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Wars have accompanied humanity since the first days of its existence. In ancient times, military operations were primitive and carried out exclusively during the day. At night, even the bravest warriors could not attack or defend their territory due to the inability to see in the dark. Thousands of years later, this human deficiency was eliminated, and military operations began to be actively carried out at any time of the day. Various devices are used today to cope with the darkness that support night vision and thermal imaging technologies. They enable military personnel to see even in the absence of lighting and perform combat missions of varying complexity. In our guide, you will learn more about how such devices are used in different types of combat operations.
Night vision is a military development, so the entire process of development of this technology is inextricably linked with combat operations. For the first time, such devices began to be used by German military personnel waging a war of conquest from 1939 to 1945. Their night optics were only a distant semblance of modern models, but their existence was a real breakthrough. The devices used by Hitler's army were distinguished by the most complex design, which is why they had enormous dimensions and weighed several hundred kilograms. This feature made them insufficiently effective since when using such optics, military personnel faced many additional difficulties (transportation, setup, control, protection, maintenance, etc.).
Nevertheless, the first models used in various military operations made it possible to see in the dark. At the same time, they could amplify the light only a few times, so they could only be used at short distances. Such optics did not give the German army a noticeable advantage, but it opened up new opportunities for military personnel of that time.
Noticeable progress in the development of military night vision technology appeared after German actions fell into the hands of American engineers. They radically changed the design of the devices, leaving only the general principle of their operation. The night optics created by the Americans have become more convenient to use. It was relatively small in size and weighed only a few kilograms. We also managed to improve all the characteristics and add several valuable functions. The modernization continued. Night optics evolved over the next 20 years, gradually becoming more efficient. All developments were carried out under the control of the military, so very few people knew about them. The documentation and created samples were immediately classified and tested exclusively at closed military bases. Night technologies were brought to a new level by the mid-60s of the last century. The first genuinely effective models became available to the American army at this time. After extensive testing, they began to be used in Vietnam. With the help of such devices, it was possible to see clearly in the dark jungle and successfully conduct combat operations at night. All-night optics received a lot of good reviews, so work on its further modernization was funded several years in advance.
The next stage in the evolution of military night vision was from 1970 to 1980. At this time, devices were created that were significantly ahead of their predecessors in their characteristics and functions. This development has become so successful that it is sometimes used in our time (solely to meet the needs of the civilian population). Night optics that have become available to military personnel have made using completely new combat tactics possible. This expanded the army's capabilities and helped it complete multiple military operations. Among the key differences between the newly created devices and their predecessors were reduced dimensions and weight, increased light amplification ability, and increased range and viewing angle. All of the above effectively made it possible to use night optics under almost any external conditions. Its capabilities were tested in several little-known battles conducted by the American army on various continents. The results obtained met the military's expectations in all respects except image quality. It remained average, so it was not always possible to see the details of interest.
The next ten years were spent eliminating the existing deficiency. The main idea of modernization was to reduce the number of defects, which worsened the quality of the resulting image. Gradually, the problem was solved, but it was still far from ideal. In the early 90s, improved night optics were tested during Operation Desert Storm. Her success on the battlefield paved the way for night vision into the future. Thanks to this, the devices continued to be improved in subsequent years, and their number increased exponentially. So, just a few years later, night optics became a mandatory equipment element for soldiers of some units. Various European and Asian states began producing it for the army's needs.
In the early years of the new century, the latest night vision devices were introduced to the public. Although they became of higher quality, more reliable, and more functional, they could not gain the status of the best invention of that time. Nevertheless, the military personnel liked this optics. It expanded their capabilities and made it possible to increase the efficiency of night combat operations. Its main feature was improved image quality. Thanks to this, in most cases, it is possible to examine objects appearing on the display in detail and obtain all the necessary information. Nowadays, the modernization of night optics is quite active. Every year, dozens of manufacturers present their new developments, which are better and more efficient than their predecessors. Such models are gradually becoming more universal so that representatives of various military units can use them. In the future, military night optics will continue its upward path since there is still quite a long way to go before the peak of its development.
