If U.S. troops move into Iraq this week, the Virginian-Pilot reports, they will have to sacrifice one of their most important technological advantages: night vision. The full moon has just passed over Iraq. And the bright moonlight acts like "a spotlight" in the desert -- making American night vision technology close to useless, according to the Cato Institute's Chuck Pena.
In the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War 12 years ago, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, now retired, argued that America's night-vision capability was "the single greatest mismatch of the war.''It could be just as important this time, said Dr. A. Fenner Milton, who heads the Army's night-vision development program, based at Ft. Belvoir near Washington. Whereas American units relied on a relative handful of spotters equipped with night-vision scopes in 1991, more sophisticated viewers are now in the hands of virtually every soldier and Marine likely to see combat, Milton said.Iraq may have some night vision gear of their own -- Soviet-made stuff that's widely available online.
But none of that equipment comes close to matching that carried by the Americans, said Tim Brown, an analyst at the defense consulting firm GlobalSecurity.org. Details visible at 100 meters using a Soviet viewer can be seen at 500 meters with American equipment, he said. Also, the Soviet equipment has such a limited field of vision that the user may feel he's looking through a straw."It's like the difference between a disposable camera and a professional-grade Nikon,'' Pena said.