Night Vision History

The history of night vision

Early Nights operations — Trojan War

XIII-XII centuries. BC. Oe.


Ever since Athena guided Epeius to build a giant hollow wooden horse for Odysseus from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo and when Trojans decided to keep the horse and turned to a night of mad revelry and celebration, and when “it was midnight and the clear moon was rising and the soldiers from inside the horse emerged and killed the guards” (Scholiast on Lycophroon, 344) the military night operations has began.

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy, by Domenico Tiepolo (1773).

The history of night vision

World War I and Night Vision Book of Five Rings



Let’s skip few thousand years to World War I when German use torches, lamps and flamethrowers created from burning coals and sulfur to illuminate night combat and to bring terror to the British and French forces. Just before then, in early 1914 in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, a U.S.Cavalry Association publishes 135-page translation by First Lieutenant C. Burnett, from the works by Japanese officer who was company commander in the Japanese — Russian War titled “Training in Night Movements”.

Japanese — Russian War.

The history of night vision

Night Vision — the Inception



In 1895 Ferdinand Braun , professor of physics at the University of Strassburg discovers a cathode ray tube (CRT) — a vacuum tube containing an electron gun also known as Braunsche Röhre or Braun tube. A little later in 1907, Russian scientist Boris Rosing used a CRT in the receiving end of an experimental video signal to form a picture. He managed to display simple geometric shapes onto the screen, which marked the first time that CRT technology was used for what is now known as television. By 1898, J. J. Thomson could deflect electron beams with a static electric field by putting two metallic plates in the CRT. Research into thermoelectric emission from 1882 to1901 led to J. A. Fleming’s invention of the vacuum diode—an apparatus that works on electron principles.

In 1924, French physicist Louis de Broglie hypothesized that the electron had wavelike properties. When the hypothesis was proved, it launched the rapidly progressing scientific discipline of electro-optics. In 1926, H. Bush studied rotationally symmetric electric and magnetic fields and showed that they can act as lenses. This research resulted in the design of a number of electro-optical devices.

Ferdinand Braun

The idea of the electro-optical converter, including the multistage one, was proposed by G. Holst and H. de Boer of The Netherlands in 1928. Yet the first attempts to make the converter were not successful. A working device was made by the authors (employees of Philips at the time) in 1934. The invention was given the name “Holst glass”. British firm EMI developed an industrial sample of the electro-optical converter and started to produce them for the Royal Armed Forces. Besides the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, Germany and the USA started intensive research in the field.

In the early thirties, as the world was fascinated with advancements in radio, scientists were trying to bring to life the ultimate radio, the one that would transmit the actual image. As the brightest minds were on the hunt for television other collateral inventions like electronic microscope, electronic telescope, radar, early machine vision and the rudimentary night vision came to fruition.

March of 1936 Popular Science Black-Light Telescope Sees in the Dark — Vladimir Kozmich Zworykin — the first night vision is born.

Across the pond, on January 17th 1935 volume 93 of Zeitschrift für Physik (Journal of Physics) was published. It contained the work of German experimental physicist Walter Schaffernicht titled Über die Umwandlung von Lichtbildern in Elektronenbilder (On the conversion of photographs in electron images). Schaffernicht worked at physics laboratories at the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG). The worked described “An experimental set-up where a sufficiently accurate conversion of photographs in electron images is possible. Where image is projected onto a photo cathode and triggered electrons are accelerated with an anode voltage of several thousand volts and united by a magnetic lens to form an electrical image”.

Six month later, on August 8th 1936 Walter Schaffernicht and the head of the AEG lab Ernst Carl Reinhold Brüchethe filed international patent application #158,880 titled “Electron Image Tube”. Three-claim application describes “an electron tube based on photo-cathode and able to reproduce images with great sharpness and without distortion”. Subsequently United States Patent Office issues a patent 2,179,083 on November 7th 1939.