From its inception to today, night vision has played an essential role in warfare. It helps soldiers cope with various tasks in low or no-light conditions. Previously existing devices and modern models of the latest generation allow for round-the-clock battles, making the war bloodier and more brutal. On the other hand, night optics help military personnel better navigate the dark, know in advance that an enemy is approaching, and see hidden dangers (such as mines). This keeps many people alive and healthy and increases the chances of survival in each battle.
As mentioned earlier, the arena for testing the first models of night optics was the battlefields of World War II. In numerous military operations, such primitive devices were used that their capabilities were barely sufficient to detect large concentrations of equipment and soldiers at night. At the same time, it was impossible to see individual military personnel or any military vehicle standing to the side. Due to the minimal efficiency of the first models of night optics, they tried to use it only for observing open areas. The latter were often well illuminated by natural light (from various celestial bodies), allowing the chance to see more. In general, the presence of night vision in the German army practically did not change the war's course. With its help, they managed to win only a few battles in which they had an initial numerical advantage.
After the completion of WWII, night vision was little used in actual combat. This is easily explained by the slow development of this technology and insufficient funding for relevant projects. Nevertheless, in the mid-60s, it was possible to create better night optics, which were tested during the Vietnam War. This armed conflict lasted almost 20 years, but night vision was only used for the last 9-10 years. Immediately after the appearance of American-made devices, some units of the US Army were equipped with them. These night optics were more advanced and functional than the models used in WWII, so they were much more helpful. Most often, she helped the Americans move through local forests, where even during the day, it was tough to navigate (due to the dense vegetation, which covered the sun with its foliage and created a semblance of twilight below). In addition, various night vision devices were used to search for ambushes set up in the darkest places. At night, every soldier who guarded the location of the American military camp had such optics. With its help, it was possible to find out in advance about the enemy's approach and take measures to protect the territory.
Even before the end of the Vietnam War, the United States was involved in several military conflicts. Each used night vision devices, which gradually became more advanced and brought more benefits. Among these armed conflicts, the civil war in Laos stands out. It was carried out from 1964 to 1973, during which many important battles occurred. The United States used its air force and infantry to launch massive attacks on various strategic targets and critical roads. Many infantrymen were equipped with night optics, making it possible to carry out combat missions in the dark effectively. On the other side of the planet, a parallel civil war occurred in the Dominican Republic (1965-1966). More than 40 thousand US Marines, equipped with modern weapons and night vision devices, participated in it.
All this made it possible to end hostilities and return peace to the Dominican Republic as soon as possible. The next decade saw civil wars in Cambodia and El Salvador, which also involved well-equipped American infantrymen equipped with night optics. In the 80s, similar military conflicts occurred in Grenada, Libya, and Panama. The same night vision devices helped the Americans quickly complete them. The Gulf War marked the beginning of the 90s. This armed conflict has become one of the most important in the region. He finally convinced everyone to use night optics, which helped restore justice. Using the devices available at that time, infantrymen were able to conduct successful night attacks on enemy soldiers' locations and carry out air raids on enemy military bases.
In the 21st century, night vision has become integral to soldiers' equipment in different armies worldwide. Devices created on its basis were successfully used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other warring countries. Night optics plays an equally important role in the wars that take place today. Its capabilities help Ukraine defend its independence and gradually recapture territories annexed by Russia, and also change the balance of power in the armed conflict between Israel and Palestine. In all cases, night vision makes conducting military operations under external conditions and achieving goals possible.
The possibilities of night vision are endless, so it has many applications. Incredibly often, this technology helps military personnel solve problems of varying degrees of complexity. Night devices available these days are in demand among various military units, regardless of their size and level of equipment.
Ways to use night vision in warfare:
Night vision has revolutionized the way military battles are fought. It made it possible to see in the dark and perform even the most complex tasks. His abilities are used by military personnel in various types of combat operations. Night vision has its role in all of them, which it always plays perfectly.
