The last time I was out in Wyoming, K from Combat Studies Group and I had a lot to discuss over some quality Pendleton Rye- everything from the latest in electronic security options to (obviously) communications but we went down a deep rabbit hole on the importance of technological parity for Patriot Partisans; that is, between you and the so-called ‘modern warfighter’ of a Nation-State. If the American Resistor wants to have any chance against a potential occupation force, it must recognize the need for incorporating modern enablers.

Chinese PLA Soldier equipped with QBZ-191, optic and IR laser.

What does this mean, exactly? We use the term ‘enabler’ quite a bit, as anyone who’s trained with me can attest. And because trigger pullers usually aren’t known for cryptic labels (we’re not the smartest bunch and we keep terms crayon simple), its simply something that enables us to have additional capability. This is broken down further into day optics and night optics, all in an effort to allow the trigger puller to operate in the most versatile way, day or night. Since direct action during the day is damn near suicidal, our night vision and thermal devices become extremely important.

Every competent modern armed force recognizes this and has sought to equip their forces with not simply day optics but also the ability to fight in limited visibility, meaning thermal, night vision and an IR laser. The photo above was taken in Syria several years back of a Russian SOF loadout captured by ISIS fighters – its an AK-100 equipped with a thermal sight, rail system and suppressor. Similar to any M4 you’d see in the American counterparts’ hands. This is a setup likely used primarily for counter-sniper observation (thermal detects a number of things in urban environments, chief among them the presence of windows or plexiglass as sniper baffles and peep holes cut into walls) and IED detection (due to changes in the heat signature between the device, the trigger and the ambient ground around it). This wouldn’t be a primary weapon setup for all purposes; you damn sure wouldn’t be doing CQB or close contact drills with it; but it is extremely useful for operating both day and night.

Ask any coyote or hog hunter.

A common question along those lines is “what should I buy? Thermal or Night Vision?” and its a valid question. Both are expensive investments and the lines are blurred for folks not necessarily knowing what they need, or, more importantly, why they need it. Long story short, you need both, but that might be out of the reach of many. That said, from countless hours and training courses in small team tactics, the first tool many grab (day or night) is thermal. And if you can only buy one device, its what I suggest due to its versatility for both day and night uses. Its not night vision, however, and is not a replacement for it. They’re two very different enablers and like a pipewrench or a framing hammer, they’re completely different tools for a different purpose, of equal importance.

Night vision, or more properly known as Night Operating Devices (NODs), in all its forms, allows us to move and observe under them during hours of darkness. Amplifying the ambient light, they enhance a natural image in real time. One of the pitfalls of thermal is that it uses a small processor to create an image based on heat signature, meaning what you’re seeing is not exactly what you’re seeing in real time based on a slight delay.

Thermal then is better suited for static observation or targeting, while Night Vision allows us to efficiently move in real time. What you see is what you get.

There’s three generations of NODs, all based on the image intensification capability. Gen 1 is fairly limited in capability, but is absolutely better than nothing. These units are on the lower end of the cost spectrum, and I suggest them to folks with limited budgets but still recognizing the need. They work fine for their intended purpose and while the tubes themselves don’t generally last as long (there’s a life expectancy on the image intensifier) it still gives a small group a leg up over those that don’t. Ask the Taliban. Any presence of night operating technology makes you a much more formidable threat to an adversary, nation state or otherwise.

When setting up your gear for NODs, there’s a couple of considerations you need to make. There’s two ways to implement NODs into a patrol kit, active and passive, and both revolve around aiming. Passive means weapons aiming occurs with the NOD mounted in conjunction with the day optic, or in place of it. This could be as simple as mounting a PVS-14 in front of (or behind) an optic, a PVS-22 or 30 in front of a higher magnification optic for designated marksman / sniper use, or something like a Pulsar night vision weapon scope which I’ve had a couple of guys bring to class. Passive NOD use is best suited to static observation and overwatch roles, like a guard position of a retreat or secured area. Back in Iraq and Afghanistan we’d have every guard tower equipped with a PAS-13 (our issued thermal scope) as well as the individual soldiers’ NODs, and the position of the Designated Marksman overwatching specific routes of entry equipped with either a PVS-22 or 30 mounted in front of the optic.

You can’t really move effectively like this, but it is a capability you need to recognize. Aiming like this does not require the use of an IR laser, which is mission critical if your adversary has their own night vision capability. The two force multipliers that most favor a guerrilla is the Sniper and the IED, and the ability of Designated Marksmen to hunt at night has an absolute paralyzing effect on an opposing force.

Active means you’re aiming with an IR laser. When you’re running NODs on your head an IR laser is a must-have item. An InfraRed (IR) laser is not visible to the naked eye but provides a beam to the expected point of impact of rounds fired, meaning, you’re shooting at a target that not only doesn’t know you’re there, but can’t see you aiming at them (unless they also have NODs).

While there’s a lot of brands out there and a wide price range, I ALWAYS suggest looking for one critical feature – have a visible laser that is slaved to the IR laser. This means that when you adjust the visible laser when zeroing the IR laser is being adjusted also, making confirmation of point of impact simple before heading out on patrol. The Russian PERST-4, the laser from Holosun, Steiner’s DBAL A2 (and higher end units), and the ubiquitous PEQ-15 all have this feature as their primary selling point. The PEQ-15 is the best of the bunch in my opinion, but owning at least one of each, they’re all good units. Both the PEQ-15 and PERST-4 mount low on a rail, are lightweight and built extremely rugged.

Zeroing can be accomplished one of two ways – either by using a laser boresight or aligning the laser to the center of the optic. If your optic is zeroed at a specific distance for an average trajectory, ie, 25m for a battlesight zero to 300m on an AR or the 14m (25yd) zero accomplishing the same on the AK, then that’s how to zero your laser. Your laser is nothing more than another Point Of Aim (POA), meaning you align it with your Point Of Impact (POI). This is known as the convergence method and its the same as zeroing any other optic, you’re aligning the point of aim to the point of impact. If you’re running a day optic meant to be zeroed at a specific distance, such as the Primary Arms ACSS which is meant to be zeroed at 50m or the ACOG at 100m, then you zero the laser independently with a boresight at 25m on the AR or 14m for the AK. This is something I do with everyone in the Fighting Carbine and Scout Courses that have IR lasers. While there is a slight offset if you’re looking for maximum accuracy, it is my personal experience both from operational deployments and training civilians that confirming zero through this method is fast, simple and effective.

The last question most folks have when it comes to NODs is how to wear it. There’s a mountain of options out there, ranging from the old school skull crusher (don’t do that to yourself) to running high speed Team Wendy helmets and the bicycle grade knockoffs. As long as it mounts to your head, is relatively comfortable and you can move under it, then you’re winning. I’m still rocking my old ACH for most applications becasue its what I know, and contains a decade’s worth of sweat in the pads prove it.  I mount my PVS-14 over my non-dominant eye, which allows me to maintain my natural night vision with my other. This method also helps with depth perception. Its really not complicated and an ACH can be found for far less on the second hand market than the newer bump helmet designs, and functionally they work the same.

The battlefield of 2021 is a very different place than it was two decades ago. For the Partisan to be relevant in the contemporary fight, every effort must be made in obtaining the best quality technology available. And fortunately for you, it still is, at least for now. But that could change especially as the times become more and more volatile. The Second Amendment explicitly states ‘well regulated militia’, meaning quite literally civilians as well trained and equipped as any government-sponsored entity that opposes the same. Get yourself the best you can and get the training to use it.