Combat units operating for extended periods in the field face a daunting array issues presented by their need to maintain a state of perpetual readiness regardless of their location. These issues run a wide range of concerns from maintaining an adequate supply of field provisions and ammunition, to having the proper equipment on hand for the completion of any alterations in mission specific objectives that may arise during the course of operations. As a result, troops in the field find themselves increasingly faced with an ever growing list of necessary supplies that must somehow be carried and transported along with any associated equipment necessary for their use. One of the big problems faced in military operations is maintaining the ability to control every illumination aspect of the battlefield from target location and identification to recording the position and movements of friendly troops under low visibility conditions. Although a great variety of equipment is available for illumination management, most of it is based in electrically powered technology and as such requires still more support in the form of power supplies and accessories, which adds further to the overall weight burden placed on troops.
Facilitating control of illumination local to operations is achieved in a variety of ways and comprises many different aspects of actual participant visibility including both overt and covert observation. Covert operations involving the use of illumination visible only with specialized equipment has taken on more of the glamorous role in combat operations due to its stealthy nature and ability to provide distinct advantages over an enemy who is not similarly equipped. Less attention is given in most media to overt illumination because of its seemingly mundane nature and lack of obvious specialization. This appearance however is deceiving and overt illumination plays a vital role in the success and completion of many mission objectives on a routine basis.
Overt illumination is little more than the visible light produced to improve visibility in low light conditions. This can take a myriad of forms in warzones and includes portable light towers, generator driven floodlights and spotlights and local lighting utilities. For military units on patrols or mission specific deployments, overt illumination is geared towards powerful yet mobile or portable luminaries. These luminaries consist primarily of vehicle mounted spotlights, hand held spotlights, portable personal flashlights and spotlights and chemical / pyrotechnic luminaries. These luminaries each serve to fulfill several objectives and as such have long been mandatory parts of unit equipment lists and specialized deployment packages such as the U.S. Military’s Escalation of Force kits. There are a few staples within a mobile units arsenal of overt lighting options that have seen significant improvement in their effectiveness and portability in the last twenty years.
Rechargeable Flashlights and Spotlights
Rechargeable spotlights and flashlights have become an increasingly important part of military operations. As recently as ten years ago military personnel in the field were forced to rely on personal lighting equipment that had very short operational times due to high energy consumption. This required the further addition of up to twenty pounds of batteries to keep them operational during a full mission deployment of ten days. Modern units now benefit from battery technology like lithium ion battery packs that can provide more power for longer periods than the standard batteries they replace. Lithium ion battery packs can also be recharged in the field during daylight hours through several different means including solar powered battery chargers and vehicle connected charging units. This eliminates the need to carry a supply of replacement batteries, which can represent hundreds of additional pounds of supply weight when added up between all members of a full unit.
Vehicle Mounted Spotlights
Vehicle mounted spotlights run a whole gamut of options and find use on almost every type of military vehicle in use from tanks to personnel carriers. These lamps can be either permanently mounted or capable of semi permanent placement and are used for crowd control, target illumination, threat detection and assessment, blockade and checkpoint operations, combat illumination and just about any other application requiring a fast, powerful and effective means of illumination. Prime examples of successfully deployed spotlights include the Magnalight HML-5 series of magnetic mount spotlights which are included as part of the military’s escalation of force kits. Magnetically mounted, these lights have been used in IED location and removal missions, attached as turret and machine gun mounted luminaries, and serve in more passive roles during unit interactions with civilians and non combatants as convoy protection, unit identifiers and civilian vehicle inspection luminaries. These modern lights benefit from improvements in lighting technology such the HID lamp and high durability materials as well as possessing power requirements that allow them to be operated from any military vehicle running a 24 volt electrical system. Since these luminaries are typically compact and vehicle powered and mounted, they provide excellent illumination capabilities without adding appreciable burden to unit equipment weights.
Chemical and pyrotechnic luminaries include the common light sticks and patches that rely on chemical reactions to produce low level light, and both stationary and ground launched flares used for temporary illumination of localized areas. Chemical luminaries prove useful in providing a readily available way to identify unit members and mark objects and persons. Flares have been in use since before WW2 and provide a highly effective method of producing an intense beacon or local illumination for short periods. These types of luminary, however, are highly limited in their versatility and are typically one use items that are discarded after use, which makes them a limited transport burden.
By far the biggest advantages are found in modern electrical luminaries and the technology that continues to fuel their evolution. As well as overt applications, they play an even more vital role in covert applications where their specialized natures and high adaptability play a pivotal role in the effectiveness of night vision technology and operations that rely heavily on stealth for safety and success. Covert lighting differs from overt light primarily in the type of light created, tending more towards the invisible infrared end of the light spectrum where specialized devices are necessary to detect it.
Regardless of the type, luminaries used on the military stage continue to represent a critical and vital role in the success of missions regardless of their location or nature. As technology continues to progress, military personnel can look forward to even more powerful luminaries that not only continue to enhance their overall effectiveness and safety, but reduce the burden carrying that technology represents.