After Action Report
Course: LMS Defense Night Vision Fundamentals Course
Instructor: Daniel Bales
Host facility: LMS Defense Combat Development Center
Location: Fernley, Nevada
Course length: 1 day
*In the interest of complete transparency: I am a part time employee of LMS Defense and have worked for them as an RSO on several occasions. In addition to LMS I work with Dan Bales at my day job as a part time instructor at our agency where Dan serves as the rangemaster. I consider Dan a good friend and will strive to keep my review objective without straying into a subjective view of the instruction quality.*
I recently attended 2 separate Night Vision Fundamentals Courses with Dan Bales of LMS Defense. The first was 11/4/16 and the second was 1/27/17, both were 1 day (or more accurately 1 night) classes. This class is billed as an entry level NV course geared towards getting people familiar with their NV equipment and its use. I have also attended a NV primer course during the annual LMS Defense customer appreciation weekend in June of 2016. (This was a short block of instruction by Dan Bales and an opportunity to checkout some of the provided vendor equipment. It will not be mentioned further beyond some insight it has lent.)
Let’s start with a basic description of what was covered as well as some of the differences I observed between the two courses. The first class was a full house with 7 students while the second was a private lesson for 3 including myself. In both classes the curriculum started during the late afternoon hours with a safety brief and thorough powerpoint presentation discussing the specifics of how night vision works. Perhaps one of the biggest take-away’s from this presentation were all the ways you can turn your NVD’s into a very expensive paperweight without proper care. We then discussed what each individual student would be using for the class and the major differences between each piece of kit. (I’ll get into some in depth discussion of my personal observations later) After discussion we grabbed our kit and hit the range for some live fire daylight work. We started by zeroing or confirming zero of our visible lasers. All students has some form of daytime visible lasers, some slaved to the IR laser some not. (Slaved lasers are better than a mustache with titties!) In both classes Dan took time to point out the differences in visibility of both red and green lasers as well as the differences in civilian power and FDA restricted power lasers. Dan then discussed different approaches for zeroing laser devices and the pros and cons of each. Dan utilizes a converging zero at the same distance as the optic on the rifle (50 yard zero). Many different reasons for each concept were given but the moral of the story was that for the average cop/NV user it offers comfortable consistency that can be accomplished expediently, since Dan teaches primarily cops this makes perfect sense. After zeroing we jumped right into a series of different vis laser based drills. Although the classes differed in which drills were utilized both classes covered movement and positional shooting. We did a walk back drill and were able to see the effective range of our visible laser setup. This made extremely clear the differences in capability between various different laser devices and also some now very apparent bad implementation of the fundamentals.
Dan then moved into some timed events and recorded our times using the fading daylight and visible lasers. During the first class Dan setup a drill utilizing several barricades and steel targets, students traversed the width of the range moving from barricade to barricade. Students were instructed to acquire a different position behind each barricade and utilize their visible laser to engage each respective target. This was a fairly easy drill and aside from a few minor hiccups everyone completed without issue. Dan identified and covered various issues as they presented themselves. With the light fading we covered a last few skill building drills including some tips for performing reloads and transitions. In both classes we took an abbreviated dinner break while the sun finished setting, a much needed chance to warm up since both classes were colder than a polar bears nose.
Once our toes defrosted we got back to work. Dan jumped right into it by covering donning and doffing of all night vision equipment. These repetitions were a little begrudged but proved extremely useful when later in the evening I managed to knock my PVS-14 off my helmet (BUY A GOOD LANYARD!!!) From here we moved back to the range and confirmed or performed IR zeroing. In both classes Dan then moved into some similar drills to those run with the vis laser. This included the timed events we had run during the day, we had a chance to compare our times between day and under green screen. Spoiler alert!! you’re going to be slower with the NV’s… All students were surprised at the difference in not only their speed but also in their general performance. A few students likened the experience to being a fish out of the water. What would be a simple reload during the day was suddenly a challenging process that required an abnormal level of focus. I think Dan chuckled a little to himself as many of us forgot his suggested tricks in our frustration. Remember that barricade drill I mentioned above? We ran that drill again and what was so simple in the daylight was now an extremely challenging task. Every student struggled to maintain consistent accuracy and several students became so physically exhausted they could hardly complete the drill. Dan utilized our frustration to remind everyone about the tricks he had shown us earlier and after some pointers every student was able to complete the drill with far more fluidity.
