GPNVG-18L-3 Ground Panoramic Night Vision GoggleNight vision goggles offer operators an incredible advantage on the modern battlefield. The ability toobserve and engage the enemy without them even being aware of your presence is a formidable weapon.Image intensification technology has come a long way since the massive tank-mounted “active IR”devices of World War II, becoming smaller, more portable, and advanced for the individual Warfighter.The Global War on Terror has accelerated the progress of night vision technology and its application.Hundreds of thousands of U.S. and Coalition troops have gone downrange wearing some of the mostadvanced and varied image intensifiers ever seen (or not seen as it were).The onset of the war in Afghanistan and later, Iraq, has presented Warfighters with a myriad of combatzones that present different challenges to the operator under goggles. Wide open desert, high altitudemountains, urban areas, and even tropical zones all have different requirements. Enemy fighters havealso quickly adapted to the good-guys’ strikingly more advanced technology. As enemy tactics evolved,so to has the equipment used to kill them. Night vision devices have begun incorporating fusiontechnology, traditional image intensifier technology with thermal overlays. Individual goggles have alsobegun incorporating awareness applications that help link the boots on the ground with the eye in the sky.These types of advancements have greatly increased the Warfighters’ ability to kill bad guys, ensuringhe/she has the most information available to put them ahead of the power curve. But, even with all theseadvancements, night vision goggles are not magic and they do not automatically give the good guyssuper powers. As with all other weapon systems, it is paramount for the operator to know andunderstand the strengths and weaknesses of the device. Attempting to deploy a weapon system outside
of its core competency can have disastrous results. Of course, this does not mean that Warfightersalways play it safe. Let’s face it; this is dangerous work. We ain’t making cupcakes. By pushing thelimits of available technology, operators are able to develop new TTP’s and help influence thedevelopment of new technology that better addresses ever developing field conditions.One of the most notable limitations of current night vision goggles is the relatively small field of view(FOV) they offer. Traditional devices give the wearer a small 40 FOV. This is like viewing the worldthrough a toilet paper tube. The image intensifier tube gives the wearer an almost day-like view in thedarkness, but only through a confined objective. While this narrow FOV is very useable in many areas, itdoes require a lot of training to apply properly and safely. For instance, the operator must keep his/herhead on the proverbial swivel, scanning constantly to take in as much of the environment as possiblethrough the goggle. The scanning must be done in a smooth, controlled manner to avoid missinganything. Depth perception is also an issue. We have two eyes which allow us to achieve instant near tofar focus changes and keep us from tripping over obstacles at our feet or trying to grab a door knob that isten yards away. The ubiquitous AN/PVS-14, the standard issue NVG for U.S. Forces, has many benefitsin a monocular configuration, but depth perception is not one of them. The world flattens out in the eye ofa monocular-equipped operator. This is why pilots flying under goggles must wear dual-tube binocularsinstead. It is also why Special Operations Forces (SOF) operators on the ground prefer running dualtubes. The ability to more quickly and safely traverse terrain and negotiate obstacles is incrediblybeneficial to the high speed nature of SOF missions. But, regardless of whether the wearer is runningone tube or two, they are still limited by a 40 FOV.While the 40 FOV can be used very effectively with lots of training, there are certain applications where itjust is not a good idea. One of the main things would-be operators need to understand is when to foregothe advantage of night vision goggles in favor or traditional white light. Running goggles is not anythinglike the movies where a technology-covered super operator kicks in the door or rappels through thewindow wearing a goggle and quickly clears a complex of enemy fighters inside and out, all while seeingthe world as if conditions were normal. The fact is; Close Quarters Battle (CQB) is not a good place torun you’re AN/PVS-14 or other traditional goggle. It is just way too fast with operators needing toinstantaneously take in every detail of a room, process the information as they move to their point ofdomination in the room and cover their sector, all while identifying possible threats, determining if they arethreats, and taking appropriate action. The idea is to get as many guns into the room and completelydominate the situation with overwhelming force. And, operators can only do that by taking in the mostinformation in the shortest amount of time; often fractions of a second. The bottom line is that bad guysneed to be processed within seconds of a team entering a room and this is almost impossible to do safelyunder traditional goggles because the amount of information taken in through 40 is too small and tooslow Until now.
L-3 Warrior Systems, the night vision division of L-3, has developed and fielded one of the biggestinnovations in night vision technology with the Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle (GPNVG-18).While this goggle doesn’t add thermal fusion or give the operator instant linkup to orbiting drones, it doesaddress the all-important FOV limitation. Recently, TNVC was presented with an opportunity to play withthis unique goggle. While I will not divulge any technology beyond the open source information alreadyavailable, I will provide you a closer look at one of the most innovative and out-of-the-box NVG’s availableto our most elite warriors.