In parallel, in the spring of 1935, V. I. Krasovsky’s laboratory in Soviet Union was able to fabricate systems similar to Holst glass, and by 1936 “semitransparent photocathodes with sensitivity higher than competitive samples were obtained”.

The history of night vision

World War II — Night Vision first steps



Aforementioned advancements in science and technological progress in 30’s Germany allowed two companies AG (or AEG — Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft) and Zeiss (or Leitz) TO 2765778_interelop first IR gear — Infrarotstrahlung (IR) and Ultrarotstrahlung (UR). In 1936, AEG was ordered to start the development of infrared night-vision devices and in 1939, first successful prototype unit for use with 37mm Pak 35/36 L/45 anti-tank gun was constructed. In autumn of 1942, unit for use (infrared headlamp with viewer ZG 1221) with 75mm PaK 40 L/46 anti-tank gun was constructed. After the World War II started and until 1944 Wehrmacht equipped over three hundred night fighting Panthers with 200-mm infra-red searchlights FG 1250 and a BIWA (Bildwandler — image converters) with effective night viewing range to 600 meters.

Panther-mounted Infrarotstrahlung Night Vision. Also known as secretive “Solution A”

Infrarot "Uhu“(Owl)

Larger 200mm IR searchlight and scope for driver mounted on Sd.Kfz. 251/20. Among other things searchlights we intended (are you paying attention?) to assist Nachtjäger —night-hunters — elite army grenadiers outfitted with StG 44 (Sturmgewehr 44) storm rifles and ground night vision weapon sights.

With an Infrared Illuminator (“Black” Searchlight) a size of a dinner plate and the power pack bigger then in your Prius the Gen 0 Night Vision was born.

Gen 0 Night Vision — ZG 1229 — Vampir

Pistolet-Pulemyot Shpagina (PPSh-41) with infrared night vision, 1943.

Not to be outdone Soviets attempted to outfit PPSh-41 with night vision.

In 1943, the USSR government set the task of developing devices that could not only detect IR beacons, but could also provide IR target identification and illumination. In 1944 the first Russian IR sight “Iskra” was developed for the combat engineering corps. The sight was handled by two operators. The first operator (the viewer) had to find the target with the help of an IR binocular and lights it with a 30-W IR illuminator. The second operator took sight and fired. The riflescope allowed night shooting at targets located 60 to 100 meters away. The electro-optical devices were not used in battle conditions.

The history of night vision

We Own the Night!.. Not just yet, but that’s a start



Only about 811 of the T3 carbines were made by Inland Division of General Motors, and 1,108 by Winchester (compared to over six million standard M1 carbines!). In the mid of 1944 United States Corps of Engineers in cooperation with General Motors, Bell and Howell Company and Cornell Dubliner Electric Corporation, delivered the US Carbine, Caliber .30 in, M3, or T3.

T3 was an M2 with suitable mountings prepared on the receiver to take various models of infra-red night-sighting devices. About 1000 T3 carbines were fielded. T3 carbines were specifically designated to use with the original M2 Infrared Sniper Scope that had the large infrared emitter lens mounted on the underside front end of the stock, with the smaller M2 detector scope mounted on top of the receiver.

The .30 T3 Carbine with M2 Infrared Sniper Scope Gen 0 Night Vision.

With an effective range of about 70 yards, these infrared scopes were developed in 1943 by the Army, to defeat the infiltration tactics of the Japanese. Although fewer than 500 units were actually used, the Sniperscope accounted for about 30% of total Japanese casualties suffered by small-arms fire during the first week of the Okinawa campaign. The separate M2 Sniper scope pistol grip assembly, allowed to convert the infrared scope to a hand held version.

WWII Original “T3” Carbine with M2 Infrared Sniper Scope, Power Pack, Battery and Accessories

While the Corps of Engineers worked on the night vision sights, the Ordnance Department worked on the M3 Carbine. Instead of the T-3 carbine with numerous unique parts, they decided that a standard M1 or M2 carbine could be converted to use night vision sights using simple conversion kits in the field. Active Infrared light source and viewing telescope had a weight of 7.2 pounds (telescope, light source and handle) and 28 pounds complete with battery and power supply and effective range of about 135 yards.

