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Monday, March 20, 2017

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Individual Night Observation Devices (NODs), Part I

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our eighteenth installment let's take a look the most common individual Night Observation Devices (NODs) used in the War in Afghanistan. 

Part I - The United States


The AN/PVS-7 is a single tube night vision device. Third generation image intensifiers are standard for military night vision. The PVS-7 is auto-gated to prevent image intensifier damage if exposed to intense light. The goggles have active night vision using a built-in infrared LED for low light situations. They are waterproof and charged with nitrogen to prevent internal condensation while moving between extreme temperatures.

They were designed to replace the older AN/PVS-5 from the Vietnam era. Though being phased out by the AN/PVS-14, the AN/PVS-7 is still being used by the United States Armed Forces in service.

The designation AN/PVS translates to Army/Navy Portable Visual Search, according to Joint Electronics Type Designation System guidelines.


Photo by: PEO Soldier

The AN/PVS-14 Monocular Night Vision Device (MNVD) is in widespread use by the United States Armed Forces as well as NATO allies around the world. It uses a third generation image intensifier tube, and is primarily manufactured by Litton Industries (Now L-3 Warrior Systems) as well as the ITT Corporation (Now Harris Inc. formerly Exelis ). It is often used 'hands free' using a head harness or attached to a combat helmet such as the PASGT, Advanced Combat Helmet, or Marine Lightweight Helmet. It can also be used as a weapons night sight. In addition, it was part of the equipment fielded in the U.S. Army's Land Warrior program. Nord Atlantic USA is the Military and Law Enforcement distributor of the AN/PVS-14 Gen 3 Autogated. Morovision Night Vision was the Law Enforcement distributor of the NEPVS-14 for ITT Exelis.

Resolution: 64 lp/mm (Typ)
Film: Thin-Film
Gate: Auto-Gated
Brightness Gain: Adjustable from 25 to more than 3000 fL/fc
Magnification: 1×
Field of View: 40°
Objective Lens: f/1.2
Eyepiece Lens: EFL 26 mm
Diopter Adjustment: +4 to −6
Range of Focus: 25 cm to infinity
Voltage Required: 1.5 Volts
Battery Type: TwoAA battery
Battery Life: Approx. 50 hrs at room temp
Weight: 12.4 oz (351.53 grams)
Dimensions: 4.5″ (L) × 2″ (W) × 2.25″ (H)
Operating Temperature: −51°C to +49°C
Storage Temperature: −51°C to +49°C

Photo by: PEO Soldier
The AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG) is a monocular passive night vision device developed for the United States military by ITT Exelis. It fuses image-intensifying and thermal-imaging technologies, enabling vision in conditions with very little light. The two methods can be used simultaneously or individually. Selected by the U.S. Army's Program Executive Office Soldier ( as a supporting device for the Future Force Warrior program in 2004, it is intended to replace AN/PVS-7 and AN/PVS-14 systems currently in use. Although more expensive and heavier than these devices, special forces units and the 10th Mountain Division were fielding the AN/PSQ-20 by mid-2009. Improvements to the product have been attempted to make it lighter, as well as to enable transmission of digital images to and from the battlefield.

In August 2003, The Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier), the acquisition agency of the United States Army, started evaluating designs from ITT Industries and Northrop Grumman for an advanced night vision device that could support the planned Future Force Warrior program. Of the two competing designs, the ITT design which was developed in association with Raytheon, was chosen for development in July 2004 with an initial order for 75 systems. Development testing of the ENVG with the army, designated AN/PSQ-20, began by mid-2006, which was completed in March 2007. Operational testing started in June 2007, with low-rate initial production of the device beginning around the same time. ITT were given a five-year contract in April 2005 with a potential value of $560 million, with the view of replacing the existing AN/PVS-7 and AN/PVS-14.

The AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle combines image intensifier (I2 or II) and infra-red (IR, also called thermal imaging) technologies, and is the first night vision device to do so. Before this "fusing", these two technologies could only be used separately. The AN/PSQ-20 allows both methods to be used together or individually, and can be helmet-mounted or hand held. It is roughly the same size as the AN/PVS-14 with similar controls, and is powered by four AA type batteries allowing continuous combined use of II and IR for 7.5 hours. The device can be used for a further 7.5 hours in II mode.

Classified as a third-generation passive night vision device, the AN/PSQ-20 can provide vision through thermal imaging even in situations where there isn't enough ambient light for the image intensifiers, thus eliminating the need for infra-red illumination (active night vision). It can also see through battlefield obscurants such as smoke and fog. The combined technologies allow better target identification and recognition, thereby improving the soldier's mobility and situational awareness. The center of gravity of the device is close to the face of the wearer, making the helmet-mounted use more comfortable, as well as increasing stability. Aiming lasers can also be integrated with it. However, at a unit cost of $18,000 and with a weight of almost 2 pounds (0.91 kg), the AN/PSQ-20 is more expensive and heavier than the devices it is intended to replace.

In 2019, the Army plans to begin fielding the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual (FWS-I), an optic that can be mounted on various weapons like the M4 carbine, M16A4 rifle, M249 SAW, M136 rocket, and M141 Bunker Defeat Munition. The FWS-I is designed to work with the ENVG-III by transmitting data from the scope to the goggles, so the soldier can aim the weapon without needing to raise it to their eye. Both systems were brought together under the Rapid Target Acquisition (RTA) capability that combined two separate programs of record with separate devices together to make them interoperable. The goggles are connected through fiber optic wires to a processor on the back of the helmet that wirelessly communicates with the weapon-mounted FWS-I; because of the systems' short range and low power, jamming the wireless connection is not a concern. Connecting with the ENVG-III also expands field of vision from a scope's 18-26 degrees to the goggle's 40 degrees. By seeing what the scope sees through the goggles, soldiers can point their weapons out of defilade positions like over walls and around corners and fire accurately without exposing their head or torso to enemy fire. The Army first experimented with aiming and shooting weapons behind cover during the Land Warrior program, but it relied on connecting wires between the helmet-mounted display and weapon-mounted thermal sight that could get caught, and early sights were too heavy and bulky.

The AN/PSQ-20 ENVG was first issued to the US Army in April 2008. The 10th Mountain Division received about 300 units in February 2009, making it the first non-special forces unit to use the device.

PM Soldier Sensors and Lasers, which is part of PEO Soldier, has been working on making the AN/PSQ-20 more rugged by using tougher housing material. Efforts have also been made to make the device lighter, as well as to produce and transmit digital images of the view provided. As a result, a prototype named Digital Enhanced Night Vision Goggle or ENVG (D) was provided to the army for evaluation in June 2009, which enables digitally fused images to be exported and imported.

As of July 2015, the Army had bought about 9,000 ENVG-I and 16,000 ENVG-II units. Beginning in FY 2017, the ENVG-III is expected to begin fielding, with a total of 41,000 to be produced by BAE Systems and DRS Technologies. Like previous versions, the ENVG-III allows soldiers to choose between night vision, thermal, hybrid, and a hybrid where thermal images show up with an outline, but extends the thermal capacity out to the entire 40-degree field of view rather than just a circle in the middle, and has a sleeker design for the device and battery pack, improved resolution, is lighter at less than two pounds, and is designed to work with the FWS-I. Plans are to equip 24 ENVGs per platoon, with each costing an estimated $10,000, cheaper than previous versions due to competition and improved technology.

Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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