The purpose of the GPNVG-18 is to provide the operator more information under goggles, allowing him tomore quickly move through the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). The most striking feature ofthe GPNVG-18 is the presence of four separate image intensifier tubes with four separate objectivelenses arrayed in a panoramic orientation. The center two lenses point forward like traditional dual-tubegoggles, giving the operator more depth perception, while two more tubes point slightly outward from thecenter to increase peripheral view. The two tubes on the right and the two on the left are spliced at theeyepieces. The operator sees the two center tubes somewhat overlapping the two outer tubes toproduce an unprecedented 97 FOV. This is an absolute game-changer for the SOF community. Thetwo right and two left tubes are housed in merged assemblies and are hung from a bridge similar toANVIS goggles, giving operators interpuplliary adjustment options. They can also be easily removed andoperated as independent handheld viewers. The Bridge assembly features fore/aft adjustment on aratchet system and can come configured from the factory in two different variants for different helmetmount setups: Ball Detent (ANVIS) or Dovetail (BNVS).
The GPNVG-18 is powered by a remote battery pack, tethered to the unit via a standard ANVIS cable. Itcomes with a pack that accepts four 3-Volt CR123A batteries that tend to power the unit for about thirtyhours (in my trial). The GPNVG-18 can be powered for a shorter amount of time if mounted in the newWilcox Panoramic Mount designed for a certain military unit. The remote battery pack provides asecondary function as a counterweight, which is needed considering the goggle weighs about 27 ounces.
The unit we got to play with was the ANVIS style goggle. Like actual ANVIS goggles, the GPNVG-18turns off when the goggle is flipped up. Regardless of position, the operator must become used to thewidth of the device. It obviously protrudes further on both sides than traditional goggles, so care must begiven when donning or doffing various mission-essential items, like slings. The goggle has a width ofabout 8.5”, so stability is a must. That is why it is critical to use hooked bungees on the helmet to makesure it is not bouncing around. Even so, there is very little play in these goggles. One of the issues thatplague bridge-type systems is the inherent wobble/rattle found in the connection between the tubehousings and the bridge itself. I noticed surprisingly little wobble in the GPNVG-18.System adjustment and placement is key in providing the best image to the operator. One of the mainadjustments for focus in a night vision goggle is the diopter. Diopter focus adjustment is traditionallyachieved by rotating a diopter focus ring. This adjusts focus of the goggle as it is in relation to theindividual wearer’s eye(s). The challenge presented by the panoramic lens assembly of the GPNVG-18is that the rear lenses are “fused” together, almost like a prism. This is what gives the operator theoverlapping images from the forward and angled tubes. But, it also keeps the goggles from being able tohave diopter rings for focus. So, the diopter adjustments are done with interchangeable diopter windowsthat stand off the lens. The kit comes with various windows that clip onto the rear lens housings andrange from 0.5 to -2.5. So, the operator must ensure adjustments are made prior to going outside thewire because doing so in the field requires the other adjustment windows to be carried along.
The GPNVG-18 utilizes commercially-available Gen3 18mm MX-10160 image intensifier tubes, which arethe same as used by ANVIS goggles. These tubes are good for maintenance because they use L3’ssolder-free replaceable tube design. This is a very welcome feature since the modular L3 tubes do notrequire a whole operation to replace. Some quick work with common tools, and the tube replacement isdone. In fact, the entire goggle has been designed with maintenance in mind. One of the biggest issueswith NVG’s (and just about any highly technical device) is maintenance of damaged/non-functioningequipment. This is often a lengthy process that requires a unit to be without equipment for a whilebecause devices require specialty tools and facilities for repair. The GPNVG-18’s have a totally modularchassis with a fully serviceable bridge. Turnaround for goggle repair is much faster than that of otherspecialty goggles like the AN/PVS-15.Using the GPNVG-18 is a very unique experience. For someone who has grown accustomed to thenarrow FOV of standard goggles, the night looks completely different with 97 . There is no loss of visualacuity in the outer channels, so image looks as crisp in the widest parts as it does in the traditional “zone1.” There is a slight wave of blocked image in the overlap, but it is minor and you only “see” an overlap ofthree images since your brain melds the two center tubes (just like any binocular system). After wearingthe goggle for about five minutes, your brain does not even see the slight black semi-circle where theoverlap occurs. The increased situational awareness is immediately apparent. The first thing I thoughtwhen donning the GPNVG-18’s was: “Wow, these are going to save a lot of good-guy lives and end a lotof bad-guy lives.” As I said earlier, I am not a fan of CQB under goggles. But, this is a game-changer.Room clearing becomes a much more feasible task with the GPNVG-18.