For many centuries, trench battles were central to any armed conflict. They made it possible to effectively defend the occupied territory and prepare for a further offensive. During the defense, properly created military trenches helped to hold back the advancing enemy for as long as possible, even in cases where he had vast superiority in the size of the army.
Trench battles are a type of ground battle. They use pre-prepared military trenches in which soldiers can hide from enemy small arms fire and feel more protected in the event of artillery attacks. This method of warfare has been used by mankind for a long time. Back in the Roman Empire, the famous legions of the Romans dug trenches around their camp every day before nightfall. In the event of a surprise attack, these simple structures made it possible to repel enemy attacks and save most of the personnel efficiently. Besides the Romans, other famous armies also dug trenches for combat. With their help, they successfully fought many battles and achieved their goals.
The first official mention of trench warfare was the defense of Medina. To protect the city, it was decided to dig a ditch around the town and use it for defensive operations. This idea was liked by many and proved the effectiveness of protecting one’s territory with the help of trenches. Many references to trench battles date back to the Middle Ages. Almost all continents were engulfed in war, and history was preserved regarding the most iconic actions. Nearly all of them used dug trenches and other similar structures. The peak of the popularity of trench warfare was World War I. At this time, people already had access to small arms, which made it possible to hit targets long before direct contact with them. Combined with the ability to hide in trenches dug in the ground, this made it possible to destroy most of the attacking army and incur minimal losses. Most often in WWI, trench battles were fought in open land. This did not allow the enemy to hide behind natural barriers, significantly complicating offensive actions. Sometimes, in this way, it was possible to hold back the enemy's superior forces for a long time and give a reserve of time for counterattacks.
During World War II, trench battles were also famous. The defensive structures created by different armies combined all the best known about waging trench warfare. Combined with new inventions, they made it possible to create ideal defensive lines, which were only possible to pass without losing many people and equipment. Everyone, without exception, knew how to build such structures, so most WWII battles were as long and bloody as possible. After 1945, trench warfare was used quite rarely. This is explained by military equipment on all warring sides, particularly tanks, which made any battle more mobile and made trench structures practically useless. However, in armed conflicts that took place in countries with a low level of development, this method of warfare remained popular.
With the beginning of the Cold War, NATO began modeling possible military operations on the territory of the USSR. In this regard, great attention was paid to training in warfare using trenches. They were considered obsolete but continued to be used by the USSR army; during this period, night vision was first used in trench warfare training. The devices created by the Americans made it possible to effectively defend in the dark and see the intentions of the attacking enemy. Thanks to the capabilities of optics, the chances of success in a potential trench battle became much higher. Things never came to a direct military conflict between the USA and the USSR, and the methods of trench warfare developed by NATO soldiers using night optics were used in various small battles that took place at that time on almost all continents. The next test of the capabilities of night vision in trench warfare was the Gulf War. In it, supporters of Saddam Hussein built several lines of trenches on the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Some were filled with flammable liquids (oil), while others were equipped for long-term defensive operations. It was assumed that these defensive structures would delay American troops long, but these hopes still needed to be realized. A massive attack by Abrams tanks with the help of special combat vehicles digging trenches made it possible to break through the defenses and complete the military operation quickly. All this would hardly have been possible without night vision. It was used by tank crews and military personnel operating other combat vehicles. With the help of various devices, it was possible to increase the effectiveness of offensive actions and gain a tangible advantage over the less well-equipped Iraqi army.
A recent example of the enormous benefit of night vision in positional battles can be safely called the war between Russia and Ukraine. To contain the enemy's superior numbers of soldiers and equipment and protect their territory, Ukrainian military personnel created entire networks of trenches. Thanks to their practical use, it was possible to stabilize the situation and launch a counteroffensive. Night vision devices are also actively used in all sectors of the front where there are such defensive structures. They help monitor the situation at night, increase the efficiency of Ukrainian snipers, and increase the accuracy of artillery fire on Russian positions. Night vision is also actively used on drones. It makes it possible to conduct surveillance at night and carry out targeted strikes on areas where enemy soldiers and equipment are concentrated. The Russians also have their trenches. They use them to deter Ukrainian counter-offensives and defend annexed territories. The Russians also use night vision equipment in various battles but do not do it as effectively as the Ukrainian defenders.
