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Night Vision Blowback?

Part of Americas counterinsurgency strategy is the wholesale rebuilding of native armed forces. Some have argued that supplying the new armies with antiquated weapons such as the AK-47 demeans them that instead they should be supplied with modern weaponry, such as the M4, to take advantage of both its increased accuracy and its western appearance.

Better to make them feel like a modern military in hopes that theyll act like one.

But a new contract solicitation takes this philosophy a step further. According to FedBizOps, the Pentagon is seeking vendors to satisfy a requirement to supply the Afghan army commando force with night vision equipment.

The solicitation calls for Generation II goggles. Most US special operators and pilots wear the most advanced GenIV and even some combined IR/I2 NODs.

While it seems like a good idea to equip Americas new allies with the most modern equipment available to make them more effective in our absence and to help forge a Western esprit doling out NVGs to Afghan soldiers, no matter how down-market they are, risks some blowback.

How much blood and treasure have been spent to locate all the old Stinger missiles supplied by the CIA to the Soviet-fighting Mujahaddin in the 1980s? And what will happen when a take-down raid on Taliban or AQ holdouts nets some of those NODs we just supplied to the Afghan special forces?

One of the American militarys strongest advantages in ground combat is its ownership of the night. IR markers, glint tape and IR illuminators are key to nighttime fighting for US forces. If the NVG technology intended for our Afghan allies falls into the wrong hands, that advantage will quickly turn into a major vulnerability.

(Gouge: ST)


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicholas Weaver May 31, 2007 at 9:38 am

The problem is, that Genie is escaping the bottle already…
EG, the first hit on “Night vision china”…
A little googling also shows Gen 1 systems available for <$300 each, and Gen 3 systems for <$3000 each.
True, such Made in China Wal*Mart Weapons won’t match US 4-th generation night vision optics in sophistication, but it is enough to really REALLY louse up the US military’s day.


campbell May 31, 2007 at 11:07 am

there’s yer problem. everything else is just noise.


Sven Ortmann May 31, 2007 at 11:28 am

The thing about “owning the night” is still in doubt, because night combat requires much more than just night vision and competent lgiht infantry opponents in closed terrain can counter NVG-equipped heavy infantry with many different tactics.
Anyway, the warlords should have enough money from drug business to afford some night vision devices. The Russian examples are not highly sophisticated, but cheap.


DaveO May 31, 2007 at 11:31 am

Two quick points:
Most of the AK-74s and other Soviet-style weapons work, and work well. Much of our modern US equipment doesn’t work and is the product of add-ons, experiments, and environment. Case in point being the M4 carbine.
Secondly, AQ and the Taliban can buy NVG and other equipment in the various markets and can and will afford the extras if they so desire.
My two cents…


J. Brenner May 31, 2007 at 11:59 am

If we limited the arms and equipment of the Afghan forces to old Lee Enfield’s and Maxim guns then we would largely mitigate the danger that some of this equipment would eventually be used against us. The only drawback to such a policy is that these forces would soon recognize our motivation and, having concluded that they were neither valued nor trusted, would loose all motivation to act like soldiers. Since we presumably want the Afghans to accept responsibility and behave like a professional army this is a very significant problem indeed.
I think that the short-sightedness of your concern in this instance is well illustrated by the way that you cite the example of the Stinger missile controversy of the 1980s. Yes, obviously the United States went to some lengths to recover these missiles in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, at the time that the CIA introduced Stingers to Afghanistan, portable anti-aircraft missiles (usually SA-7s), had been available on the international market for some 15 years and had been used in Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, Yemen and elsewhere. The U.S. effort to track down these missiles then should be seen as an effort to avoid the embarrassment of having our missiles used for an illicit purpose, rather than as a project to keep a new and unprecedented technology out of the hands of terrorists. Similar story with night vision devices, which were first being used by Germans in about 1944. It would indeed be a worrisome development if the Taliban or other terrorists made an effective use of night vision technology on a consistent basis. However, such an eventuality will be realized only if such groups possesse the funding and organizational strength to acquire and maintain them in significant numbers and the leadership needed to train with this technology and to integrate it into an overall tactical doctrine (as Hezbollah did with antitank missiles against the Israelis last summer), not because a few spare night vision goggles or sights were acquired from the Afghan military.


dnz May 31, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that any member of the ANA’s special forces would have been thoroughly vetted? If the Iraqi special forces are any indication, these are probably the most loyal, reliable troops Afghanistan has to offer and probably won’t be playing for the other team.


Max in MN May 31, 2007 at 4:51 pm

I think the comments already posted all make good points. Personally, I think that if we don’t give both the Afghans and the Iraqis the tools they need to dominate their battlefield, including attack helicopters and reasonably good tanks (modern T-72′s will do the job) and a modest air force of attack jets and transports, we are just shooting ourselves in the foot. Help them take control of their mess so we can get out of Dodge asap.


Havoc May 31, 2007 at 6:05 pm

I understand what you guys are saying and in theory it’s great. However, it is tough to thoroughly vet individuals in an underdeveloped country like Afghanistan or Iraq. Also cultural differences play into what consitutes loyalty and to whom you are expected to be loyal. To the Iraqis a spot in the military is a job, not a commitment like in the U.S. The can leave whenever they want. Many times, they leave when they want, and with what ever they can. This causes a problem with accountability of items such as weapons, and if supplied, nightvision devices.


