Armasight AIM: Rethinking Civilian Night Vision Rifle Systems

I recently picked up an Armasight AIM, which is a novel way of outfitting a rifle with night vision capability. If you’re already intimately familiar with night vision systems (Say, if you know what the pots are and where to find them) and just want to hear about the AIM, scroll down to the first through-the-tube night vision image. Otherwise, read on and lets think together about shooting things in the dark…

If you’re in any kind of armed forces these days, it’s likely that you’ve received some basic training in the operation of a night vision device. While the fundamentals might appear simple (look through it ya grunt!) image intensification technology does require significant familiarization to be used effectively. Fortunately, in a large scale military of any kind, soldiers are given a standardized set of equipment, taught how to use it, and then evaluated on whether or not they are using the device correctly.

Not so in the civilian world. While night vision systems are available to individuals, paying for that kind of equipment out of personal pockets does raise a substantial barrier. You can get a lot fancier toys when Uncle Sam or the Queen front for your gear.

The author’s 2x PVS-14s mated together and loaned to a talented Canadian Forces member.

In a past life, I was responsible for selling Law Enforcement and civilian buyers with a whole host of low-light & no-light solutions. Do you want i2, or thermal, or both? Do you have $3k to spend or $60k to spend? Back then it was important I have some idea what the hell I was talking about (unlike today) which meant doling out cash for a PVS-14, the most common and versatile image intensifier device.

Now the PVS-14 is meant to be a helmet mounted solution. It is all about giving the user enhanced images over the top of their regular vision. One eye is kept free to enhance situational awareness. When a PVS-14 is properly mounted, then adjusted for placement and ambient light, it should feel like heads up display or a spotlight of brightened space that floats in front of your eye. It’s very useful for moving around in the dark and not bumping into things.

But I would always have people asking me for a night vision device that would pull double duty. You want to use your equipment with a rifle, to put rounds onto something after sundown. It seems like a reasonable request but opens the door to a whole new host of gear issues. A night vision monocular has a very low depth of field, and like a camera lens: more light means a shallower focus range. When you’re in the dark you need all the light you can get. It’s also a 12oz device sticking out the front of your face. So forget shouldering your rifle and acquiring a sight picture with irons, optics or red dots.

Lots of armed services will have dedicated night vision rifle sights available for the most rugged bad-asses. But if you’re a civilian a single decent night vision device is already a hit to the pocketbook. The most common night firing solution for both civilians and infantry is a rifle mounted IR laser. The laser projects a beam only visible through the NOD down-range and lets you fire the rifle without a cheek weld or sight picture. If you’re feeling silly you can do it from the hip.

An ATIPAL PEQ-15 IR Laser and PVS-14 monocular working together in a fairly conventional way. Laser stays on the rifle, while NV stays on the helmet. This would be an acceptable firing position.

It’s a pretty effective system, especially when you group together a section of rifleman with a squad leader directing fire using their own distinct IR illuminator. But it has two key drawbacks:

Using an IR Laser presumes that your bad-guys don’t have night vision of their own, or has to accept a heightened shooter signature for peer or near-peer opponents.

You’re also limited to the magnification of your goggle, and the precision of your IR unit. Brighter lasers might seem cool, but if your point of aim is a foot-ball sized bloom at 100 yards you are not going to achieve the same level of marksmanship you would in daylight.

Two other common solutions involved mounting a PVS-14 ahead of a conventional magnified optic, or behind a red dot like an eotech or an aimpoint. In the case of a co-witnessed red-dot, much of the nigt vision image is now covered by the body housing of the red dot. I’ve seen these systems work acceptably, but you’re getting a reduced image quality when adding those additional layers of glass. At night especially image quality matters. You want to know with confidence whether that is a coyote or the neighbor’s cat, or whether that is a goat or a guerrilla (maybe both. Yikes.)

Which brings us to the Armasight AIM.

I’m routinely amazed by how poorly photographs through night vision appear. This is a Gen 3 tube with reasonably high resolution, but capturing that on camera is a real challenge.

The AIM is unique in that it is both a weapons mount and a sighting system, designed specifically for night vision monoculars. The front “stem” of the mount actually emits an infrared reticle, which projects back inside the image intensifier tube. I picked up a 3x USGI lens, and the extended version of the mount designed for magnified use, because I feel this is where the AIM really stands apart from other solutions.