Many of the “20,000 volt Set No. 1” sniper scopes were sold off as surplus in the 1960s, with the power supplies rebuilt to use commercial batteries, and marketed to hunters and bird watchers.

Active Infrared Gen 0 “20,000 volt Set No. 1” on M3 Carbine (or handheld version)

Since 1962 till late sixties two companies Polan Industries (Huntington, WV) and Varo, Inc. (Garland, TX) supplied about 4,000 units of AN/PAS-4 to the U. S. Army for newly deployed M14 rifle. The AN/PAS-4 infrared scope was mounted on a M14 rifle in 1964 and 1965 for orientation of U. S. Army recruits in basic training at Fort Dix (NJ) and Fort Jackson (SC). The AN/PAS-4 equipped M14 rifle also saw service in the Republic of Viet Nam with U. S. and South Vietnamese troops but primarily in a training role. It had an effective range of 300 yards. Equipped with 6914 IR Tube, the AN/PAS-4, also known as Polan Model P-155 and Varo Model 9903 weighed about 6 pounds and the belt carried battery for it weighed about 7 pounds. Army was also getting a binocular version of this technology — Army M-18 Infrared Binoculars and navy had an AN/SAR-7 Infrared Viewer.

Army, Gen 0, M-18 Infrared Binoculars & AN/PAS-4 Riflescope, Infrared Telescope Assembly

The good example of what else was out there at that time is Ferro 51 GEN 0 binoculars with infrared light source, developed by AEG, De Oude Delft und Eltro (Zeiss — Group) in 1950`s and used by German and Swiss army forces. To activate this device you have to push one of the top buttons, the infrared scope will be activated and receive invisible infrared light and the view is lighted. After a few time if the lighted view is going dawn, you have to push one of the buttons again.

Ferro 51 GEN 0 binoculars with infrared light source

The history of night vision

We have the technology — Starlight, baby!



With a major breakthrough in technology in 1961, finally first passive system AN/PVS-1 Generation 1 Night Vision Sight “Starlight Scope” is deployed by 1965. No artificial light source is needed to operate. AN/PVS-1 was the first dedicated night vision scope equipped with Image Intensification (I2) technology that amplifies the existing ambient light from moon stars and a background sky glow. Engineers work fast to reduce weight of the system and to improve performance and reliability. In 1967 an AN/PVS-2 Night Vision Sight “Starlight Scope” is fielded to Vietnam War Theater. This Gen 1 riflescope works on portable batteries for up to 100 hours and mounts quickly to M1 or M16. This Night Vision Device (NVD) only worked well during full moon conditions and could not be used in anything less than half-moon conditions, which means they were pretty much ineffective during half the month and also on cloudy nights. The image intensifier technology still used vacuum tube technology and still had image distortion problems. To improve the gain on these devices, multiple vacuum tubes were often cascaded together, making the image amplification to the order of 1000x to 2000x and having a service life of around 2000 hours. See a video of AN/PVS-2 in action.

Over the pond British patrols were trying to stop night—time transfers of I.R.A. arms and personnel across the border with help of IWS (Individual Weapon Sight).

On the other side of the fence of Starlight technology was made-in-USSR GEN1 3-stage-cascade NSPU-1 PN34 rifle scope. Developed and later used for all main personal weapons like AK variants, PKM machine guns, RPG propelled rocket launchers and SVD sniper rifles. NSPU 1 PN34 had a weight of 2.2 kg in battle and 3.5 kg in storage

British Gen1, I.W.S. (Individual Weapon Sight) as a night sight and also with hand held mount and grip and as long range binocular version

Russian NSPU 1PN34 3 stage Gen 1 Night Vision Rifle Scope

The history of night vision

Generation 2 Image Intensification Night Vision Technology — Advance!



