Never in my life have I felt more alive than the nights I spent roaming the darkness of Sadr City with eight other paratroopers hell bent on destroying Al Qaeda and Jaish Al Mahdi. When slinking through the shadows of the narrow alleys, the AN/PVS-14 allowed us to move without detection and to detect and eliminate the foe moving about on his home turf. My secondary role was that of a squad designated marksman which allowed me to spend countless hours behind a 6x Raptor mounted on an M24. The list of Gen 3 night vision that I toyed with during the 15 months I spent in Iraq and Afghanistan is lengthy, and it turned me into a light amplification junky.
However, after being combat wounded and medically retired from the Army, I was certain that my time peering into quality intensifier tubes was over. After saving what I could from my VA check every month, I still could not find a night vision optic in my price range that was anything but total garbage, to a guy that had been spoiled by the latest and greatest night vision technology. Every Gen 1 unit I tried was all but worthless to me, even for casual hunting use. Gen2 was out of my price range, leaving me no option, other than a flashlight. All hope was lost, that is until I researched Armasight Spark "CORE" technology.
Currently, Gen CORE is only available in one configuration, but this will most likely not be the case by years end. Fortunately, said configuration is a multipurpose monocular, which is by far the most the most versatile type of night vision in use today. Unlike many other systems, the Armasight Spark can be worn on a helmet or headgear, weapons mounted, camera mounted, or hand held, just to name a few. An optional 3x lens can also easily be added for increased identification range which is very advantageous when the monocular is being used for hunting at distance or surveillance. Armasight produces a plethora of other accessories for the Spark that increases its versatility exponentially.
The most appealing aspect of the Spark is its price point. I paid $499 with free shipping from Amazon.com for a night vision optic that rivals Gen 2 units of similar configuration, but at 1/3 the cost. The clarity and definition of the image is right there with some very good Gen 2 devices I have used, some of which had much bigger objective lenses, which should have given them the edge over the Spark. CORE technology has two things in common with Gen 1 night vision. The first of these two is its price, the second is that neither has a micro channel plate. Beyond that, the similarities between Gen CORE and traditional Gen 1 end. Just as Gen 2 and 3 night vision, Gen CORE utilizes an intensifier tube constructed of metal alloys fused with ceramic compounds. This allows the tube to be near indestructible, unlike the glass construction of Gen 1 night vision. So, where Gen 1 will not handle recoil well or rough treatment expected during tactical use or hunting, CORE intensifiers will take a beating and come through no worse for wear. The weight and size are also reduced, making a more practical and usable night vision unit. Another difference from Gen 1 is aesthetics. Almost all Gen 1 devices look like child's toys. None of them look like they are made for serious adult users. Armasight took special care to ensure that the Spark Monocular is manufactured in a way that keeps its cost down, but still retains the look and durability of higher end night vision.
A major downfall of first generation night vision is the "fish eye" effect. While a tiny portion of the very center of the image may be fairly clear, it becomes more and more distorted towards the edges of the picture. CORE technology provides a picture that is crisp and clear from the center of the image, to the outer edges, much like Gen 2 and Gen 3. Gen 2 and CORE both provide a resolution of 45-70 lp/mm where Gen 1 night vision provides 27-40 lp/mm resolution. The difference is simply astounding. Photocathade sensitivity of the Spark also parallels that of Gen 2, which is almost double that of Gen 1.
For those that wish to weapons mount CORE based night vision, comfort can be had knowing it is rated for up to 500 G's of recoil, compared to the 250 G rating of Gen 1.
During field testing, I compared the Armasight Spark to an ATN NV360 and a Yukon NVRS both of which have a far larger objective lens which pulls in more usable light than a lens of smaller size. However, the objective lens size difference was not enough of a cheat to allow the two Gen 1 units to provide anywhere near the resolution or clarity of the Spark.
To start testing, I utilized the Spark with headgear, which allowed me to navigate as well as engage targets using a Lasermax UniMax IR laser. While not the best laser on the market by any means, its price point makes it affordable to the same consumers that would likely purchase the Spark. The laser was mounted on a 5.56 AR15. The first round of targets was engaged at 315 yards, using a barrier as an improvised rest. I found that using a good illuminator, such as the Armasight-IR810W that can adjust down to a tightly focused beam, I was able to maintain a 70% hit ratio on 12” targets. That was somewhat of a surprise to me, as distance can be an enemy of the combination of gear used for the test. When the spark is weapons mounted, the hits increase even more. I was unable to see the targets with either Gen 1 device in the test.
