In the old traditional view of sniping from the early 20th century, the thought of using night vision devices was unheard of. There were accounts of various snipers in the two World Wars using moonlight or other ambient light to make kill shots at fairly close ranges at night time. But it was typically extremely rare for snipers to engage after the sun went down. After World War 2 the technology of using active infrared spot lights with infrared scopes started to come around with some experimentation during the Korean war. But active night vision, as it was known, had a very negative side effect. If the bad guys had an infrared viewing device, the spot light pointed right back to the source! Once the Vietnam War rolled around, the “starlight” technology that used magnified ambient light as a passive means of night vision was in its infancy. But the technology had been developed far enough that it could be used in weapon sights that were actually usable such as the AN/PVS-2. These first generation night vision devices did not have the most effective resolution or amplification powers, but they could be effectively used from 100-200 yards, and maybe a touch further with a well lit night. While some standard infantry units utilized the starlight scopes, it can be argued that it was the snipers that were able to utilize the scopes to their full potential. Many were mounted on M14s and used as a supplemental night time sniper system along side their traditional day use sniper weapon systems. Ed Kugler talks a lot about their use of night vision in his book Dead Center.
As you might imagine, the use of night vision weapons sights became much more advanced since the Vietnam War to where they are now very much a part of the sniper arsenal. When I went through sniper school in the 1990s, we only received a brief introduction of the various night vision options on our M24s, but today it is a much more integral part of training, and use in combat.
We at Sniper Central have not, to this point, performed any reviews on night vision scopes primarily due to the fact that most shooters, and even snipers, still use a Day Optic Sight (DOS) a vast majority of the time. But we felt we needed to change that and it was time to start performing some evaluations for those snipers and shooters that need to incorporate a night vision scope into their normal equipment inventory. Armasight is a USA company that manufacturers a wide assortment of different night vision devices and weapon sights right here in the USA, and have a good reputation of quality. We figured their products would be a good place to start so we brought in a Vulcan 8x FLAG MG night vision weapon sight for a full evaluation.
The Vulcan FLAG MG is a 3rd generation plus passive night vision weapon sight and not just a night vision device. Typically a ‘Weapon Sight’ means it has a means of mounting to a rifle and a reticle that can be adjusted to zero the rifle. The Vulcan line of weapon sights come in an assortment of magnification ranges as well as with different level of amplification tubes. The higher the magnification and quality of the amplifier, the more expensive the scope typically is. The Vulcan that we tested had a fixed magnification of 8x. There are not many variable power magnifications on a dedicated night vision weapon sights, but there are a few, including some of the Vulcans. Some of the common powers for the fixed magnification scopes are usually 3x or 4x with some 6x and up to about 8x scopes. But you will not find many with a higher magnification than that due to technical and cost limitations at this point. But with an 8x night vision scope there is still a lot of capability to hit human sized targets at relatively long ranges. The 8x magnification will probably be more capable than the actual night vision capability is in most conditions, meaning that going with a higher magnification would be outpacing the quality of the light amplification and no further capability would be achieved.
Like most all of the dedicated passive nightvision scopes with magnification, the Vulcan is a large and somewhat heavy piece of equipment. But compared to earlier generations of night vision, it is actually fairly small. The overall length of the scope is not too bad at just over 12″, but the weight of the scope is over 3 pounds and the scope is tall as well which gives the rifle a top heavy balance. As we mentioned, this is not uncommon for these passive nightvision scopes, but it is still an issue that needs to be compensated for. The exterior of the scope has a hard rubber armor coating for additional durability during field use.
There is an integral quick mounting system with two throw levers to allow for easy mounting on a picatinny or weaver rail. When we mounted it for testing, the throw levers did not clamp down as tight as we would have liked, but the scope did not show any signs of movement during our tests so we assume they were operating within specifications. There are smaller release levers on each of the throw levers to allow for quickly removing the scope from the mount.
The actual elevation and windage adjustment knobs have scope caps on them like a traditional hunting scope. But with night vision optics this is the practical solution due to the lack of visibility in no light shooting scenarios one would be using a nightvision scope in. There is no real use to having externally adjustable knobs that you cannot see while using the scope. The actual clicks on the knobs are a muted but pronounced click that covers a large space per click. We could not find in the specifications an exact value for each click and we did not precisely measured them, but it seemed to be about 1 MOA per click, perhaps even larger. The idea with night vision deployment is to utilize a ‘point blank range’ style of engaging targets. The rifle would be zeroed for the most practical or common engagement range for the operation and then holdovers would be used as needed for engaging targets at different ranges above or below the zero distance.
