EYE-SAFE Class 1 Lasers &
Illuminators Increase Training Opportunities
This brief examines existing infrared laser applications, capabilities, & costs. We compare and contrast Class 1 & Class 3R vs. “military grade” Class 3B infrared laser devices. We analyze these issues in detail, summarize, and offer our conclusions:
- What is a Class 1 EYE-SAFE infrared laser? Class 3R? How do they compare to Class 3B “military grade” infrared lasers? Liabilities? Advantages?
- Do increasing levels of luminous sensitivity present in newer Gen 3 and Gen 3+ night vision tubes effect the infrared laser energy vs. visibility equation?
- What is a Z-Bolt® IR Training Laser? For what and for whom are they intended?
- Reported Field and Training Use. Capabilities & Applications.
- Summary & Conclusion “Class 1 & Class 3R Infrared Lasers are Mission Ready”
- Appendix A (Gen 3, Gen 3+ Luminous Sensitivity Advancements)
Class 1 & Class 3R
Lasers vs Military Grade Class 3B
Class 1 infrared lasers are completely EYE-SAFE with a Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of 0 (NOHD). These civilian legal IR lasers feature a 0.7mW power output (which is not restricted by the FDA) and are perfectly adequate for target marking at 1,000 meters. This encompasses most ranges at which users will engage targets during night shooting & field training; and approximately tracks the outermost distance envelope for crew-served weapon gunners to determine positive identification prior to engaging targets (to prevent blue on blue incidents). Class 3R infrared lasers offer target engagement ranges out to 5,000+ meters with a negligible NOHD of 13.7 meters. Class 3R have a power output of 3.5mW and are controlled under ANSI.
In contrast, Class 3B (5 ~ 500mW) infrared marking lasers are extraordinarily bright, with targeting ranges of up to 42,000 meters. Procurement and maintenance costs are very high - prices of $4,000 to $10,000 per device are common. Most JTAC, FO's, & aircrewmen are familiar with this laser class. Very bright for sure - but the Class 3B power ratings ALSO make these devices extremely dangerous to operate. These laser systems require restrictive safety protocols; high power outputs call for mandatory LEP; the systems demand burdensome training and SOP manuals. The devices are often too powerful and mismatched to the actual combat or training mission - not often employed CONUS except on restricted laser ranges due to serious safety concerns (potential laser incidents resulting in severe retinal eye damage). As a result, laser field training opportunities are limited, resulting in reduced unit effectiveness.
Gen 3 & Gen 3+ Night Vision Tubes
Change Laser Energy vs. Visibility Equation
All technologies experience periods of progress that inevitably shape the environment in which the tech is used. Night vision optics are no different. In the 1990’s, Gen II tubes required Class 3B laser power outputs for the sensors to be effectively used on the battlefield. But time marches on …
Over time, newer Gen 3 & Gen 3+ tubes have provided increasing levels of night vision sensitivity and gain-control. The higher radiant sensitivity of Gen 3 tubes means higher luminous sensitivity. Innovations in photocathode technology significantly increased the signal-to-noise ratio, with newly developed Gen 3+ tubes starting to surpass the performance of Gen 3 tubes. These technological advances have changed the laser energy vs. operator visibility equation. So today, the use of Class 1 or Class 3R low-power infrared lasers has become very practical and substantially safer than Class 3B - while maintaining effective target engagement ranges - for both training and battlefield use.
Z-Bolt® Infrared Training Lasers
Beam of Light Technologies [BOLT] manufactures low-power infrared training lasers, expanding the Z-Bolt® line of field utility lasers. Power ratings of Class 1 & Class 3R. Hand-held or rail-mounted, man-portable, inexpensive, easy to operate, extremely effective. Purpose built for EYE-SAFE or safer field training. The deployment of low-power IR lasers improves & enhances a unit’s operational efficiencies due to increased opportunities for field training – all parts CONUS. Z-Bolt® MARK-IR hand-held infrared lasers utilize COTS (consumer off the shelf) laser components and modules. Sourcing components widely used in industry enables the production of laser systems that are simple, portable, adaptable, and affordable. Yet these laser systems remain extremely effective, crafted and customized for specific battlefield applications or mission goals. Z-Bolt® Class 1 lasers do not require LEP or special SOP manuals to operate. ALL Z-Bolt® IR systems are priced to accommodate reduced budgets and permit wider deployment throughout any size law enforcement unit – tactical team - small or large infantry force – ARMY rotary wing CAB, regiment, battalion – NAVY or USAF wing, squadron, or detachment.
Hand-Held Infrared Lasers
FDA Class 1 & ANSI Class 3R - 830nm
MARK–1ir, Training Laser – Class 1, NOHD = 0m
0.7mW - 1,000 Meter range; EYE-SAFE; constant on/off switch; lanyard loop; aperture safety shutter; power lockout function. Seventy-five (75) hour battery life. Ships with nylon pouch & 1 pc Retractable Gear Cable Tether. CR123A power.
MARK–4ir, Marking Laser – Class 3R, NOHD = 13.7m
3.5mW - 5,000 Meter range; constant on/off switch; lanyard loop; aperture safety shutter; power lockout function. Sixty (60) hour battery life. Ships with nylon pouch & 1 pc Retractable Gear Cable Tether. CR123A power.
