Tactical Light Design|
Although there are several commonly accepted definitions of what constitutes a tactical light, the most prevalent explanations consider them to be high powered lights that can be used in conjunction with a firearm in low light conditions to aid in targeting and identification. Further considerations center on these lights ability to act as a source of non-lethal force, capable of temporarily blinding and or disorienting individuals. Most lights fitting these descriptions fall into the handheld category and feature characteristics that tend to enhance the simplicity and ease of their operation. Other lights fitting this category include models designed to be mounted on firearms that project a light beam parallel to the gun bore. These latter examples are excluded in this article due to their specialized nature and limited functionality.
Tactical lights generally tend to be constructed with military or police operations as their primary design parameter considerations. Especially in the case of handheld tactical flashlights, their designs center on providing powerful illumination in a small and easily maneuvered unit that can be operated with as little interference with other equipment such as firearms as possible. These lights usually incorporate push button switches located either near the lamp at the head of the unit, or at the base of the unit. These positions allow the operator to easily turn the light on and off using only a thumb or pointer finger without needing to shift positioning of the light or the firearm.
Since the 1930’s most police training programs include instruction in the use of tactical flashlights, and the most common emphasis is on the proper operation of a firearm in tandem with a flashlight. To this end, these lights are usually small, less than ten inches in length, and feature a slender body that allows the light to be held next to the firearm with minimal interference. The usual methods of deploying the light with a firearm involve a two handed firing position, with one hand acting as the main support and control of the firearm, and the other providing additional support and control of the flashlight as well. Since there is limited room available in a two hand grip for additional equipment as well as the firearm, this makes smaller size preferable in a tactical light.
As well as ease of operation and small size, a tactical flashlight must also provide a powerful and well directed light beam. Traditional flashlights were often a compromise between size and power, as creating more lumens or candlepower usually meant that more or larger batteries were necessary to provide sufficient electrical energy. Recent developments in LED technology have greatly reduced the need for such compromises and tactical flashlights are now available that are not only powerful and small, but far outlast their predecessors in battery and charge life. Because LEDs produce light at far greater efficiency levels than filament based bulbs, they can produce greater amounts of light with far less current draw. This has allowed tactical flashlight designers to produce units that are small, powerful, and can operate for extended periods of time without the need for recharging or battery replacement.
Tactical flashlights are also subjected to serious extremes in environmental and physical abuse. Professionals who employ them in their official duties are often called upon to perform in weather conditions that can pose serious problems for unprotected electrical equipment. Hot and dusty conditions as well as windy and wet environments can force water and contaminants into sensitive electrical components, leading to the corrosion and eventual failure of exposed equipment. Because of these problems, tactical flashlights are usually constructed much more ruggedly than contemporary civilian flashlights. Aluminum and high impact plastics and composites are used extensively in the construction of these flashlights bodies due to their durability, resistance to corrosion, and light weight. To seal out contaminants such as water and dust, connections and joints are often designed with rubber O-rings and epoxy sealants that form a watertight seal when the parts are joined together. In many designs, a final outer covering made of hard rubber is often used to provide an even greater level of durability to the unit as well as improving the overall grip of the user.
In modern tactical flashlights, maximum durability is realized with the development of LED technology that has allowed designers to incorporate the latest LED designs into their tactical flashlights construction. Early LEDs were hampered by their relatively weak output and tendency to produce poorly focused light and saw limited use in the professional fields. New LEDs developed in the last five years have overcome these shortcomings however and are now capable of producing light beams on par with some of the best traditional bulbs available, but with the added benefit of being impervious to shocks or impacts. In traditional bulbs the filaments are susceptible to breakage when exposed to sharp impacts or violent shocks such as those encountered when discharging a firearm. LED’s with their solid state design have no filaments to break and can withstand repeated impacts with no loss in efficiency or reliability.
Rounding out the basic design of tactical flashlights are the lenses. Due to their intended usage in unforgiving environments glass is rarely used and instead unbreakable polycarbonate is utilized instead. This adds a further degree of protection against bulb breakage or contamination when the unit encounters impacts or shocks. Larson Electronics’s LED-PL5S-LED Tactical Flashlight demonstrates all or most of the design features mentioned here. In addition to possessing the most important features of an effective tactical flashlight, this unit also incorporates a few extras that enhance its tactical aspects without detracting from its beneficial qualities. Instead of simply switching on and off, this particular unit also offers three different operational settings. It can be switched fully on, providing maximum light output, operated at low power, increasing the operational life of its batteries, or switched to a strobe mode which can be useful in law enforcement or military applications.
Further adding to the LED-PL5S’s versatility, a UV lens cover can be attached, making it useful for crime scene investigations and other related applications. In normal applications, at full power, this tactical flashlight produces 200 lumens of light and can project a useful beam of light up to 700 feet. Using a three watt Cree LED, this flashlight can operate for four hours and is compatible with rechargeable 18650 batteries as well as the standard CR123A batteries it is equipped with.
As can be seen, there is a great deal more that goes into designing an effective tactical flashlight. Most of the design and construction is based on input gained over the years from authorities with experience in the field that has become the standards which are applied today. Even for those not involved in the professional services, tactical flashlights like the Larson Electronics LED-PL5S can provide an excellent alternative to the standard lighting equipment normally used for hunting, camping, and outdoor sports and activities. Their rugged construction, high power and long life make them well suited additions to any accessory kit, and their small size and light weight ensure they will be unobtrusive and welcome companions in any activity as well as on the job.