.

Training Assessments. ARI's most recent work with aiming lights and NVGs has been in the context of assessing training on government furnished equipment for platoons soon to be equipped with the Land Warrior system.47 The AN/PVS-7B and AN/PVS-14 NVGs, and PAQ-4C and PEQ-2A aiming lights were used, as well as a borelight to "zero" the aiming lights. Three assessments were done over a two-year period. Boresighting aiming lights was found to work, when soldiers achieve a good boresight, adjust their NVGs properly, and use a stable firing position. More effective boresighting techniques evolved with each assessment (e.g., how to best stabilize the weapon, which boresight offset targets work best, and which procedures reduce overall boresighting time).

As our training assessments were being conducted, the USAIS was developing qualification standards for aiming lights. The goal was to have the night standard be the same as the day standard. However, it is well known that targets are difficult to detect with NVGs under poor ambient light. Some range configurations were found to produce very little target contrast, consequently lowering markmanship performance. ARI's training assessment results ultimately impacted the proposed qualification scenario developed for use with aiming lights and NVGs. In particular, the Army modified its qualification scenario and night performance standard to be more consistent with NVG capabilities, range configurations, and the ambient light conditions under which qualification firing would most likely be conducted.

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  • mikolaj
    Can you shoot a pistol with night vision goggle ?
    7 years ago
  • Zain McKenzie
    How does a soldier aim with a nvg?
    5 years ago

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