Rail-Mounted Infrared Laser &
LED Illuminator – 850nm (In Development - On Hold, COVID-19)
TL-IR2, IR Point & LED Illuminator – Class 1, NOHD = 0m
IR Pointer - 0.7mW, EYE-SAFE - 1,000 Meter range, LED Illuminator - 600mW, EYE-SAFE - 1,000 Meter range, 2 to 15 degrees divergence. Low parallax design offers better shooting accuracy. HI-LO power for CQB. Low setting of 60mW Illuminator & 0.35mW Pointer for CQB avoids NVD “washout” during room clearing & indoor training.
Options – Special Builds
- 850nm or 1550nm SWIR
- All Current Gun Platforms
- EYE-SAFE (0.7mW) to 200mW
- Custom Mounting Solutions –
KeyMod, M-LOK, Larue QD, 1913 Picatinny
Capabilities & Applications – Field Use
- Rotary Wing Air Crews
- Mark Terrain Features
- Insure Rotor Clearances
- Mark LZ’s – Point Out Obstacles
- Target Talk-Ons, EYE-SAFE Squirter Control
- Reduce Radio Chatter – Back Up Comms Device
- Situational Awareness - Pilots, Air Crews, Operators
- Tactical Team Leaders
- Improve Situational Awareness
- Precise, Visual, & Non-Verbal Comms
- Reduce Radio Chatter – Silent Signaling
- Communicate Assault Target | Door-Window-Person?
- Improve Team Coordination - Confirm Verbal Orders
- Reduce Operational Errors– Avoid Miscommunications
Summary & Conclusions
Lasers Are Mission Ready!
Technological advances in night vision optics have changed the laser energy vs. operator visibility equation. So today, the use of Class 1 or Class 3R low-power infrared lasers is highly effective AND practical - substantially safer than Class 3B - while maintaining effective targeting engagement ranges - for both training and battlefield use. EYE-SAFE or safer to use in CQB situations, including vehicles & inside buildings, or environments exposing civilians. Train safely on base - on location. No LEP (laser eye protection) required with Class 1. Z-Bolt® MARK-IR lasers are light, portable, adaptable, & affordable.
- O to Nominal NOHD
- Weight 118 grams, 4.1 oz.
- Length 130mm Diameter 25.4mm
- 60 to 75 Hour Runtime – 1 pc CR123A
- Power Lockout – Laser Aperture Safety Shutter
- Ships with Nylon Pouch & Retractable Cable Tether
- Device Benefits
- Affordable - $400 vs $6,000
- Increased Training Opportunities
- EYE-SAFE or Safer Training – On Base
- Reduced Tube “Burn-Out” Gen 3, Gen 3+
- Minimal to NO Night Vision Tube ‘Halo” Effect
- 1,000 to 5,000 Meter Visible Targeting Ranges
GEN II, Gen 3, & Gen 3+ Night Vision Tubes
Advancements in Luminous
Sensitivity Enable Effective Class 1 Laser Use
Over time, newer Gen 3 & Gen 3+ tubes have provided increasing levels of night vision sensitivity and gain-control. The higher radiant sensitivity of Gen 3 tubes means higher luminous sensitivity. Innovations in photocathode technology significantly increased the signal-to-noise ratio, with newly developed Gen 3+ tubes starting to surpass the performance of Gen 3 tubes. These technological advances have changed the laser energy vs. operator visibility equation. So today, the use of Class 1 or Class 3R low-power infrared lasers has become very practical and substantially safer than Class 3B - while maintaining effective targeting engagement ranges - for both training and battlefield use.
Gen 3 & Gen 3+ Advancements
Increased Low-Power IR Laser Effectiveness
Third-generation night-vision systems maintain the MCP (microchannel plate particle detector) from Gen II, but now use a photocathode made with gallium arsenide, which further improves image resolution. In addition, the MCP is coated with an ion barrier film for increased tube life. However, the ion barrier causes fewer electrons to pass through, diminishing the improvement expected from the gallium-arsenide photocathode. Because of the ion barrier, the “halo” effect around bright spots or light sources is larger too. Light amplification improves to 30,000x–50,000x, vs. 20,000x for Gen II tubes.
Gen 3+ devices can differ from Gen 3 in one or both of two important ways.  An automatic gated power supply system regulates the photocathode voltage, allowing the NVD to instantaneously adapt to changing light conditions.  A removed or greatly thinned ion barrier, which decreases the number of electrons that are usually rejected by the standard Gen 3 MCP, resulting in less image noise and the ability to operate with a luminous sensitivity at 2,850K of only 700 µA/lm (micro-amps/lumen), compared to operating with a luminous sensitivity of at least 1,800K for Gen 3 image intensifiers.
Low-Power Infrared Lasers
Decrease “Halo Effect” & Tube Sensor “Burn In”
Gen 3 tubes offer greatly improved image resolution, which make low-light lasers many times brighter when viewed in NVD’s with Gen 3 & 3+ vs Gen II tubes. There are additional advantages when using low-light lasers & Gen 3 (+) tubes.  The absence or minimized “halo” effect.  Decreased tube “sensor-burn”. Laser “brightness” is determined by the device’s total emitted power & laser beam divergence. For example, a Class 1 IR laser (0.7mW) has a visible range of 1,000 meters, offers 0 to little Halo effect, has an NOHD = 0m, and can be operated safely in all conditions. A Class 3R IR laser (3.5mW) has a range of 5,000+ meters, with a minimal NOHD of approx. 14 meters. In comparison, a 200mW Class 3B IR Laser has an NOHD of over 160 meters. These high-power outputs decrease the life of the tube sensors over time and cause “sensor-burn” after prolonged use, while low-power IR lasers have a limited effect, are much safer to deploy, and are designed & manufactured to the same quality standards.