We Own the Night

Night Vision

The United States Military has a distinct advantage in many areas. Superior training, better logistics, smarter leaders, and most of all, the best equipment money can buy. What sets us apart from other militaries, aside from the obvious brave and heroic troops that put their lives on the line everyday, is money. Our defense budget falls somewhere between $700 and $900 billion dollars annually. China is in second place with $114 billion. France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Japan all float between $51 and 61 billion dollars a year. After that, the numbers quickly become inconsequential. As a result of our colossal buying power, we are able to outfit our individual soldiers with the latest technology. As early as the World War II, our soldiers have been adopting the tactic of owning the night.

Germany developed night vision for military use in early 1939. By the end of the Second World War, the German army had outfitted as many as 50 Panzer tanks with early versions of night vision. The Nazi’s issued the “Vampir” man portable system for infantrymen alongside the some Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles toward the end of the war. The U.S. military had a parallel development program. The M1 and M3 infrared night sighting devices, also known as the “sniperscope” or “snooperscope,” were introduced by the U.S. Army in WWII. Night vision has enjoyed an increasing role in every conflict since then.

Night vision works by increasing the effectiveness of the available ambient light. There are five generations of night vision, starting with Gen 0. The different generations all produce higher image quality, less distortion, and longer tube light.

  • Generation 0—Scopes defined by their large size, and relatively low image intensification. They relied on an infrared light source. These devices tended to be heavy, and displayed a large amount of image distortion.
  • Generation 1—These were the first passive devices that did not rely on infrared light sources, instead they magnified ambient light to create an image.
  • Generation 2—Devices utilized an improved image-intensifier tube, which resulted in a much brighter image, especially around the edges of the lens.
  • Generation 3—Systems use an improved photocathode that increases image resolution and light amplification.
  • Generation 4—Gen 4 allows scopes and goggles to automatically adapt to changing light conditions. The Gen 4 tubes have a more sensitive tube, which gives a much better image, but have a slightly lower tube life than Gen 3.

During Operation Desert Storm, the Iraqi Army was ill equipped to fight a nighttime war. The United States and its allies issued night vision devices to individual troops and major weapons systems. Operations increased during twilight hours, which allowed our troops to move and engage targets with a distinct advantage in the desert environment. For the first time, the American public viewed the war on live television through the use of night vision technology mounted on news cameras. The coverage of smart bombs hitting targets at night helped defined the Gulf War as a “Living Room War.” Night vision has come a long way since its inception during WWII. As technology progresses, we have to wonder what improvements will come during the next generation of conflicts that we will inevitably face. Unfortunately for us, night vision along with stealth technology, are readily available to the highest bidder on the international weapons market.

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