This type of warfare is popular in countries and regions with many natural underground tunnels (such as caves) and similar man-made structures. It involves conducting various operations where the main success factor will be surprise. Thus, multiple tunnels can be used to penetrate behind enemy lines and carry out sabotage activities there. In addition, with the help of such structures, it is possible to set up ambushes, carry out covert redeployment of troops, carry out sudden counterattacks, and defend against enemy attacks.
For the first time, caves and man-dug tunnels were used for warfare in Ancient Greece. The warriors of Hellas lured the enemy into their buildings, after which they quickly killed many warriors in the dark. In some cases, they closed both entrances to the tunnel, which is why enemy soldiers found themselves in a trap from which there was no way out. These people were captured or killed with poisonous smoke directed into the ventilation ducts of the tunnel. The Romans took the art of tunnel warfare to a new level. They built a vast number of secret tunnels equipped with everything necessary for war and an extended stay underground. Thus, weapons in underground structures made it possible to make surprise attacks and defend themselves in the event of an enemy attack. The Romans also left a particular supply of food and water in their tunnels so they could hide there and wait out the invasion of a superior enemy. In the most challenging moments for ancient Rome, such tunnels were used to evacuate the emperor and his immediate circle safely.
In ancient China, natural and artificially created tunnels were used equally often. The former was formed due to the forces of nature, and the latter resulted from the extraction of various minerals (for example, mines created to extract precious stones). During the battles, the Chinese lured the enemy into the tunnels, after which they pumped suffocating smoke into them. In some cases, full-fledged battles took place underground, where the advantage was on the side of the Chinese warriors, who knew all the nuances of their construction. In the Middle Ages, tunnel battles were not so famous. However, the art of tunneling was not forgotten by the military. With the help of the underground passages created, it was possible to penetrate inside an enemy structure that was well protected from the outside or to achieve the collapse of its walls. After gunpowder became available to soldiers, such tunnels began to be used to lay explosives.
Tunnel battles also occurred during the American Civil War. Underground structures artificially created during that period undermined systems carefully guarded from the outside. In cases where it was possible to complete such a mission, the chance of capturing territory became as high as possible. In WWI, tunnel battles were inextricably linked with trench battles. So, if the soldiers did not have the opportunity to retreat, they dug tunnels to nearby trenches, thereby gradually escaping inevitable death. In some cases, explored underground passages were noticed by opponents, after which close combat began. In parallel, tunnels also undermined defensive structures or large concentrations of enemy soldiers.
During World War II, tunnel battles were practically a thing of the past. However, the Chinese continued to use them actively. With the help of tunnels, they fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese invaders. It was so effective that just a few Chinese could resist hundreds of enemy soldiers for several days. However, the Japanese quickly learned about a whole network of underground tunnels. To avoid various problems, they covered the entrance and exit with earth, thereby condemning the remaining Chinese below to death. In some cases, the tunnels were filled with water. Similar methods of tunnel warfare were used during the Korean War.
An essential period in the history of tunnel warfare was the years 1955-1975. It was at this time that the Vietnam War took place, which became one of the most brutal and bloody. Residents and Vietnamese army soldiers could not fight the Americans on equal terms, so they used underground tunnels they created with their own hands. With their help, achieving specific successes and destroying many enemy soldiers was possible. The period from 1965 to 1966 became a landmark period in this armed conflict. At this time, night vision devices were first used in tunnel battles. With their help, the Americans could detect entrances to the dungeon, which were located in the darkest and most inconspicuous places. In those cases where soldiers penetrated the tunnel, night optics helped navigate complex underground labyrinths and find ways to reach the surface. In addition, the devices available to the Americans made it possible to detect enemy ambushes in tunnels and on the surface of the earth. Very similar events took place in the Afghan war. The only difference from the Vietnamese was that the Soviet troops did not have night vision devices, which is why the effectiveness of the Afghan tunnel war was much higher.