As soon as the threshold of a door starts to be breached, the fight is on. Every detail in a room, no matterhow insignificant, must be immediately noticed and processed. Obviously, the operator is looking forthreats and needing to prioritize them so they can be processed accordingly. To quote a highly regardedinstructor and personal friend, “You have to see the motherf*cker, shoot the motherf*cker.” Theoperator’s brain has to be able to instantly process and filter everything he sees on the other side of thatdoor to make sure he can see and shoot the motherf*cker(s) before they shoot him. At CQB ranges,everyone is a sniper and speed is of the essence. If you do not process threats immediately, you are introuble. Obviously, the ability to see as much as you can is critical. That is exactly what the GPNVG’sallow you to do. Coming through the door, you can now see multiple threats where before, only onemight be visible through the toilet paper tube. Going through some exercises, I was able to immediatelysee and “engage” multiple bad guys. A traditional goggle causes me to have to scan a lot more with mywhole head, giving me way more to think about and choreograph while moving into a small roompopulated with people that want to kill me. Moving my head so much/so quickly can cause things to bemissed. After all, the world is completely green under goggles and things are identified based oncontrast. The real world is not like a shoot house. Rooms are often filled with scattered debris, garbage,furniture, and other assorted crap that tends to blend together under goggles- especially when you alsohave to deal with the fixed plane focus of an NVG. I might scan my sector, turning my head in a 90 arc,see something that might resemble a threat, orient towards it only to see that it is not even a person, allwhile getting shot from someone “off camera.” That is a really bad situation. But, the GPNVG’s allow meto see such a wide FOV that I am not wasting time panning my head back and forth as I enter the room. Iimmediately pick up persons of interest and can determine if they are threats.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the lack of fuzzy image on the peripheral of the tubes. Sure, like anytube, edge to edge clarity is not perfect. But, there is no issue with the merging of images from the tubessince there is enough overlap to keep you from getting any fuzzy sections in the middle.Driving is another place where these goggles shine. The GPNVG-18 is a ruggedized version of theoriginal PNVG (Panoramic Night Vision Goggle) AN/AVS-10. Obviously, it is imperative for pilots to seeas much as possible when flying aircraft. This is especially true of special operations aviators that pushthe limits of flight, often by taking aircraft dangerously close to the earth or other obstacles not conduciveto keeping a bird aloft. The more information they can have and process, the better. Like the PNVG, theGPNVG provides a driver with all sorts of information they would not normally see without panning theirhead behind the wheel. Practically the full width of a car’s windshield is now visible. In fact, I could usethe side view mirror on the driver’s side without turning my head. The dash instrument panel is visibleunder the goggles (the same as it is when using traditional goggles).The weight of the GPNVG’s is not as much of an issue as I thought it would be. Sure, they are amongthe heaviest goggles available, but they are still within reason. When you consider they weigh less than
1oz more than the AN/PVS-21, it starts to put it in perspective. Sure, it will begin to get uncomfortableover time, but again, if you are wearing these things, you did not volunteer for a job that championscomfort. But honestly, they are not that bad. I did find it easier to run them with a counterweight, though.The four CR123A batteries in the remote pack did help, but they did not provide enough weight for myliking. But, what is nice about the pack is that it is low profile and allows you the space to add additionalcounterweights as needed. I did find it a bit more difficult to deal with the goggle when it was in theflipped up stowed position. Overall, it sticks out more and the cantilevered weight makes it a bit moreunwieldy and obtrusive. I found it more difficult to climb ladders outside buildings with the goggle on thehead like this. But, nothing is perfect and you have to weigh the benefits of using various tools. In thiscase, the ability to see with a panoramic night vision goggle far exceeds the not-so-ideal stowage space.The GPNVG-18 is representative of pure out-of-the-box thinking. While they are not using any of the new“groundbreaking” fusion technology or jacking you into a satellite feed, the simple fact that they allow theoperator to see more is a godsend. After all, NVG’s are there to allow you to see at night. So, the moreyou see, the better off you are. It is as simple as that. These goggles give the operator the ability to domore while using the same visual FOV he has during the day, at night. The GPNVG-18 is anextraordinary development in night vision application, giving the modern Warfighter more combat optionsand increasing his lethality. The ability to stay blacked out even indoors, is a huge benefit. Not only doesit keep the operator safer by presenting less of a target to the bad guys during CQB, but it increases thespeed and efficiency in which the bad guys can be killed. Visibility outdoors is much improved overtraditional goggles. Obviously, the panoramic visuals provide the operator with way more information inwide open terrain than the legacy goggles’ restrictions. This makes terrain navigation much easier. Italso keeps the operator from having to move his head so much during observation. Since people’s visionis automatically attracted to movement at night, this benefit provides more operator safety.
While technology will continue to evolve in the arena of image intensification, it is amazing what adifference can be made with the simple concept of adding more tubes to give the operator a wider FOV.The L-3 GPNVG-18’s are currently available to U.S. Military and Law Enforcement Agencies only. Theircost is around 40K.Chip LaskyDirector of OperationsTNVC, Inc.
ratchet system and can come configured from the factory in two different variants for different helmet mount setups: Ball Detent (ANVIS) or Dovetail (BNVS). The GPNVG-18 is powered by a remote batte