Gen 2, AN/PVS-3A Night Vision Sight “Starlight Mini-scope” on M16 Rifle.

In the closing months of the Vietnam War Army gets the first night vision scope based on new I2 technology that used new advancements in manufacturing techniques and allow for no-vacuum-tube metal ceramic body and newly implemented components — micro-channel plate (MCP) provided greater light amplification and fiber optic twister allowed for smaller systems.

In 1975 Optic Electronic Corporation of Dallas, Texas delivers first mega-production, practical, high quality device that met military requirements — Generation 2 AN/PVS-4 Based on 25mm screw-type variable-gain MX-9644 image intensifier tube, AN/PVS-4 provided a high quality image almost without distortion, featured automatic brightness control and could adjust to changing ambient light conditions, also featured automatic shut off and interchangeable reticle to be able to take multiple reticles to operate in many roles.

In 1976, the first production contract for PVS-4 was awarded for 47,074 units, and first deployed in 1978. By the time manufacturing ceased in 2002 more than 150,000 units had been produced within the United States alone.

During the Gulf War, the AN/PVS-4 was widely deployed on a variety of weapons. The Gulf War represented the first war in which ground combat operations continued both day and night through the use of Night Vision Devices.

Originally manufactured by Optic-Electronic Corp in Texas, later AN/PVS-4 was manufactured by Varo then Litton EOS, then Northrop Grumman and ITT.

AN/PVS-4 is an image intensification weapon sight (riflescope) for detecting, acquiring and engaging targets in the low light levels (at night...) deployed on the number of weapons with primarily designed for use with the M14 and M16 Rifles, M60 Machine Gun, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, M72A1 Rocket Launcher and M203 Grenade Launcher. A larger aperture and focal length lens modification of PVS-4 is AN/TVS-5 Crew Served Weapon Sight. U.S. Army adopted AN/TVS-5 for in use on the M2 machine gun, M40A1 recoilless rifle, M139 20mm cannon and for tripod-mounted surveillance.

The history of night vision

Night Vision Goggles. Look Ma — No Hands!



In 1971 the USAF began limited use of the SU-50 of Gen 1 IR Electronic Binoculars. But by 1973 the Army adopted the Gen II AN/PVS-5 as an “interim” NVG solution for aviators, although there were known deficiencies in low-light-level performance, weight, visual facemask obstruction, and refocusing (due to incompatibility with cockpit lighting systems). The Generation II AN/PVS-5 is now considered outdated and not recommended for aviators. The AN/PVS-5A weighted 2 lbs. and had a full face mask. The spectral range of the Gen II NVG is from 350 to 900 nm which includes the entire visual spectrum (380–760) plus some near-IR coverage. Most 1970s cockpits had red incandescent lamp lighting which had large red and IR emissions. The NVG’s automatic gain control (AGC) shuts down the NVG in the presence of large amounts of radiant energy in the goggles’ range. Wearing these NVG requires the pilot to make all visual observations via the NVG, including cockpit instrument scanning. The pilot must move his head and refocus the lens to read the instruments. Annoyance, discomfort, and fatigue result from these restrictions. Nevertheless, until introduction of Gen 3 AN/ANVS-6 the AN/PVS-5 were the most common hands-free night vision device allowing night flying with NVG aided vision.

Various configurations of AN/PVS-5 (AN/PVS-5, AN/PVS-5c, AN/PVS-5 cut-a-way and GM-6).

The history of night vision

AN/PVS-7 and AN/PVS-14 — Back on Earth



Starting in 1985 five-year production contracts were awarded to ITT/Varo Joint Venture and Litton for new ground night vision systems destined to replace PVS-5. ITT delivered AN/PVS-7B and Litton AN/PVS-7A. Weighing 680g, the AN/PVS-7 is a single tube, bi-ocular night vision goggle, based on type MX-10130 Generation III image intensifier tubes. Optical system uses prisms, collimators and other sophisticated lenses to provide the user with simulated binocular vision. AN/PVS-7B had a new suite of features like updated electronics which incorporated a high light level protection circuit in a self-contained, passive image intensifier (I2) device which “amplifies existing ambient light to provide the operator a means of conducting night operations”.