In the 21st century, the most striking example of a tunnel war is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Under the Gaza Strip, there are a vast number of underground tunnels owned by Hamas. Most of them were dug by hand using primitive tools. All tunnels created under the Gaza Strip are intended for defense, offensive, and smuggling of various goods. According to Israeli intelligence, some of the underground structures are a warehouse with ammunition and weapons, including rockets that Hamas regularly fires into Israel. In addition, the tunnels are used for unnoticed penetration into Israeli border cities to kidnap people and carry out various sabotage activities. Israel uses special raids as countermeasures. Their goal is to identify and destroy tunnels created by the Palestinians. Night vision plays a vital role in these operations. The equipment designed on its basis increases the efficiency of raids and makes it possible to find a more significant number of illegally built underground passages. In addition, night vision devices help to navigate in the darkness of tunnels and identify Hamas militants in the adjacent territory. These days, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is escalating. In ongoing military operations, Israeli soldiers actively use a variety of night optics. She helps them do their job, from simple navigation to finding enemy soldiers.
Siege warfare is one of the most effective options for action. It implies the complete or partial encirclement of the enemy, in which the supply of weapons, ammunition, food, medicine, and everything else becomes impossible. In this case, the surrounded military personnel have only one chance of salvation - surrender. Siege warfare is quite long and complex. Low-intensity combat operations and the creation of effective defensive lines characterize it. The latter can be erected only after the army is surrounded and cannot resist the enemy seriously.
Siege warfare appeared a long time ago. There are references to this method of action in almost all past military conflicts. The fact is that several thousand years ago, the warring armies did not have powerful weapons capable of destroying everything that came their way. At the same time, most of the settlements were protected by a mighty stone fence or walls made of other highly durable materials. This created difficulties for the attacking army and prevented it from entering the city. In this situation, a siege was the only way to defeat the enemy. It implied the closure of all food routes and the expectation of inevitable capitulation. The blockade could last long, but it always had the same result. The first mentions of such hostilities date back to the 4th millennium BC.
The art of siege warfare was brought to a high level by Alexander the Great. With its help, he was able to conquer a vast number of cities. Among the most famous examples are the sieges of Tire and Sogdian Rock. Each lasted more than six months but ended with the success of the great commander. Another famous person who preferred to conquer cities by siege was Julius Caesar. His army was so well prepared to conduct such hostilities that it was able to capture several dozen initially impregnable fortresses. Genghis Khan became famous in the Middle Ages for his ability to wage siege warfare. In this way, his Mongol Empire conquered a considerable part of China, including several well-fortified cities. Genghis Khan managed to achieve this through the use of unique tactics. It consisted of capturing small settlements around a large city. Fleeing from the war, their residents were forced to run to the main population center of the region, thereby creating a massive crowd of people. After this, Genghis Khan besieged the city, and the refugees who came to it quickly depleted its resources. This made it possible to speed up the surrender process as much as possible. In addition, the Mongols threw plague-infected corpses into the besieged city. As a result, most people began to get sick, and any protection had to be forgotten.
With the advent of gunpowder, the siege was no longer necessary. With its help, it was possible to destroy any barriers and conquer the city by force quickly. However, many large settlements gradually began to build more powerful fortifications that could withstand the blows of gunpowder weapons. This revived the need for siege warfare and made it the primary action method. Subsequent improvements in weapons eliminated the need to besiege the city. The only case when this needed to be done was if the defending army had the capabilities and resources to respond to the aggressor. Over the next few centuries, the siege was used extremely rarely. Nevertheless, this method of warfare helped the invaders in the Franco-Prussian, Crimean, and Russian-Turkish wars.