The next round of testing came at close quarter walk-through range where steel plates ranged from 7 yards to 50 yards, with obstacles and barriers that must be manipulated in order to traverse the course. I would have made the assumption that it would be difficult to accomplish using anything but Gen 3 night vision, even without having to engage targets on the move, and from odd positions. Once again, rounds were put on target with much more efficiency than I would have expected, and I managed to navigate the course without performing a tactical face plant, which is highly ill advised if you are wearing night vision an inch from your eye. All the obstacles were clearly visible and depth perception was good enough that I avoided collision with any barriers or obstacles.
The plates on the course were painted blue, yellow and red. The only plates that I did not get a first round hit on were the red ones. Red is difficult to see through night vision, and it provided just enough more of a challenge that I missed two of the 25 with the first round, but managed to produce a second round hit on both. Once again, neither the ATN nor the Yukon was of any use for this test.
Being indoors with little to no ambient light is a tough situation for night vision to overcome without the use of IR illumination. Even the very best I^2 night vision is useless in total darkness. I utilized two illuminators for a mock SSE (Sensitive Site Exploitation aka Searching for relevant objects or clues). The first was the Spark's built in Illuminator, which gave me about 20 feet of visibility, and a detection range of a few feet more. It was perfect for searching areas such as a closet, where everything is close in, and a more powerful illuminator would wash out the night vision image. In areas where you would encounter a large room or lengthy hallway, relying on any units built in IR supplement could be dangerous, as it decreases your situational awareness. So, I also used the IR810W. As mentioned previously, it has a focus able beam, but it also has four intensity levels, making it exponentially more versatile in terms of mission capabilities. Obviously, for long range engagements, you want high intensity and a tightly focused beam. For close in work, the brightness and small beam size can be detrimental. An IR supplement that is too bright will cause visibility issues as previously mentioned. CQB and SSE missions are both hindered by a narrow field of view, so being able to open up the beam size to 20 degrees is a serious advantage, as it will light up everything in even the largest of residential rooms.
All in all, I found the Spark to be an outstanding value. In all honesty, I kept expecting it to fall short during each test, as I am not easy on gear. Twice I dropped the unit from head height onto the rocks while mounting and dismounting it, due to an injury to my right arm and not having it tied down, which should be done with all sensitive items. Both times, which were about five seconds apart, the unit remained undamaged. Sure, I would love to have a Gen3 unit, but I think the Spark's CORE technology is as close as you can get without spending another thousand dollars.
I spoke with Armasight, and learned that they have been able to since refine the system further, yielding considerably higher resolution yet, as well as improving the optical lenses of the device. Furthermore, they are adding several more devices to the lineup that will be using the CORE intensifiers, such as a dedicated weapon sight, dual tube goggles, and possibly a clip on device to use in conjunction with a conventional day scope. I would love to get my hands on these as they are some of the most exciting advancements in night vision technology for everyday people like myself, as well as smaller law enforcement establishments that just cannot afford to outfit their officers with night vision devices costing in the thousands of dollars each. It's a great development for budget minded individuals.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Aaron Fouraker, an American Hero and new Armasight customer. Aaron and I met after he called to let us know that he was very impressed with the performance of the new Armasight Spark with "Core" technology, which he recently purchased on Amazon. During our conversation it was clear that Aaron was not just a curious hunter looking for a good unit within a $500 budget, he was a former soldier well-versed in night vision, weapons, and military looking for a unit equivalent in performance to at least Gen 2+. Aaron researched and tested many units till he finally found the ideal product in the Armasight Spark with "Core" technology.
After our conversation, I was inspired by Aaron and I wanted to not just share his positive review, but I wanted you, our loyal customers and family, to also get to know Aaron, an amazing man and true hero.
Below are links to several articles about Aaron,
At Armasight we treat all US Armed Forces personnel and veterans as Heroes, we are grateful for all the sacrifices they and their families do for our country on a daily basis. Aaron Fouraker is a reminder of the great men and women that serve and protect us, and to him and all members of US Armed Forces we say, Thank you.
Vice President, Armasight