Guest Article: Considerations for Night Operations- Part 2, by Max Alexander

Yesterday, we began looking at how to see and move at night with low tech- or no tech equipment. I shared about the importance of developing and protecting natural night vision and ways to more safely patrol at night. You cannot assume that darkness masks your movement, but you can adjust. Let’s continue with this in mind.

Adjusting To Challenges of Moving At Night

So there are challenges of moving at night when working low-tech. But it’s actually something that you can get used to after a little bit of practice. You can get very comfortable at it. You need to just take account of the difficulties the darkness presents, with the lower visibility. Compensate your patrol conduct as required. Your pace will be slower, in order to avoid excessive noise by blundering around in the trees. You will need to close up a little to take account of the reduced visibility. You’ll need to make extra efforts to ensure the patrol does not become split or separated. You will need to close up at halts in order to pass any hand signals, whispered messages, and to ensure accountability.

What Happens When It Gets Hot and Lights Flash

What happens if you get into contact and it goes hot? If it’s dark and you walk into a contact, then perform your contact drill as rehearsed. Fire at the enemy’s muzzle flashes. Remember that if tracer is involved, either by the enemy or by yourself, then it lights up at 100 meters from the muzzle (if the NATO standard type). So it does not truly point both ways. If the contact is taking place at ranges greater than 100 meters, then you can also use tracer as a means of target indication. Tracer looks like blobs of light flying through the green night sky when viewed through night vision.

Using White Light

Consider the use of white light. If you are without night vision devices, then you definitely want to consider the use of parachute illumination rocket flares. Use either the self-contained ones that come in a tube, such as for maritime use, or the ones fired from a flare gun. If you put up a parachute flare, you can get anywhere between 30 to 60 seconds of illumination. It will move with the wind and cause moving shadows on the ground.

When Caught By A Flare

Note that if you are patrolling and one of these suddenly “wooshes” up, you should have time to hit the ground before it pops and illuminates the area. If you are caught by one actually bursting, then it is often better to sink to the ground slowly with the moving shadows, rather than trying to bomb-burst into cover. This is a different immediate action from that with the trip flare, which produces immediate light and leaves you no choice but to bomb-burst out of the illuminated area. Remember that if anyone puts up a rocket flare, it’s for a reason. Similarly, a trip flare or similar device will be positioned to cover an ingress route and should be covered by enemy fire, as should all obstacles.

The sort of dim light produced by a rocket illumination flare is not really bright enough to completely destroy your night vision. Just don’t look directly at the flare. You can always close at least one eye, or maybe have some of your group close both, if you are acting covertly and the situation allows it.

Using Parachute Illumination

If you have no night vision devices and need to illuminate an area, either for a hasty attack, raid, an ambush, or a defensive action, then consider the use of parachute illumination flares. This will allow those without night vision equipment to use iron sights or day optics to engage targets. It does not produce a full daylight effect. Rather, it produces a dusky world of moving shadows. A little bit of coordination will allow you to put up illumination as necessary, while coordinating the absence of it to cover movement. (Note: I know of at least one incident where parachute illumination was used in an ambush, and due to the large smoke signal given off by firing a rocket illumination flare, the firer was killed by enemy return fire. Thus, if using rocket type illumination flares, fire from a flank and from cover.)

White Light Flashlights Attached To Rifle

You can also use powerful white light flashlights attached to your rifle. However, I would not recommend the use of such devices in the open. The use of white weapon lights is best confined to building and room clearance operations, where you are inside and using the white light to illuminate the room and clear it following entry. If you turn weapon lights on while out in the open, you are just inviting enemy fire. That is also an interesting practical point, the “negligent discharge” of weapons mounted white lights.

Be careful of accidentally hitting the on/off switch on a weapon mounted flashlight. Such an action can not only compromise your patrol, perhaps your move into your assault position for a raid, but it also washes out everyone’s night vision. It’s best to remove or reverse the batteries until such time as you are definitely going to use them, or use something like an ***inForce WML*** that has a safety guard over the button. This is at least something to consider.

Rocket Illumination Parachute Flares to Bridge Gap

The use of rocket illumination parachute flares also bridges the gap nicely between complete unavailability of night vision devices and the partial availability of same. Perhaps you are occupying a defensive position and you only have a limited number of night vision or thermal devices available. Perhaps you have one device that is located in the OP (observation post) and is used to scan and observe your perimeter. If you get an incursion into your perimeter and most of your team is just equipped with either iron sights or day optics, then once the enemy is detected you can put up parachute illumination in order to allow all of your team to effectively and accurately engage the enemy.