In World War I, cities were also captured several times by siege. This happened with Qingdao, Kuta, Liege, Namur, Maubeuge, Antwerp. In all cases, blocking the supply routes for food, weapons, and ammunition made it possible to force the enemy to capitulate quickly. The most famous WWI siege is the Battle of Verdun. This armed conflict became one of the bloodiest in the war and went down in history forever. Thanks to the thoughtful actions of the Germans, they managed to surround the city and force the French to wage a war of attrition. As a result, both sides can be called losers since their losses were disproportionate to the achievements. In World War II, the most famous siege was the siege of Leningrad. It lasted almost 2.5 years and led to the death of a vast number of people. Of the less significant battles, the siege of Malta, Singapore, Myitkyina, Imphal, Kohima, and Sevastopol stands out.
After the end of WWII, siege warfare changed slightly. The appearance of night vision devices facilitated this. It is not known precisely in which siege they were first used, but their presence significantly increased the effectiveness of combat operations. Thus, with the help of night optics, the besieging army could monitor all supply routes for food, weapons, and ammunition around the clock. This minimized the defending side’s chances of escape and escaped from the encirclement. In addition, night vision helped, even with minimal lighting, to track any movements of the defending army and attempts to carry out counterattacks. A notable example of the use of night optics to counter a siege was the attempt to capture the American base at Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War. Thanks to the availability of modern devices to US soldiers, they could carry out various operations in the dark, which gave them a greater chance of successful defense. As a result, the base at Khe Sanh survived and was not captured until the end of the war.
Modern warfare also often uses the siege method. However, in our time, the goal of such military operations is not to conquer the city but to capture many enemy soldiers. Many such examples can be found in Syria. In the ongoing civil war, Homs, Kobani, Deir ez-Zor, Nubl, and al-Zahraa came under siege. Among even more recent examples of siege warfare, Mariupol (Ukraine) stands out. The Russians besieged this city for more than 2.5 months, whose forces were tens or even hundreds of times greater than the forces of the Ukrainian defenders.
Nevertheless, the incredible courage, heroism, and professional actions of the Ukrainians made it possible to delay the Russian offensive in the Donbas and provide an opportunity to better prepare for subsequent battles. Both warring sides actively used night vision devices throughout the siege of Mariupol. With their help, Ukrainian defenders made night forays into Russian positions and replenished food, water, and ammunition in various ways. With night optics, this is possible to do, which once again proves the importance of these devices in all types of modern combat operations.
With the advent of the possibility of using artillery, the methods of conducting offensive and defensive actions changed significantly. When attacking with a battery, it is possible to destroy a specific part of the enemy’s fortifications and hit a lot of military equipment and soldiers. This makes it possible to increase the effectiveness of subsequent attacks by tank and mechanized units. In addition, artillery preparation makes it possible to suppress the enemy’s firepower, thereby reducing its defensive potential. When defending their positions, artillery is also used. It makes it possible to destroy the enemy’s equipment and manpower, slowing down his advance. In some cases, artillery work is so successful that the defending army manages to go on the offensive.
For the first time, artillery, or rather its likeness, was used in combat operations in the 12th-13th centuries by the Arabs. At this time, various throwing weapons were used as artillery installations, which made it possible to throw cannonballs, stones, and other heavy objects at enemy soldiers. With their help, it was possible to destroy many soldiers quickly. Almost all attacking and defending armies had ancient artillery weapons. Its simplicity and relatively low production costs distinguished it, but it gave a noticeable advantage on the battlefield. In Europe, artillery installations appeared in the 14th century. They implied the need to use cannonballs, shrapnel, and fire projectiles. All of them made it possible for the attacking army to destroy defensive buildings and break down the walls of fortresses and for the defenders to destroy enemies even on the city's outskirts.