The NVD assembly incorporated an infrared (IR) light illuminator which allowed operator a close-in-viewing in complete darkness. PVS-7 NVGs were now also had demist shield is also provided to prevent fogging of eyepiece ocular lenses. In 1988 units AN/PVS-7B went into initial fielding at Fort Hood with five per infantry squad/battalion and 75 per infantry company basis of issue plan. From 1993 under OMNIBUS III procurement contract until 1999 under deliveries for OMNIBUS IV the AN/PVS-7B night vision goggles were accounted for the bulk of night vision produced and procured in USA.

Even today, with hundreds of thousands in service AN/PVS-7 remains one of the most popular and head/helmet-mounted or handheld night vision devices.

Design of newly developed MX-11769 image tube with manual gain control the AN/PVS-14 is one of the best all-around multi-functional night vision monocular available. The PVS-14 provides operators in combat infantry units with a lightweight night vision device. The AN/PVS-14 is used in observation and command and control missions. It also one of the most popular night vision units for Law Enforcement. It may be used by the operators in several modes: hand held, head mounted, helmet mounted or affixed and bore sighted to a rifle with aiming light. For longer range observation missions, a 3x or 5 x magnifiers are available. Additional features of the AN/PVS-14 include an infrared LED with LED indicator, and a low battery indicator.

One of the reasons for the AN/PVS-14’s great success is its ability to fill several niches.

Here is a an evolution of ground night vision goggles as described by Dr. Joseph Estrera Chief Technology Officer EOS L3Electro-Optical Systems.

The history of night vision

Night Vision is Airborne



The AN/PVS-5A provided Army ground forces with enhanced night vision capability. Those goggle found in a variety of applications, such as for vehicle drivers, riflemen, and unit leaders. Modifications to the face mask to provide peripheral and in-cockpit vision produced the “cut-away” mask. The utilization of AN/PVS-5 NVG in aviation was controversial. The incorporation of NVG into aviation somewhat repeated the development of aviation itself, with a period of trial and error incorporation, sometimes with inadequate or inappropriate equipment, producing some pioneering breakthroughs and some accidents. In the 1980s there were nighttime accidents often involving NVGs. The Orange County Register published a lengthy investigative article because several of the helicopter crashes took place within the county. A congressional hearing was convened to review the safety and appropriateness of NVGs in military helicopters. The necessity of NVGs for night flight operations was confirmed along with an emphasis on better equipment and training. A review of AN/PVS-5 and AN/AVS-6 testing concluded both were acceptable. Since that time, (ANVIS) AN/AVS-6 and subsequently AN/AVS-9 (ANVIS) has become the preferred device for aviators.

Developed in 1992 the Aviator’s Night Vision Imaging System (ANVIS) AN/AVS-9(V) is a Gen III Night Vision Goggle (NVG) offering improved performance and lighter weight than the earlier AN/AVS-6(V)2.The AN/AVS-9(V) and AN/AVS-6(V) are produced in parallel, with both accepting a wide variety of 18 mm diameter Image Intensifier Tubes (IITs). Physical characteristics of the AN/AVS-9(V) are very similar to those for the AN/AVS-6(V), with identical mount/power supply options for fast-jet and helicopter applications. Both ITT Night Vision and L3 EOS (former Northrop Grumman, formerly Litton) produce the AN/AVS-9(V), facilitating competition between the companies as part of the very large OMNIBUS acquisition process for NVGs for US air.

The history of night vision

Future Night Vision is Awesome!

