SIGHTING BY NIGHT
By David Maxwell
As campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and other ‘hot spots’ around the world have demonstrated in recent years, close-combat goes on around the clock, regardless of the light or weather conditions. The need for infantry to have night-vision devices at their disposal has never been greater and addressed in these pages before. For the close-combat encounters, a night-vision goggle (NVG) or thermal viewer may be sufficient but, in the immediate aftermath, the increased availability of purpose-built night sights has assumed a much higher operational requirement.
When contact is made, then the need to identify and neutralise the source of incoming fire becomes paramount. The first night sights adopted image-intensification (I2) technology and were total sighting systems replacing ‘open’ or ‘iron’ sights with an I2 sighting unit. When thermal technology arrived, similar techniques were adopted. Then, as lasers became smaller, rangefinders, pointers and illuminators became available as weapon add-ons or integrated within sights.
Most recently, as many basic sighting systems became fully optical, with telescopic or zoom capabilities and illuminated aiming reticles or ‘red-dot’ aiming points, such systems are being made ‘night-compatible’ by adding a night module, be it I2 or thermal, ahead of the existing optical sight, so as not to require the sight to be re-boresighted to the shooter’s eye.
Added to all these various sighting techniques and solutions is the over-arching digital battlespace, where the ability to transmit imagery from the very front-line back up the command chain and operational information from the various headquarters down to the front line, has become de rigeur. Thus observation, communications and weapon sighting have become integral elements within all ‘future soldier’ projects around the world.
Of course, the detail of this evolution in all-weather, all-lighting sighting capability is much more involved than the general statements above. However, some of this will emerge as this feature considers some of the incumbent and emerging systems.
The standard I2 night sight, using Gen 2 technology, in service with the US military for many years and still in licence production and wide use worldwide is the AN/PVS-4, originally produced by Litton (now L-3, via Northrop Grumman) Electro-Optic Systems (EOS). This has been superseded in recent years by the AN/PVS-22 Universal Night Sight (UNS), produced by the Knights Armament Company and, also, by Optical Systems Technology (acquired by FLIR Systems Inc. in 2009). A clip-on device ahead of the weapon’s existing day optic, the AN/PVS-22 uses Gen 3 Omnibus VII I2 tubes. With x12 magnification, an optimum range in ¼ moonlight conditions against a man-sized target of 1.34 km is claimed.
For sniper use, the AN/PVS-10 from L-3 EOS has been around for some 15 years and was standard fit for the US Army’s M24 sniper rifle, while the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System uses the AN/PVS-26. The M24 and M110 also use the AN/PVS-29 Clip-on Sniper Night Sight. Both AN/PVS-29 and AN/PVS-29 are produced by the Knights Armament Company. In October 2010, when the US Army awarded Remington Arms Company the contract to modify 250 M24 sniper rifles into the XM2010 weapon systems – what the Army calls the “M-24 reconfigured Sniper Weapon System”, the AN/PVS-29 was the specified night sight. According to PEO Soldier, this can recognise a man-sized target at around 600m.
The US Marines, however, adopted the AN/PVS-27 Magnum Universal Night Sight (MUNS), developed from the UNS by Optical Systems Technology (FLIR Systems), for its Scout Sniper Mid-Range Night sight requirement in 2007. With up to x12 magnification, under quarter moonlight with optimum contrast, it can detect a man-sized target at some 1,730m. MUNS has also been adopted by the Israel Defence Forces.
From the UK, Qioptiq (and its predecessor c