This is a useful bridge use of night optics and white light. Consider also that a magazine of tracer rounds can be used by the night vision equipper person to point out an enemy location, which can then be suppressed by non-night vision equipped personnel. Find out if your tracer lights up immediately or at 100 meters!

Avoid Over-Reliance On Night Vision Devices

In a little bit, in the next segment of this article, I will move on to the actual use of night vision devices. What I want to say right now is use them appropriately. Even if you are fully equipped with high-tech night vision equipment, there is potential for the over-reliance on such equipment to have a negative effect. What do I mean by this? Well, perhaps you are conducting a raid, and perhaps part of the objective is a building. It’s a nighttime raid. In such circumstances it would be ideal for your support by fire team to be equipped with night vision equipment in order to allow them to generate accurate fire, and also most importantly to be able to track your progress on the objective and avoid a friendly fire incident.

However, if you are the assaulting group it may not be best at all times to go with equipment such as ***PVS-14*** Part of a raid is the use of speed, surprise, and violence of action. It’s not some “black ops” video game. You may be better off putting up illumination rounds, whether that is rocket flares or mortar illumination, and going in hard with maximum speed and aggression. That may also include the building, where you could clear it using weapon mounted flashlights once inside the building. It’s just something for you to consider, avoiding over-reliance on technology, which is one of the reasons why your PVS-14 will flip up on its helmet mount and allow you to get it out of the way when you don’t need it.

Falkland War- Those With and Without Night Vision

In fact, if we look at the Falkland’s War in 1982, it was indeed true that the Argentinean commandos were equipped with night vision equipment where the British troops were not. The Brits went up the mountains using the basics of fire and movement as well as white light when necessary or available. They mainly fought up through the darkness using basic fire and movement, with fire support as they could get it. Many of the Argentinean commandos were equipped with night vision sights on their rifles, and these were responsible for many of the British casualties.

This Argentinean example highlights several things. Firstly, technology does not always triumph over morale, training, and aggression. Secondly, it demonstrates the combined use on the battlefield of both old school and modern technology, albeit on opposite sides.

Night Vision In A Patrol Situation

If we move away from the defensive position to a more patrol situation, then let’s imagine that we perhaps just have one or two items of night vision technology within that patrol. Perhaps you have one PVS-14 or you have a single FLIR thermal imager. There are several options here. Perhaps your lead scout is using the PVS-14 on a helmet mount. This still gives the option of flipping it up or down as necessary. Perhaps even the lead scout, or the patrol leader, has the FLIR on a cord around the neck. Having the FLIR, or the PVS-14, either bungeed around the neck or flipped up on a helmet mount allows you to patrol without them. Then, you are still able to utilize them to scan ground ahead before moving over it.

Tomorrow, I will go over the night vision technology and continue further in this subject.

About The Author

Max Alexander is a tactical trainer and author. He is a lifelong professional soldier with extensive military experience. He served with British Special Operations Forces, both enlisted and as a commissioned officer; a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Max served on numerous operational deployments, and also served as a recruit instructor. Max spent five years serving as a paramilitary contractor in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This included working on contract for the U.S. Government in Iraq, a year of which was based out of Fallujah, and also two years working for the British Government in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He operates Max Velocity Tactical (MVT).


  1. I’ve always had an issue with the use of white lights on a firearm, both for field use and CQB. Admittedly, some of that is the result of my ancient infantry training (1985).

    The second you turn on that white light you loose your night vision. At this point you will need to keep that white light on or end up almost blind. Yes, you can keep one eye closed but under stress that will be exactly the opposite of what your body wants (screams) to do. Fighting a natural adrenaline response is possible with a lot of training, but it’s always better to work with it.

  2. I looked up parachute flares for sale, and found one that is red. You might one of these in the event of night time/movement/ ambush/ encounter to save a bit on night vision. And as always, launch any parachute flare from a covered and concealed position, if possible. If not, fire one and move away from that position as quickly as possible, and don’t fire one with the radio man next to you. Ask me how I know.

  3. An old VN trick we used was to throw ground flares towards the enemy when engaging them at night. Less of a give-away of your own position, and ruins their night vision as well as making the enemy somewhat confused. Watch out for them trees, lest it comes right back at you.

  4. In the days when a used CRT screen for an X-ray machine cost as much as a new Cadillac, radiologists did stomach X-ray exams with a fluorescent screen using their natural night vision. They preserved this between exams by wearing goggles similar to welding goggles.
    Welding goggles are in the $10 range and allow some preconditioning to night vision before stepping out without night vision equipment.

Comments are closed.