The Four-Eyed Night Vision Goggles that Helped Take Down Bin Laden

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When Seal Team Six kicked in the front door of Al Qaeda's top brass back in 2011, you can be sure they didn't spend any time looking for a light switch. Not when they had these cutting-edge, panoramic night vision goggles in front of their faces.


Don't confuse these with the helmet-mounted FLIR systems also widely used by Special Operations forces. Night vision relies on image intensification, which gathers incoming low-level light, converts those photons into an electrical signal, amplifies the signal, and then displays the boosted light-level image on a green phosphor screen. Green is the color of choice because the human eye is uncannily adept at differentiating between shades of green compared to other hues.

Image for article titled The Four-Eyed Night Vision Goggles that Helped Take Down Bin Laden

FLIR, on the other hand, doesn't boost anything—it generates a false-color display of the observed infrared radiation (aka heat) signature from whatever you're looking at. When combined, the two technologies prove a potent pair—the night vision allows for long range spotting under normal conditions while the IR augments that capability when ambient light levels are low or the target is obscured by fog, dust, buildings, and whathaveyou.

But even among advanced NV/IR systems, the $65,000 Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle (GPNVG, aka the GPNVG—18 referring to its 18mm imaging tubes) from L-3 Warrior Systems stands out—largely because of the extra monocular lenses poking out from either side of the unit. They may look rather silly but these extra lenses afford a much wider field of view than that of conventional goggles which gives our warfighters a distinct advantage.

Per L-3:

The GPNVG is a helmet-mounted night vision device with a wide 97-degree horizontal field of view that allows for observation and/or target identification under adverse conditions and is ruggedized for ground applications. Individual monoculars can be detached from the system and powered with included power adapter to provide a low profile handheld night vision monocular.


The two central intensifier tubes operate just like regular night vision goggles, providing the conventionally overlapping, binocular-like image. The two added tubes on either side provide a similarly offset views from the outer edges of the central image. Essentially, it's like looking through two pair of binoculars set side by side for an unprecedented total field of vision of 97 degrees. This means our special forces will be able to clear corners faster and more securely with just a glance rather than swiveling their entire head like an owl. What's more, the additional tubes can also be popped off the frame and used as standalone monocles.

The GPNVG-18 weighs 27 ounces and is powered for as much as 30 hours of continual use by a quartet of CR123As. You can actually pick up a pair for yourself on either Amazon or eBay, if you've got an extra $35,000 burning a hole in your pocket. [Defense One - DID - L3 - Soldier Systems - TNVC]


lead image: USAF



Here's some stills from "Zero Dark Thirty" and the goggles.