The IR laser is a critical piece of equipment for most NV operations. Just about any time a rifle is being employed with NVGs in a hostile environment, an IR laser needs to be used. You don't just need any IR laser, though... you need the right IR laser. So here are four key criteria are what we use to evaluate them, followed by our IR laser recommendations.
1. Reliability. We have seen a lot of IR lasers come through our classes and, unfortunately, the failure rates for most models have been unacceptably high. As an example, we trained all of the SWAT teams in a major metropolitan area a few years ago. The 220+ officers were all using the same laser, which was a popular, MIL/ LE restricted model from a major manufacturer. We observed a failure rate of OVER 50%. Some wouldn’t hold zero, some wouldn’t adjust properly to attain zero, and some just quit functioning. Reliability results from lower-end civilian lasers have been abysmal. This is the main reason that there are only two lasers on our ‘recommended’ list.
Zero retention is an aspect of reliability, but it's important enough to warrant its own paragraph. Loss of zero is a dangerous failure, because we can easily go into a fight thinking we're good when, in fact, we are not (a poor zero leads to consistent misses). Many lasers on the market have routine failures in terms of zero retention and, because of various training limitations, a very high percentage of the people who use them aren't aware of the problem. We have yet to find a laser that we really trust to hold zero. So... confirm zero on your laser as often as possible. Even when we do find the perfect laser, this advice will still hold true. And remember, when it comes to zero, close enough is NOT good enough.
2. Built-in IR Illuminator. An IR laser must have a built-in illuminator. Target ID/ assessment is often impossible without some sort of supplemental IR illumination. In dark areas, the ‘bloom’ of a laser will frequently obscure a large portion of a human torso, including the hands and face (the things we have to see to assess and accurately engage a threat). An illuminator solves that problem. There are workarounds. You can use a separate device like the Surefire M600V ‘Vampire’ Scout light to provide IR illumination, but that takes away your ability to employ white light on demand. In situations where light conditions are ‘varied and unpredictable’, which is how we characterize the domestic LE or security environment, white light on demand is absolutely necessary.
3. Simple Operation. Murphy’s Law + Hick’s Law = Keep it Simple! We only need a laser to do a couple of things: turn on (laser AND illuminator) when we press an actuation button and turn off when we release it. A switch for high power/ low power that can be mechanically locked in low power mode is important if the laser is Class 3. Aside from that, we find that most ‘bells and whistles’ are unimportant- and sometimes even create impediments to normal use. So, while additional features aren’t necessarily a bad thing, we: a) don’t want to pay a lot of extra money for them; and b) want to be careful that they don’t negatively affect the operation of the laser (i.e. delays in activation resulting from computer processing).
4. Value/ Cost Effective. Most agencies and individuals that we work with have limited budgets, which means that there’s a trade-off for every dollar spent. Spending more than what is necessary on a particular piece of gear means that an unnecessary sacrifice is made somewhere else.
If you're a government user and your lasers will be purchased by your agency, our hands-down recommendation is the L-3 ATPIAL (AN/PEQ-15). There is some paperwork involved, and you'll have to wait for a couple of months, but it's usually worth the hassle.
For individual purchases, we recommend one of two lasers: the L-3 ATPIAL-C or the Steiner DBAL-D2. The ATPIAL-C is the most reliable 'civilian-legal' laser that we have seen. We rarely see problems with actual function (i.e. wont turn on), and we only see zero or zero retention issues occasionally. Operation is simple, and the price is the same as a lot of lesser lasers. The main problem (which is specific to the civilian version) is that the IR illuminator is under-powered and cannot be focused. In most defensive scenarios, this is not a really big deal. For hunting, or where longer range shots are more probable, it can be an issue. So for hunters or other shooters who need the ability to ID and engage at longer range, the DBAL-D2 is the answer. The DBAL-D2 gets around the laser power limitations on the IR illuminator by using LEDs. This makes the illuminator and housing slightly larger, but very capable. Note that there is a visible red signature given off by the illuminator. We've found that a person has to be within the beam to see it, though.
Need more information? Feel free to contact us. We'll be glad to talk through options in more detail.