Night vision done right

When Laser Devices Inc. (LDI) debuted their class on IR lasers at last year’s SHOT Show, I knew this company was turning a corner in meeting its customer’s demands. This year they did not disappoint with several new products in the Class One line. What excited me most was the DBAL-D2 (Dual Beam Aiming Laser-D2), a truly revolutionary development in the infrared/night vision world.

What makes the DBAL-D2 so special is the replacement of the left hand IR laser used as an illuminator, as seen on the DBAL-A2 and PEQ-15, with a powerful LED IR flashlight. Having used a military spec DBAL-A2 for several years, I have always found the laser-generated IR illuminator lacking. The amount of usable light was too tightly focused, making the illuminator almost useless in tight confines like houses and alleyways. I’m not saying that open terrain is not part of an officer’s beat; I only wish to point out that illuminating the exterior of a building 500 meters away with IR light has not been one of those things I have needed to do compared with being able to see down a staircase, or lighting up the interior of a vehicle.

For several years military, law enforcement and civilians who use night vision have been employing IR filters on white lights or IR flashlights, like the Surefire line of Vampire lights, to provide IR light for close or short range IR illumination. This has required operators to add a second light to their weapon, making their white light dual purpose. Neither are optimal as they add weight, time delays and can lead to confusion when the operator needs a white light and has to “convert” the light from IR. The best solution has always been an IR illuminator built into the IR laser that is capable of illuminating a room, as well as a hill or tree line several hundred yards away that activates in conjunction with the IR aiming laser. The folks at Laser Devices solved this issue with the DBAL-D2’s LED IR illuminator.

The illuminator consists of four IR LED lights housed in a focusable housing. The focus lens is like a camera lens in that the variable bezel allows the operator to focus IR light from a wide short range 30-degree beam to a narrow long range 2-degree beam. The illuminator has a high (600mW) and low (300mW) setting; operators can select the best application of light given their needs. It was very simple to use the illuminator and I was able to get the settings to where I needed them very quickly. Being right-handed, I used my left hand to reach forward and adjust the bezel and power settings when mounted on my M4 carbine. The left side of the D2 is larger than that found on other LDI models. This is due to the larger LED illuminator.

The right side of the DBAL-D2 is the same as Laser Devices’ other DBAL models. It houses a red or green visible aiming laser and a Class One 0.7mW eye-safe IR aiming laser. The visible and IR aiming lasers are slaved together, meaning they sight in together. The adjustment controls are recessed and protected from bumps and damage.

The unit can be activated by a button at the rear of the left side, remote pressure pad, or a constant ‘On’ setting. The activation mode selector switch alternates between visible laser, IR laser and IR illuminator, as well as high and low settings. I found that moving the activation button from the top of the unit to the rear of the left side was a great idea. It was very simple to reach up with my left thumb and activate the device. For those who do not like to use remote pressure pads you’re really going to like this, unless of course you’re left-handed. Gloved hands posed the only issue I had with this location. Sometimes under stress it was difficult to feel the center of the button. I suggested LDI engineers add a small raised ring around the button to help in locating it. It appears this ring was added to current production models, along with the ability to add a short section of rail on top of the unit to allow for the installation of a small red dot optic.

The housing is made from very strong machined aluminum like all of LDI’s military laser units; you realize it was made to survive a beating and keep working. Some who assisted in testing used the term “built like a tank”. I had to agree. This is a solid piece of kit. The D2 attaches to weapon mounted rails with the outstanding HT Self-Adjusting Throw-Lever, which is now standard on every LDI laser. I have grown to hold this mount in high regard for its durability and dependability.

I mounted the D2 onto my M4 carbine and took it to the field. The IR illuminator worked great inside of buildings, around commercial equipment yards and in orchards. In open areas like fields and our foothills it gave more than enough illumination to identify cars and old farm equipment from the landscape. LDI has a photo on their web page showing the D2 illuminating a hill 800 meters away. This is consistent with my testing when using a three-power magnifier on my PVS-14. To take full advantage of the D2 illuminator you’re going to need to add some magnification to your night vision device. LDI says the IR aiming laser is visible out to about 250 yards. During testing, on a night with a full moon, I could see the IR aiming laser out past 400 yards against an almond orchard.

But let’s put this performance into perspective. The maximum distance most Gen3 night vision devices can provide positive identification of what you’re shooting at is just over 100 yards. You can see objects and persons past this, but making positive ID gets much harder. The range of the 0.7mW Class One IR laser is more than adequate and gives you the added benefit of eye safety.

If you recall my past article about LDI Class One lasers (in the July 2011 issue of LET), the first generation was produced with a 0.07mW laser. Last summer LDI discovered they could push the laser to 0.7mW and still be eye-safe. LDI offers an upgrade for those with the older units. I took advantage of this upgrade for both of my first production run models of the OTAL and DBAL-I2. The difference in range is significant and worth the inconvenience of sending them in.

I did find some drawbacks. When you have the illuminator on high inside of structures or directed against anything that can reflect the IR light back at you, the IR aiming laser can get washed out and lost. To avoid this, use the lower setting at close range. Also, the size of the illuminator on the wide setting was not as wide as I would have liked. I was testing the LDI OV-3 IR and white light flashlight at the same time as the D2 and found the throw and corona of the IR illuminator on the OV-3 preferable to that of the D2 for my needs.

The D2 is only available in a CR123 battery version. I like the versatility of the AA battery versions of the A2, A3 and I2 lasers in the LDI DBAL line-up. Unfortunately current technology does not allow for that option. The biggest drawback is the “downrange signature” that is inherent to all LED IR lights. The visible red light can be seen out to 100 yards or more when looking directly at the LED. During testing it was not as big of a concern as I had anticipated. As such, proper light discipline and awareness must be implemented when using this unit, or any LED IR illuminator.

Some things will be changing on the production versions of the D2 compared to the prototype I tested. I knew the unit I had was one of the first made. Since the initial run, changes have been made to the housing, lightening, and materials. LDI has been listening to its end users and adjusting the final product as improvements have been identified. One antidote that I found personally interesting was the tan units of the D2 will have black controls and other accents, just like the custom unit LDI made for me last year. From my experience this is a good idea, as the controls are easily located due to the contrast.

LDI keeps listening to its customers and delivering innovative products to meet those needs. The DBAL-D2 was originally dreamed up by pig hunters in Texas. LDI quickly realized its commercial and government sales potential and have brought, what I feel, is the next step in IR aiming technology.


Dennis Haworth is a police officer with a California state law enforcement agency and has been a law enforcement range master and armorer for over a decade. He has a BS in Criminology and an MPA with a specialization in human resources management.