In the first class Dan ran a competition that involved all shooters. We had 3 targets setup at approximately 35-40 yards downrange; Each student had to move approx. 10 yards before engaging each of the 3 targets from a variety of positions. This challenge was run head to head with a winners and losers bracket. It was a very entertaining challenge and I think everyone had fun. I mention this drill in particular because I took a lot away from it; Not to toot my own horn but I wound up winning. This was significant because I was the only one running without an IR illuminator. Without illumination the drill was extremely difficult but more on that later. What was significant was the way in which others struggled even with high end illuminators. An interesting phenomenon presented itself where the texture of the steel plates, after paint had been shot off, matched almost perfectly the terrain of the berm behind the targets. This meant that even the guys with illuminators were struggling to find their targets.
In both classes Dan then covered land navigation and team movement techniques. This portion of the class although a bit tedious was extremely helpful for all those not familiar with movement under green screen. After a short break to warm up we then moved over to the shoot house for some solo runs. In both classes all but one student had some familiarity with shoot house operations and Dan was able to cater each run to the experience level of the individual student. As expected anytime you have one on one runs there was some down time. This was not wasted time as each of us took turns checking out our peers’ gear. Every student learned some valuable lessons from our time in the house. As is customary Dan wrapped up the classes with completion certs and a debrief. A Big Bird Approved patch or two were handed out and stories shared before everyone fled back to the warmth of their cars.
*Out of respect for LMS Defense and Daniel Bales I have intentionally left out major portions of the curriculum covered. This isn’t a freebie if you want all the material come take the class.*
I have gleaned a few little nuggets of insight from these two classes as well as my other experiences with NV industry partners and individual training time. Rather than clutter the AAR with these random musing I have collected them at the end here. I will attempt to provide quality insight behind each observation:
First off I want to discuss a rumor/concept/wives tail that seems to be gaining some momentum lately… There are a great many people perpetuating a number of reasons that individuals should purchase a PVS-14 or similar monocular night vision device. The reasons I have heard most often are the ability to switch seamlessly to white light, the ability to weapon mount the device, as well as some misguided idea that it will somehow allow users to better operate in environments with light pollution. I’ll start by saying I believed and allowed some of these ideas to factor into my decision to purchase a PVS-14. I have since learned and experienced a very different reality. Perhaps the most significant factor that prospective buyers should consider when looking at dual tubes vs. monocular setups is depth perception. The human brain is used to processing the view of our environment through binocular vision, it’s how we figure out our position in an environment relative to everything else. When you run a single tube in a dark environment you no longer have depth perception, this means you will likely run into shit like a drunk peg leg. Even if you are able to move around without stumbling your brain is working overtime to try and understand the environment around it. Now throw in the challenge of discerning and engaging targets while moving and your brain may very well go into overload. Remember my discussion earlier about being slower under green screen this factor will only go up exponentially as the complexity of the issue increases. Want to test this go play darts with both eyes open then try again with one eye covered. Tough right? In addition to creating mental strain a fair number of people who attempt to use monocular night vision in a dynamic environment experience symptoms similar to motion sickness, headache, nausea and dizziness. Remember that your brain is used to having two eyes to work with and you’ve effectively shut one down.
The reality is this; There are legitimate reasons for people to use monocular NVDs. However, those reasons are limited almost entirely to cost. I am not suggesting nor do I think any decent retailer would suggest you should forego feeding your children in favor of buying a dual tube setup. If all you can afford is a PVS-14 and a cheap used DBAL then rock on Garth! Get some training and learn to use what you’ve got. If you can wait a few months and save up for duals then do yourself a favor and buy once cry once.
One of the main reasons I hear from people attempting to justify buying a monocular NVD is the seamless ability to switch from IR to white light. I mentioned this above but it merits a separate note; My firm belief is that this is a software issue and not a hardware issue. There are a number of ways to deal with this situation and I won’t get into all of them but suffice it to say that our nations tier one guys are not running PVS-14’s so they can easily go to white light. Since we can’t all afford Panoramic NVD’s duals are about the best you are going to get our hands on for a while. While at SHOT show this year I had the chance to take a look at the DTNVG. This system really stuck out to me as it seems to solve many of the issues that have been cited above. The DTNVG allows the user to roll up toward the mount each tube individually. This allows you to have one eye acclimated to your surroundings while still being able to see an assisted view of your environment. In addition to this versatility when stowed in the upright position it also allows the tubes to be tucked more tightly to the profile of the helmet, no more tactical antlers!