Tanks June 1, 2007 at 9:14 am

If I was another country and was offered an M-4 series or M-16 series I would spit in your face, as proven in Vietnam, Iraq,and Afghanistan these weapons don’t work!!!


870 shooter June 1, 2007 at 11:17 am

With all the neat equipment we produce today comes micro chips and processors. Why in the world, when and if we are going to give hi tech weapons, ie: Stingers etc. to “friendly’s”, don’t we incorporate circuts that turn “off” the equippment after a period of time? A timer/counter type system could easily be incorporated into stuff like this to disarm or disable the equipment after a period of time. IF the groups is still on oour side at that time, do a direct exchange for a new one!
Those old stinger missiles would have been nothing more than bazooks if the internal guidance circuts had automatically switched themselves “off” or burned out internally at a certain predetermined time. Nobody can tell me that it would be that hard to insert that type of circutry into this equipment and have it self disable at a certain point in time. Even if we had to make two series of a weapon. One for our use and another for disbursement to “friendly” forces. Why do we set ourselves up for these long term problems that just come back a bit us in the butt when we use military equipment as foreign policy??!!


SF Mad-ic June 1, 2007 at 2:47 pm

“Some have argued that supplying the new armies with antiquated weapons such as the AK-47 demeans them


IRAQI VET June 1, 2007 at 4:02 pm



Giovanni June 2, 2007 at 8:33 am

Saddam Hussein’s army already had russian-made night vision equipment. Pentagon order of second gen equipment is for sure related of what you already find on the market.


ShatteredShield June 2, 2007 at 9:04 am

Seems like everytime certin three letter agencies get involved teaching trade craft IED maufacturing and we provide updated weapons systems to another country, they always in the end are put to use agianst our military siliders,. I relize this is great for DoD defence suppliers who are/have gotten richer since this conflit was created. But in the end it’s the ground pounders that get sent home in body bag “also supplied by defence supplier” buy issuing up to date tecnology to theses two fased alleged allies.


Sven Ortmann June 3, 2007 at 3:35 am

Well, accountability…as far as I know the chance that the stuff gets lost before it arrives in Iraq isn’t bad. The US forces lost quite a lot of weapons that it should have cared for. Accountability isn’t exactly a strength of the US Army either.
What did the GAO write one or two years ago? Huge parts of the DoD budget cannot be surveilled by the GAO because DoD lacks accountability.
Commentators went on to explain that DoD was actually worse than Enron in keeping its books.


Ding June 3, 2007 at 3:41 am

I’m no experienced soldier and I never claimed to be, the stinger missiles is a good point, Soviet made SA-7 missiles were very inaccurate. Look through a gen 2 pair of nods and you will not be able to see very well.
Take a simple game of Airsoft, night game, one side has Nods, other side doesn’t, no nods loses everytime. Throw in nods on both sides and it becomes a knock down drag out. The muslims have turned on the US and they will do it again.
Don’t ever give the enemy the power to destroy you because he will use it!
P.S. Look how fast the F-14s we sent to Iran lasted now they are broken down hulks!!!


gcaguy June 3, 2007 at 12:27 pm

Giving any generation type night vision equipment would certainly be a nightmare for friendly forces assisting the Afghan’s or Iraqi’s soldiers. Keep the “Genie” in the bottle if we don’t want more body bags coming home.


Kevin June 3, 2007 at 5:10 pm

People should stop with this crap about stingers. 25 year-old unmaintained stingers are not exactly a major problem. For one, the BCUs that run them have a fairly short shelf life. As they are a combination of an Argon cooling system and a thermal battery it’s not at all trivial to make a new one. The internal batteries in the missile have similar, issues, except that this requires taking the sealed missile out of the tube, disassembling it, replacing the battery, reassembling the missile and reinstalling it in the tube. Not at all easy to do without blowing yourself up, or screwing up the missile outside of the depot clean room. And old solid-rocket motors tend to get cracks in them, which makes the missile blow up on launch.


Maynard June 4, 2007 at 8:05 am

As many Gulf veterans, or first-timers, already know, the AK-47, is far more reliable that an M-16A2, or an M-4. The amount of sand, dust, and debris, that can collect on the bolt; dust cover or not, can be detrimental to the effective operation of the weapon. If I had to choose between the two, I’d use an AK-47, hands down.


Major Dave June 4, 2007 at 1:07 pm

Give the Afghani’s the NODs. If Al Qaeda wants NODs, they can either order them from a variety of places themselves, over the counter, or get them from Syria, North Korea, Iran, or a host of other sympathizers. When 3ID over ran Iraq, they found a warehouse full of 2nd and 3rd generation German NODs, all sold post embargo. That genie left teh bottle a while ago.


Saigon Kid June 4, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Everyone Knows that the M-4 can’t even compare with the AK-47 assault rifle ,so why is the u.s going to equip the Afghan’s with it.That’s stupid.


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