History Of Night Vision
Throughout history, the night has been the thing to fear among people of all ages and backgrounds. Vision capability has always been the main contributing factor. Ancient soldiers rarely considered night time attacks on their enemies, simply because it was far too dangerous and much more risky than in the day. In those times, men would spend ample amounts of time adjusting their eyes to the darkness in order to form attacks on enemy soldiers at night. In Roman times, men used torches to pursue the enemy in their evening hunts. However, torches did one thing the soldiers could do nothing about; they made the enemy aware of their presence before they could even begin an attack.
The invention and development of night vision was brought on by the U.S. Army in World War II for use by snipers. With the ability to see enemy soldiers a bit farther out than before, U.S. troops could be formed and ready for attack before the Germans had the chance to follow through with their attack. However, these scopes could only see as far as 100 yards, offering soldiers mere perimeter protection, so they were used lightly. Soon after these scopes were distributed to the U.S. army, the Germans developed similar technology, evening out the score for each side.
Later, in the 1940s and 1950s American scientists began improving the cascade image tube, creating a near-infrared, two-stage cascading image tube. Night vision exceeded expectations, allowing the user vision using light from the moon and the stars instead of a provided light, like in the earlier model created in World War II. However, images came out inverted. After adding a third electrostatic stage, the images looked much clearer and easier to see, however the device was far too large for common use, forcing scientists back to the drawing board.
In the mid-1960s, smaller, more convenient night vision scopes were developed and used by U.S. Soldiers in the Vietnam War. Enemy troops fought hard and used the cover of night as a weapon by performing night raids often. This was until U.S. troops came in with night vision, becoming a force to be reckoned with when they became known as “the owners of the night.” This version of night vision is also what is commonly referred to as first generation night vision equipment. First generation night vision equipment is the most commonly used today, being the more inexpensive option. It simply amplifies available light –such as the starts and the moon- by the thousands, allowing the user to see clearly in darkness. Being at the lower end of the cost spectrum, many people today who plan to use night vision for hunting, boating, or protecting their homes, choose to purchase first generation equipment.
The 1970s brought on a new form of night vision, also commonly known as second generation night vision equipment. Today, this generation of night vision equipment is mostly used by law enforcement, with each device costing anywhere from 500 to 1000 dollars more than the first generation models. This version has a micro-channel plate, located just behind the photocathode. When electrons pass through, thousands more are released, creating a much clearer and brighter image than the first generation. This version can operate on very little light.
In the 1980s, the third generation of night vision was invented. This version was based on image intensification technology. This type of night vision drastically improved the offense and accuracy of Army helicopters. In this generation, gallium arsenide is added to the photocathode, creating much sharper images while an ion barrier helps the tube to have a longer lasting life. Generation three is the standard issue for the U.S. military, providing users with extremely good low-light, as well as high-light quality imaging. Later, the development of an eyesafe laser rangefinder called the Mini Eyesafe Laser Infrared Observation Set (MELIOS) was developed for snipers. The idea for thermal sets was also brought about during this time.
The 1990s saw the next generation of night vision equipment, generation four. An improved set of thermal weapon sets for ground troops was brought on, which became of use later during Desert Storm where night vision proved to be a very valuable asset in the desert. Said to be a game changer in Desert Storm, night vision was used on tanks, helicopters, missile systems, and infantry fighting vehicles and could see right through smoke, dust, haze, and just about anything the desert could throw at them. The gaited, filmless generation of night vision has an extreme increase in target detection range, as well as highly increased resolution. The fourth generation night vision products produced images using the far infrared spectrum; collecting radiation rays given off by heated objects, verses using outside light to capture images. This version of night vision was the most advanced form in over 10 years. However, many argue that, because it uses heat instead of available light, thermal night vision makes it difficult to tell who or what you are looking at. You may see a rabbit –or maybe it’s a squirrel? It also made it difficult for soldiers to tell who they were looking at, which in turn made determining the enemy much more difficult.
As of now, night vision still continues to provide excellent assistance to our deployed troops. However, it is also commonly used by the police force, homeowners, as well as hunters. The overall goal is to continue improving night vision technology in order to provide the newest and best technology for our fighting men, as well as provide the absolute best technology for the consumer. A recent research breakthrough has scientists believing in a new night vision product. The new product will be able to transform infrared light into visible light, making the equipment much more inexpensive to buy, while creating night vision capabilities in almost anything, including glasses, cars, and even cell phones. Night vision is an ever-changing creation and its creators and researchers are always looking to the future in regards to its growth, building better equipment and better technology for future generations.