The most active development of artillery weapons occurred in the 20th century. With the advent of new types of guns, artillery training became a mandatory attribute of any military operation. It made it possible to reduce the attacking or defensive potential of the enemy, increasing the chances of a successful completion of the battle. During World War I, artillery preparation was often used by both sides of the conflict to break through a positional front. It could last several days, during which it was possible to destroy most of the enemy’s firing points and structures. During its implementation, various artillery installations and tank guns, mortars, and grenade launchers were used.
World War II changed artillery warfare forever. This became possible thanks to the use of advanced developments, in particular night vision devices. They were available exclusively to the German army. With the help of such devices, it was possible to detect areas of accumulation of enemy equipment and soldiers at night. Then artillery came into play, shelling these positions and causing enormous damage. Thanks to the capabilities of night vision, the Germans managed to win several important battles and continued to capture the territories of independent states. The artillery and armies of the USSR, USA, France, and Great Britain were actively used. At the same time, due to the lack of night optics, it could work effectively only during daylight hours. After WWII ended, night vision became available to Americans. They actively used it in all armed conflicts in which they were involved. Night optics played a vital role in cases where the Americans used artillery preparation before advancing their troops. It made it possible to conduct night shelling, most of which the opponents needed to prepare for. This affected the number of their losses and increased the Americans’ chances of completing the missions they had begun. In the following decades, artillery and night vision capabilities became available to many European armies. They skillfully used this and gained a significant advantage in all armed conflicts.
In the 21st century, many types of artillery guns appeared. All of them became more advanced, accurate, and deadly every year. However, they still required night vision to operate effectively at night. The capabilities of this technology are still used today. A striking example of their correct application is the events in Ukraine. Ukrainian defenders use night vision in all ongoing battles to operate artillery successfully. Various devices help direct guns at strategically important Russian targets and inflict enormous damage on them. Such methods of warfare help Ukrainians not only defend their territory but also recapture cities previously annexed by the Russians. Most often, before night artillery work, the search for enemy positions is carried out using drones, which, instead of a standard camera, have models with night vision and thermal imaging. They provide good visibility and make it possible to find the most attractive targets for artillery fire.
Combat operations in various populated areas are every day in all armed conflicts. They are highly complex not only because of the presence of many shelters for the enemy (residential buildings, basements of buildings, roofs, shops, etc.) but also because of the presence of civilians in the immediate vicinity. Such combat operations require the attacking and defending sides to exercise maximum caution and coordinate all actions. The uniqueness of urban warfare lies in the fact that the existing battle conditions almost always equalize the chances of both armies. This happens even in cases where one of them has a significant numerical superiority and possesses a vast amount of military equipment.
In some cases, the latter will be completely useless. This happens because the streets of many cities are relatively narrow, and there will be no room for various combat vehicles to maneuver there. Another area for improvement in urban battles is the problem of identifying enemy soldiers. If desired, they can be disguised as an ordinary resident who is hiding in shelters from bullets and shell explosions.
The history of urban warfare is relatively short. This is easily explained by the fact that in ancient times, there were very few densely populated cities where military operations could be conducted. In addition, such settlements were reliably protected by stone walls or various natural shelters, which made it very difficult to enter the city. In this regard, the military operations of antiquity, in 95% of cases, were carried out outside the city. If the attacking army was stronger in such conditions, it destroyed any resistance and practically entered the populated area without a fight. The first severe urban battle was the defense of Madrid in 1936-1939. It became a crucial event in the Spanish Civil War and determined its outcome. Initially, the fighting took place in the suburbs of Madrid but soon spread to its streets. Battles in different areas of the capital of Spain will forever remain in history as one of the bloodiest.
During World War II, the largest urban battle was in Stalingrad. It also influenced the balance of power and became one of the most famous in world history. Fighting on the city's approaches and streets took place from July 1942 to February 1943. At the moment when German troops began bombing Stalingrad from the air, several hundred thousand inhabitants remained in the city. About a third of them were killed after massive air raids using about six hundred aircraft. After the Germans had advanced significantly deeper into Stalingrad, they were met by reinforcements from the Soviet army. During heavy urban battles, both sides suffered colossal human losses. Each of them constantly pulled existing reserves towards the city, thereby continuing to flood most of the streets with blood. As a result, Soviet troops withstood all attacks and were able to launch a counteroffensive. Enormous human losses also accompanied it. However, the military leadership of the USSR did not care much about its citizens, so they tried to achieve their goal at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives. Similar events occurred in many other large cities in Europe. During the retreat, German troops fought for every settlement, and Soviet troops continued to liberate cities, not sparing the soldiers of their army. The apogee of urban battles of World War II was the storming of Berlin.