The focus knob is on top of the scope and up toward the front of the tube and it has an adjustment range that goes from 50 yards to infinity. The focus actually has clicks on it as it goes through the adjustment range, which is different than a traditional day scope. While testing the focus knob, we did notice that the clicks got stiff toward the low and high ends of the focus range. Everything still functioned as normal, but the stiffness was noticeable.
Additionally, there is also a reticle focus and other adjustments on the scope to allow fine tuning the picture and brightness of the enhanced image. There is also a dioptre adjustment on the eyepiece to focus the reticle. On the left hand side of the scope is the On-Off-Standby switch to activate the actual night vision scope.
The design of the scope is quite functional and includes mounting points for a high power infrared illuminator that is available from Armasight, but for sniper work, this is discouraged as it alerts any bad guys with night vision devices of your own position. But for hunting or in low risk environments, it can be handy to illuminate the target and stretch the range capability even further. There is also an optional remote control that can be attached to the scope to activate the scope wirelessly, but for a weapon sight, there is probably not a lot of use for that feature.
The scope runs on either a single AA battery or a CR123 rechargeable lithium battery that will last for up to 60 hours. Though the scope has electronics within it, it is still water proof and meets MIL-STD-810 specifications.
For out testing we mounted the Vulcan to a Steyr SSG3000 rifle in 308 Win. The rifle has an integral picatinny rail and the mounting system on the Vulcan mounted right up to the rail without issue. As we have already mentioned, there was not a lot of resistance to the throw levers when we locked the scope down onto the rail, but it seemed to lock it in place just fine. The mount is also designed to lift and push the scope back toward the shooter. We liked how the scope raised just the right mount to keep the scope off the barrel of the rifle without any adjustments, but yet it kept the scope as low as was feasible.
One of the technical issues with night vision scopes is that it is difficult to get any sort of reasonable eye relief on the scope without too much of the scope illumination spilling out into the open. The Vulcan has less than 2″ of eye relief and it has a rubber eye piece that extends back to the shooters eye. This small amount of eye relief does make your choice of firearm to mount the scope on a critical decision! The rubber eye piece does cushion the blow when the rifle comes back in recoil so your are not given the affectionate scope kiss that draws blood every time your fire. But we advise not to mount the scope on a 300 Win Mag or other high powered rifle and expect to come away unscathed. A heavy .308 with no muzzlebrake is borderline and good solid body position is key to preventing a black eye.
Because of the size of the amplifier tube, the scopes also sit up high on the rifle, so an adjustable cheekpiece like the one on the SSG3000, is also recommended to get a good cheekweld. With the mounting and setup of the scope going very easy with the Vulcan and SSG rifle, we were then ready to test it out.
The performance of the scope is quite impressive for a commercial Gen 3+ unit. The FLAG technology is Armasight’s top of the line technology and it really shows in the capability of this scope. Armasight claims that it is the equivalent of generation 4 technology and we can understand why they would make that claim. It is impressive. We tested it in very dark conditions as well as in difficult lighted conditions like looking through a wooded forest into a neighborhood with bright lights coming from structures, like in the picture above. (Sorry for the photo quality, it is hard to get good pictures with a camera through a night vision scope).
The reticle is a MIL reticle with hash marks and illuminated red. The MIL reticle allows for range estimation and holdoffs using the scope. It took a little bit of fiddling with the various controls including the reticle brightness, focus, eyepiece dioptre adjustment and tube brightness to get the best picture. But once dialed in, the scope is impressive and accurate engagements were possible beyond 500 yards, and even further in the right lighting.
At this point we are working on a good set of standard testing procedures for night vision scopes and we’ll be using those for future tests. But to conclude the review on the Armasight Vulcan FLAG MG scope, the overall quality of this scope is very good and we would recommend it for night vision use if your are in the market. The price is in the mid $5000 range, which is expensive, but with 8x magnification, MIL reticle, good capability, and additional features, it is a very good option to consider.