We own the night…a phrase we came to know well. Repeated into memory and universally believed into fact. Until the day we learned our enemies had night vision as well. Not only that, but that they were far more competent in its use than our assumption of sandal-clad cave dwellers clutching a Kalashnikov would suggest. And then a fear set in, that usually happens when one’s reality is fundamentally challenged, that you no longer have an insurmountable advantage on the ground, that you do not have a monopoly on violence, that- gasp- that sandal-clad cave dweller clutching a Kalashnikov is not quite the hapless prey once assumed.
Not hardly. A picture speaks a thousand words and in this case, tells us volumes about this guy’s capability. A PVS-7D and what looks like a thermal scope mounted on an M16. A simple setup that’s available to anyone here in the US, absolutely terrifying to any occupation force.
As both a student and instructor of guerrilla warfare in its various topics, one of the fundamental truths is that the ability to effectively operate at night is among the top priorities for an armed group’s success. Chronicling the insurgency in El Salvador through the lens of Radio Venceremos, its author and narrator, Santiago, frequently referred to the moon as the ‘guerrilla’s sunshine’ and noted that their ability to execute a breakout even when under the intense fire of a major sweep was only possible through the guerrilla’s successful training in night operations. Fast forwarding to the present, my own experience would see the bulk of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan conducted exclusively at night. Our clandestine insertions would happen at night alone. And when we weren’t striking at night, action would happen just in the breaking moments of dawn.
That’s when the French and Indians attack, after all.
Its interesting what just a bit of technology in determined hands can do to level the playing field. And even more interesting is when that technology is used in innovative ways, leading to new tactics. We use IR lasers to aim weapons when wearing NODs- but the paradox of that practice is that a laser aims two ways and among a similarly equipped foe, that practice will get you killed. Sorta like how conventional wisdom suggests every weapon have a white light, when patrolling with white lights risks accidental discharges which absolutely will get an entire patrol killed. Ask my last Scout Course. You ain’t fighting the GWOT and you don’t have an army behind you.
This is not to say a prospective guerrilla should have neither a tac light nor an IR laser- quite the opposite. But he must understand its implementation and use. Your weapon system is modular and your equipment is mission focused. When to use it, when not to use it. I prefer versatility in my equipment above all, which is why I’ll always come back to my trusty PVS-14 even with all of the newer dual tube units out there- I can wear it on my head and I can mount it on a weapon when static, such as from a hide site in front of my ACOG, similar to how the PVS-22 and 30 is mounted on sniper weapon systems. It negates the need for a laser when killing an opposing force that also has NODs.
Further, there is no technological solution which can overcome a lack of training. Tactics can overcome a lack of equipment but there is never a substitute for effective, competent training. The fundamentals of movement at night should be have even more time devoted to them in training than movement during the day. Our senses of sound and smell are sharper at night due to a lack of the ability to see, which is why some doctrine will allude to sound carrying further at night. It doesn’t, you’re just more in tune to it.
With that said, the decisive advantage NODs offer- both traditional night vision and Thermal– cannot be denied. And while expensive, quality night vision units are among the top items a prospective guerrilla fighter should be seeking. Weapons get a lot of attention, but the enablers to implement them are in the end what wins the fight. Its the 21st Century and the real fight is over who owns the night.