It creates a functional night vision scope based off the PVS-14 housing that is distinct from other shooting solutions. With a 3x lens and a simple reticle, the PVS-14 behaves sort of like I imagine an i2 ACOG would. Short eye relief, but a solid edge to edge image with a magnification that covers a wide range of plausible shooting scenarios.

The emitter is quite an interesting device. It has got lockable windage and elevation adjustments, a wide range of brightness settings, and my version runs on a CR2032 battery. The latest version of the AIM Pro apparently are run off AA batteries. It has a single QD mount on rifle and another QD mount for the optic itself. In theory, the zero is retained in the mount and emitter assembly and will hold a repeatable zero.

Overall, including the 3x lens, the AIM, and the PVS-14, you’re adding an additional 25 oz to the rifle. 7 oz for the mount, 6 oz for the lens, and 12 oz for the PVS-14 itself. The way the mount is structured makes the optic appear to sit quite high, but this is substantially more comfortable than say a POSP style optic on another rifle.

I have to confess that I’m not entirely certain how to measure the height over bore of this system. Conventional wisdom says “center of the bore to the center of the optic” but in this case, the actual component with the windage and elevation adjustments sits much lower. Using calipers I measure just over 2.25 inches between the emitter and the rifle’s bore, but almost 3.5 inches between the “center” of the PVS-14 and the axis of the barrel.

I think a core part of the AIM’s value is in the idea that it can be removed without affecting the zero, and that remains to be tested by me. As a civilian shooter, I’m a strong proponent of having a dedicated low-light rifle in the safe rather than forcing more kit onto a jack-of-all-trades carbine. I figured for this article a 20″ Colt Canada Sa20 with an A2 flash-hider would be a solid fit for the platform. Stay tuned for range tests and results as the weather warms up…





Edward O

Edward is a Canadian gun owner and target shooter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Crawling over mountains with tactical gear is his idea of fun. He blogs at TV-Presspass and tweets @TV_PressPass.


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  • Steve

    I’ve gone full circle with a PVS-14 trying to find ways to make it helmet and weapon-mount friendly without breaking out a tool-kit. The toughest part was maintaining a way of using a 3x magnifier and having everything work together.

    First attempt was the Wilcox ‘flip-to-side’ QD mount for the magnifier. Originally, a PVS-14 shoe was going to be designed to fit this (by Wilcox) but when it finally hit the market, the shoe interfaced backwards and the whole plan fell apart – you physically could not install the PVS-14 in the same mount without flipping it backwards (and then the magnifier wouldn’t work).

    Next idea was using a similar ‘flip-to-side’ mount designed by Wilcox for the BAE Oasys thermal sight. The cost and uncertainty of this method actually working in practice led me to my next project.

    The Aimpoint twist mount has a PVS-14 shoe that is designed by TNVC. This does allow for quick swapping between the magnifier and the PVS-14 with a few issues:

    1. The older Aimpoint twist bases are the only ones that will work – the new ones are manufactured poorly and don’t sit straight. I had to deal with a couple of exchanges until I found old stock of the original version.
    2. The TNVC mount for the magnifier (EoTech) doesn’t sit in-line with the bore. You can center the magnifier adjustment in a way that will work (the red-dot is what is actually zeroed), but it will be at the extreme end of the windage adjustment.

    After going through all this trouble, I’ve used the PVS-14 only once in weapon-mounted configuration. I’m now entirely convinced the whole shebang was a waste of time and will be helmet mounting it exclusively from now on.

    • And I’ll agree with you that 90% of shooting at night scenarios are best suited to an IR laser and heads up unit. But since I’ve actually got a pair of PVS-14s, I’m curious to experiment.

      Although one of them has a tube that’s only at 30% and dying fast 🙁

  • Drew Coleman

    Just figure I’ll throw this out here for fun – is there any way to use a PVS-14 with a 4x TA31 ACOG?

    • FOC Ewe

      It sucks in every way possible. Get a fat green straw, aim through it and thats your field of view.

  • valorius

    That’s mounted way farther to the rear of the rifle than i like.

    • Keep in mind that a PVS-14 doesn’t have the kind of eye relief that you’d expect from a traditional optic. People say not to put them on .308s because the recoil can damage the tube. I’d be more concerned about it damaging my eye.

      • Mark Horning

        PVS-14 has a 25mm eye relief. (that’s measured to the pupil, so it’s closer to 22. Filmed tubes can be damaged by the recoil of a .308, unfilmed tubes are seriously tough though.