The next major set of observations stays within the same vein of hardware related musings. First and foremost the difference between civilian and mil/LE laser devices is as obvious as the spec numbers suggest. With that being said a quality civilian device will work just fine in most situations. One of the most interesting things I observed was the failure of a civilian strength DBAL A3 with green vis laser in the cold. Now let me qualify just how cold; It was even colder than Hillary’s heart, thermometers registered somewhere between 0 and 15 degrees. The green civvy A3 would spit and sputter eventually producing a beam less than half the expected power, while the IR laser functioned perfectly fine on the same unit. We fired up Dan’s full strength green A3 and it worked fine… Perhaps it was a fluke as the sample size was only 1, but this did cause me a moment of pause and should for prospective buyers expecting similar conditions. Green lasers are known to experience temperature sensitivity so YMMV.
In addition to a laser taking a dump I experienced an interesting frost up of my objective NVD lens. While working in the house I noticed my vision becoming blurry, I assumed it was just my glasses fogging. When I finished my run I removed my helmet and noticed the objective lens of my PVS-14 completely covered with a thin sheet of ice. Due to my being out of shape and relegated to mouth breathing by a severe case of sinus vaginitis I was blowing steam like a locomotive. It would appear that this amount of moisture was sufficient to adhere to the objective lens cover and freeze. A quick wipe of the lens cleared the image and I was back on my way.
While we are on the subject of tubes let’s talk about some things I’ve found. White phosphorus tubes are absolutely the bees knees! They provide a level of clarity and color that my eyes find much easier to assess quickly. Everyone who tried my PVS-14 at both classes commented on how they preferred the white phos image. The general consensus is that the image appears brighter than that of the typical green phos tubes. For me this perceived brightness greatly assists with quick identification of movement and an easier time determining depth. During one of the classes I was able to make a run through the house with a BNVD running green screen and yellow ocular lens covers. The yellow covers in theory brighten the image. I found that the filters did in fact help the perceived brightness of the already bright portions of the image but made almost completely black the dark areas of the image. Everyone’s eyes are different but for me the two takeaways were the white phos is the shit and that yellow filters don’t really do much.
Tape switches are remarkably fragile! In the pursuit of efficient switchology many shooters have moved to utilizing a tether that ties their WML and laser device together on one switch. This is a great concept and makes positional shooting much more do-able. Sounds great right? Well in the first class alone we had 5 of the 6 tape switches in use fail in one form or another. 3 of the failures were complete switch failure with one requiring tools to get the unit working again. All 3 of the catastrophic failures involved the male end of the switch plug breaking off in the back of the laser device, one tip remained stuck in the unit until pried out. The other switches failed when the male end of the tape switch simply fell out of the unit during use. I believe the vast majority of the issues stemmed from students not being intimately familiar with their equipment setup and mashing onto the rear of this male pin while trying to activate the tape switch. Again YMMV but I choose to run my setup without a tape switch and if I were to use one I would ensure it was retained within the unit and placed so that it would not be accidentally mashed while searching for the tape switch.
This leads right into a very important point about pre-class prep. You wouldn’t show up to a carbine class with a rifle you’ve never even shot… This general concept seems to go out the window when you talk about NV training. Yes I know these were both fundamental level classes with a corresponding level curriculum. What I also know is that I have spent countless hours running my gear dry at home… The moral of the story is this when it comes to running NV you better have basic manipulations down pat and more than just a basic familiarity with your specific rifle setup. I’ll throw myself under the bus and admit that I threw a new IR / white light WML on my rifle right before the second class and without testing the setup. (See my review of the inforce WMLxIR for more on that) The end result was a severe handicap on my ability to effectively learn and function during the class. Don’t be that guy!!!
If you plan to get into the NV world take your time and do your homework before you buy! Once you’ve acquired equipment get quality training! We are extremely fortunate to have multiple vendors offering high quality training in all different parts of the country. Take advantage of the SME’s you have access to here on P&S and look at PSAL for course announcements in your neck of the woods. NV training is some of the most personally redeeming training you’ll ever do so get out there and enjoy fighting the darkness!