Night vision was first used in the urban battle of Hue (Vietnam) in 1968. It was available exclusively to the Americans, who, with its help, carried out successful night operations and captured certain areas of the city. At the same time, more competitive street battles took place during the day. They were accompanied by fierce shelling and enormous destruction, due to which a large number of civilians died. The availability of more modern weapons and night vision devices allowed the Americans to wage a round-the-clock war, which ultimately led to the capture of Hue. After this, the clearing of the city by marines began. This led to a new escalation of the conflict and the resumption of street fighting.
In some cases, battles occurred in confined spaces, turning city streets into battlefields. The fight for Fallujah (Iraq) was no less fierce. They took place in 2 stages, the first implemented in April 2004 and the second in November-December of the same year. Success in each of them was ensured thanks to the coordination of the actions of American soldiers and the presence of modern equipment, particularly thermal imagers and night vision devices. The latter became indispensable for Marine Corps snipers, who, with their help, could hit targets at any time of the day, and for Navy special forces, one of the first to enter street battles. When fighting in urban environments, the Americans could better navigate and see most of the enemies hidden in the dark thanks to night optics.
From our days, the most memorable urban battle in which thermal imagers and night vision devices were used was the previously mentioned battle for the Ukrainian Mariupol. This city was one of the first to take on the Russian attack. Superior enemy forces forced the Ukrainian defenders to retreat into the city. There, the bloodiest street battles took place, in which battles were fought for literally every house. In these battles, both sides could only do with night optics. It enabled carrying out operations in the dark and solving current problems. With the help of thermal imagers, it was possible to detect opponents' locations. At the same time, devices with classic night vision made it possible to navigate better the ruins of a recently flourished city filled with life.
The most recent example of urban warfare is the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The latter fired more than 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip in October 2023 and crossed the Israeli border in several places. The militants' actions were characterized by extreme cruelty. They kidnapped and killed people, most of whom were civilians. In response, Israel launched Operation Iron Swords in the Gaza Strip. It should consist of 3 stages, the first of which involves massive air strikes, as well as a ground operation. In the latter, it will be impossible for Israeli army soldiers to do without night vision devices. This is explained by the fact that almost immediately after the Hamas rocket attacks, Israel cut off the Gaza Strip from power supply, so any operations in the dark will be possible only with the use of night optics. Using various night vision devices, the Israeli army was able to carry out successful operations, blowing up more than a hundred secret Hamas tunnels and killing influential members of the group. Cleaning was carried out on some underground highways, which would have been impossible without night optics. It helped Israeli soldiers identify militant locations and navigate in conditions of complete lack of lighting. Night vision was no less helpful for the crews of various ground equipment taking part in the war with Hamas. It made it possible to conduct complex night maneuvers for which the opponents were ill-prepared. Night vision was also used by pilots of aircraft conducting night bombings of the Gaza Strip. Regardless of the further development of this military conflict, night optics will play an essential role in it and become the main trump card in urban and other types of military battles.
Modern warfare is high-tech. Every battle conducted today uses modern scientific advances and devices that help conduct combat operations. Among the latter, thermal imagers and night vision devices are the most popular. Their presence gives the army a massive advantage over the enemy and allows them to conduct military operations at any time of the day successfully. Every year, such devices become more advanced, so in the future, they will change the balance of power on the battlefield. However, we still hope that all people will become more intelligent and, shortly, will use the capabilities of night vision and thermal imaging exclusively for peaceful purposes.
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