      • iksnilol

        What kind of NVD would work with a 308 then?

        • Best option would be a dedicated night vision rifle sight.

          Alternately I’d look at using a thermal sight on a .308 with helmet or handheld i2 night vision for identification.

  • valorius

    Since the price is not listed i’m assuming this is an “If you have to ask the price you cant afford it” item?

    • Far from it! I paid $200 for mine, but that was on clearance in Canada. Optics Planet has a demo model of the AA Battery model on for $423 USD

      • valorius

        Interesting.

        • .45

          Yeah, $200-$400? That’s well below anything I’ve heard of for even passingly decent NVD.

          • 22winmag

            It’s not a NVD. It’s a mount for monoculars that provides a reticle.

          • That would be the price of the AIM mount, which is what this article is about.

      • iksnilol

        Are you sure that’s for the night vision device and not for the mount?

        I think a PVS-14 is more than 400 USD.

        • will ford

          I bought a USED reconditioned PVS-14 for 500 bucks, YEARS ago with the purchase of a weapon. You could purchase separately though

          • iksnilol

            ARE THEY THAT FRIGGIN CHEAP? I see new ones are like 3k…

            Eeeh, it doesn’t do me a lot of good anyways, stupid ITAR.

          • Rick O’Shay

            Surely there’s an equivalent available in Scandinavia?

          • will ford

            It was in 2004, Israeli reconditioned. Works damn good to this day. Be better if I could read Hebrew.

        • No that’s for the mount, which is what this article is about. A PVS-14 buying guide could cover $1500 – $6000 solutions and run many pages.

  • FOC Ewe

    Thanks for the write up. I’ve been waiting for a solid(ish) review of the thing for about a year.

    • Yeah there’s definitely still more to do with this guy, but part of the reason I bought this is because I was curious too and hadn’t seen much out there!

  • I’ll rethink civilian NVDs when they cost less than I’d get for selling the vehicle I’d drive to pick one up.

    • They’re getting there! You can get something decent for $2k finally.

      • Yeah, it’s definitely moving, it’s just movin’ slow. Everything gets cheaper the longer it stays in regular use; I remember when the old lunchbox-sized first and second generation NVDs cost the equivalent of a brand new Lincoln and had a blurry sight picture the size of a sippy-straw, so a wide and clear FOV for the price of a used Ford pickup is certainly an improvement.

      • What would you say is a decent NVD in the $2k range?

        • TNVC has done a good job with their budget night vision goggles (I think its just nightvisiongoggles.com) but if I were picking a budget unit I’d probably go for a Nyx-14 from Armasight. They were bought by FLIR last year and are producing a whole range of interesting mid-level units in thermal and i2

      • LGonDISQUS

        Wow, my main racing bicycle cost more than that!

    • 22winmag

      Try the Vampire 3x for around $750. It’s in a class by itself.

      • I dunno; judging from reviews, for NVD on a budget it does seem hard to beat, but it’s also first gen tech and requires an IR illuminator (which, to be fair, it does include for new sales). If I were in a position to actually make money from hog hunting I’d probably jump on it.

        • Rick O’Shay

          Forget making money on hog hunting… I just want an effective way to kill them all at night on the family ranch. They started getting wise to the traps and pens, but they still raid the cornfields when we plant winter wheat.

      • It’s pretty amazing what current companies are doing with those Gen 1x tubes. Especially for a static shooting position on pest animals where an IR illuminator can be used: I’d say they’re one of the best solutions.

  • noob

    so in that green sight picture of the eotech-like Armasight AIM crosshair, the crosshair appears at infinity?

    how good is the parallax error correction?

  • 22winmag

    Armasight’s Vampire 3x is the real deal. A true Gen1 scope (not a video camera posing as a riflescope) with resolution that will blow you away.

    • iksnilol

      But Gen1 isn’t good.

      • Gen 1 just has its limitations. It’s largely reliant on additional infrared light. If you’ve got a good spotlight and the glass in your unit isn’t garbage you’d be surprised at the image quality sometimes.

        That being said: there’s a reason Gen 3 exists. They’re miles apart.

        • iksnilol

          Yeah… it’s pretty crappy, you can just say that. + I don’t like depending on IR. Especially considering it is illegal in Norway for hunting (funny law, “artificial light” such as flashlights, lasers and infrared light are illegal but image intensifiers aren’t).

  • Bob

    hmmph… I’m 70 and a crippled vet. guess that’s why I’m “home before dark”! GRIN