Aim, Illuminate, Fire – MFALS Deliveries to US Troops Continue
The U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD has issued $1.37 billion in contracts for Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser Systems. What’s that, you ask? It’s a dual-use ‘flashlight’/ laser pointer that can make “point and shoot” more of a standardized reality, especially in the close-quarters battles that often characterize the Global War on Terror.
A few years ago, Laser Devices, Inc. notes that the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command conducted a joint Operational Test on the effectiveness of visible laser aiming systems in low light and night-time environments. The results were eye-opening.
Representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force Special Operations units evaluated laser aiming systems with the stated goal of determining the versatility and possible increases in operational shooting effectiveness in Close Quarter Battle (“CQB”) conditions to 300 meters. Conducted on the M-4 rifle (modern M-16 variant), the tests indicated that:
- The increase in operational effectiveness of military personnel using a visible laser mounted on a carbine over and above the use of a baseline iron sights with a flashlight [DID: attached to the gun, not held in the hand) was over 43% on average using stationary shooters.
- In other testing the Army determined that using a visible laser increased shooting effectiveness while moving through a close quarters battle (CQB) shoot house and wearing an NBC mask by 52% over and above the results obtained using the baseline iron sights.
- An increase of 10% effectiveness was reported for troops moving through a CQB shoot house without a mask.
This may help to explain the investment made in these devices. Indeed, two recently-posted items on DoD DefenseLink indicate that deliveries of Multi-Functional Aiming Lasers to the front-line troops are still going strong:
Sept 14/05: Insight Technology Inc. in Londonderry, NH received a delivery order amount of $81 million as part of a $783.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser System (W91CRB-05-D-0028).
Bids were solicited via the World Wide Web for the Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser Systems contract on May 3, 2004, and five bids were received. Work will be performed in Londonderry, NH, and is expected to be complete by Sept. 15, 2010.
Sept 14/05: Small business qualifier Laser Devices Inc. in Monterey, CA received a delivery order amount of $26 million as part of a $586.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser System (W91CRB-05-D-0029).
Bids were solicited via the World Wide Web for the Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser Systems contract on May 3, 2004, and five bids were received. Work will be performed in Monterey, CA and is expected to be complete by Sept. 15, 2010.
More on Multi-Functioning Aiming Laser Systems
If you need to see examples to really ‘get’ a concept, Defense Review does their usual fine-grained, photo-heavy, multi-linked article that covers a couple of related products, including LAMSA’s Soldier’s Laser Aimer/ Illuminator-Infrared (SLAI-IR/GIR), and Insight Technology’s AN-PEQ family. A follow up article even covers Laser Devices, Inc. Dual Beam Aiming Laser-Intelligent (DBAL-I).
This April 10, 2005 FBO solicitation for Multi-Functioning Aiming Light Systems shows concepts and capabilities:
“The MFAL will give the Soldier/Marine the capability to employ an IR aiming laser/pointer and IR illuminator in a small, lightweight aiming light that is weapon-mounted or hand-held. Desired, but not required, capabilities are a visible aiming laser and/or white light illuminator. When weapon-mounted, the MFAL will provide the Soldier/Marine a capability to accurately aim his weapon during periods of darkness when used with an image intensification device such as the AN/PVS-7, Night Vision Device, or the AN/PVS-14, Monocular Night Vision Device. The MFAL shall incorporate a low power training mode for force-on-force training and a high power mode for combat operations… The MFAL shall have the capability to be quickly mounted to and dismounted from the M16A4 modular weapon, M4/M4A1, M240B, and M249 (threshold), M136, M203, MK19 and M2 (objective) and must be able to mount on a U.S. Army standard rail (MIL-STD-1913) using an inter face device.”
This solicitation touches on a number of key points. First, this is intended for a wide variety of guns. Carbines, rifles, machine guns from light to heavy, grenade launchers – just about every gun that’s even remotely soldier sized.
As the sun sets, it becomes increasingly difficult for the eye to distinguish targets while looking over an open sight. As the light becomes dimmer, it’s even more difficult to see the target, even though you may still be able to resolve its shape. This is one reason that night, twilight, and dawn are all highly advantageous times for well-equipped militaries with night vision devices to operate against enemies who are not comparably equipped.
In addition to improving basic shooting performance from a variety of positions, therefore, laser aiming devices also make it easier to illuminate targets in low light and night-time environments. Especially if they are multi-functional, and also offer various modes of illumination. These capabilities become even more important when trying to avoid collateral damage or misidentification of targets.
Hence their broad range of weapon mounts.
Note also that the above FBO-posted specification makes a visible laser aiming capability optional (635nm to 675nm), but requires lasers and illuminators that work in the infrared spectrum (780nm to 1550nm). While visible aiming lasers are ideal for use in low light environments when it becomes difficult to see the target or the sight of the weapon, the downside is that they “point both ways.” An aiming laser equipped with an IR diode, however, can be used by troops equipped with night vision equipment, without revealing that targeting to the naked eye. Likewise, an IR illuminator is an immense help to troops with low-light or thermal vision devices, but is not seen by the naked eye as easily as a visible flashlight.
“In fact, when using helmet mounted or head mounted night vision goggles an aiming laser, visible or infrared, is the only satisfactory method of accurately aiming the weapon as it is hard to align helmet mounted night vision goggles with the optical scope mounted on the weapon.”
Laser aiming devices for soldiers and law enforcement often have multiple modes that include “tactical lights” as well. Laser Devices, Inc., again:
“A tactical light should also offer a very white light, as opposed to the yellowish light produced by many low quality consumer flashlights on the market. The whiteness of the light is important because it elicits the greatest physiological response from the human eye. The whiter the light, the more blinding the light will appear to be. In addition, a white light more accurately allows the user to identify the colors and shapes illuminated by the light.”
The point may seem trivial, but the psychological shock of a blinding light can make the difference between an armed enemy in the room who hesitates or surrenders, vs. an enemy who gets a chance to fire an automatic weapon at close quarters. Here’s a real-life example from Iraq:
“I will never forget the Darwin award winner whose last vision was a bright blinding light. We entered a room, and I shined 225 lumens of light into the far corner to see a man armed with an AK-47 and he turned away from the light, pointing his AK away from us, and then moved to point his weapon back at us, and needless to say the few seconds it bought us, the two others in my entry team already had him in our crosshairs and rounds were on target before he knew what hit him. This man was a true Darwin award winner, for when the light came on, he lost all element of surprise, and we gained the upper hand, which swiftly grabbed the situation and moved things into our favor. Units who are not issuing such lighting systems are only putting their soldiers in harm’s way. It is useful for room clearing, and scanning sectors, and in the more powerful models, as a spotlight.”
Others have used similar devices to stop approaching cars without firing shots, sweep areas on patrols, etc. The usefulness of such capabilities to soldiers in urban environments is obvious.
Last Thoughts From The Field
Finally, Laser Devices, Inc. make this interesting observation:
“Some law enforcement users actually prefer to use the visible aiming laser with the night vision goggles, because they can still index the weapon, even if the night vision goggles are knocked off during a scuffle or if the lights come on and the night vision goggles shut off.”
This caveat tends to apply less in military situations, especially given the fact that the AN/PVS-14 sight is a monocle. Nevertheless, there are some situations in which it could apply.