XXI century


Cornel Russell E. Smith, USMC Strategic Vision Group sees the future of Night vision is in integrating multiple, stand-alone capabilities into a single device, reduction of Size, Weight and Power (SWaP), enhancements in threat detection and identification in all conditions (daylight, limited visibility and total darkness), in improvement of form, fit and function, in reduction of total cost of new systems (procurement /sustainment) vs. sustaining recently fielded.

The future of Night Vision is in new technologies like small pitch LWIR (think very advanced FLIR), SWIR (Short Wave Infra-Red), and Electron Bombarded Active Pixel Sensors (EBAPS), zero-halo Solid State Low Light CMOS Sensors, digital and optical fusion of such sensors. Night vision will have a new imaging architecture that will combine advances in materials and technologies allowing utilization of wide field of view micro optics, multi-color, multi-band computation-on-board symbology overlay FPAs, adaptive fusion algorithms, eye-tracking and optical directing techniques, no-vacuum thin-film energy-efficient OLEDs and free space optical links.

Future Night Vision

Thermal Imaging
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Vision at Night Can Be Improved by Training

One accustomed to night movements, compared to one not so accustomed, is much more able to form correct judgments by sight; for experience sharpens the nerves and increases the faculty of attention. From indications, from methods of comparison, together with other assisting factors, one’s judgment soon becomes accurate.

Importance of Cultivating the Vision at Night

At night, one is able to see according to the degree of darkness. The amount of vision also differs naturally and it is important to know the amount under various circumstances. Especially is this true under circumstances where the judgment cannot be formed by hearing, i. e., in rainy weather, or under other noisy conditions, where vision, though insufficient, is superior to hearing. Therefore, the training of the eye at night is a most important matter, as, to a certain degree, it can be strengthened by experience and practice. In the Japanese-Russian War, the judgment by sight of soldiers accustomed to the terrain and to night movements, was surprisingly good, and was entirely due to experience.

Night Vision — Detecting
and Losing Sight of

Vision at night differs in degree, also, according to the concentration of attention; in this connection, the following principles are from my own experience:

  1. When you follow with your eyes a thing once discovered, you will be able to see it for a long distance.
  2. The distance at which you first discover an object, is less than the distance where you loose sight of it. Therefore, at night, if you lose sight of an object you have once discovered, it is difficult to find it a second time. When you follow it with your eye vision is easy, -and the distance at which the object is visible becomes much greater, especially if there are supplementary indications. In such a case a thing liable to be unnoticed, will be seen by the observer.

Night Vision and Objects, and the Color of Surrounding Objects

The color of the dress has great bearing on vision; and I have learned the following facts from my own observation:

  1. On a dark night a white coat can be seen farther than a black one.
  2. When there is moonlight, often a black coat can be seen farther than a white one.
  3. In any case, a light brown or mouse color can be seen a long distance.
  4. A black color against a black background is more difficult to see than white; the latter against white surroundings is more difficult than black.

From these facts, the importance of bearing in mind the color of surrounding objects when fixing the kind of dress, or determining one’s movements, is apparent.

Night Vision and Relations of Light and Shadow

Night vision differs greatly according to one’s position relative to a luminous body and shadow:

  1. When a luminous body, such as the moon, is faced, vision is decreased.
  2. When the light is behind, vision is increased.
  3. When a luminous body is overhead, the mean of increase and decrease is the same.
  4. Even though facing the light, if it does not strike the eyes directly, it injures vision but little.
  5. One can see when looking from darkness into light, but not when looking from light into darkness.
  6. While holding the light yourself, only your own surroundings can be seen.
  7. When a light is behind an object, the latter’s outlines are clearly visible.
  8. A black object or a moving object covered by shadow, is difficult to see.
  9. Small objects seem far away, and large ones seem near.
  10. Bright objects appear near, and obscure ones, far away.

The above facts teach one that, when covered by dark objects, or when moving in the shadow, to look at the bright side from the dark as much as possible, and not have the light directly in front.