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04/22/10 Spotlighting Safety in Military Operations

With all the emphasis that’s been put on military stealth technology in the media, it’s not very often that you hear much about the technology being used to make military units more visible rather than invisible. Believe it or not, a lot of the emphasis in current military operations, like the ones taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq, is on making U.S. military units more easily identifiable, which in certain situations enhances their overall safety, as well as the safety of the civilians they are working to protect.

To that end, the military has enlisted the use of high-powered spotlights in many of their routine operations and designed rapid deployment kits, which include these spotlights as standard equipment. An excellent example of this can be seen in the U.S. military’s efforts to secure and police various cities in Iraq and Afghanistan using vehicle checkpoints.

Part of maintaining the security of the local populace in a city like Baghdad for instance, is controlling and monitoring the traffic into and out of the city. Military will create traffic checkpoints at various locations around the city on roadways, and incoming traffic of all kinds is monitored and policed to ensure that anyone with hostile intent is prevented from entering the city. While this has been a very effective means for protecting the local population within the city, cultural differences and language barriers have resulted in misunderstandings between U.S. military personnel and Iraqi citizens at these checkpoints. On some occasions, these problems in communication have precipitated serious incidents resulting in injuries or death.

Because of incidents like these, the U.S. military has recognized that reducing the chances for misunderstandings by creating ways to signal identity and intent independent of language were necessary for the safety of both its personnel and the local population. To address these recognized issues, the military’s Rapid Equipping Force, which is charged with quickly providing battlefield personnel the equipment necessary to maintain superiority, introduced what is known as an “Escalation-of-Force Kit”. Rather than being a compilation of offensive weaponry, as the name seems to suggest, this kit’s purpose is to enhance a military unit’s ability to identify itself to non-military traffic and civilians and aid in their safe control, particularly in low visibility situations. Several items are included in the kit that facilitate this purpose and range from obvious equipment, like traffic cones to divert traffic to portable speed bumps for regulating vehicle speeds.

Of particular importance, however, is the signaling and illumination equipment included within these kits.  Part of the standard equipment included in an Escalation-of-Force Kit is a pair of the HML-5M 24 Volt Magnetic Spotlights supplied to the military by Larson In addition to the Escalation of Force Kit, the U.S. military also included the HML-5M as standard equipment in their Vehicle Checkpoint Kits now deployed in Afghanistan. Compact, lightweight, and easily deployed, these spotlights are suited to both passive and offensive functions and are of particularly high value in low visibility situations. Using these spotlights, military units are able to instantly command the attention of civilians regardless of the current weather conditions or visibility levels. These spotlights enable vehicle gunners to quickly focus a brilliant beam of focused light on individuals for the purposes of identification, or to illuminate the suspicious activities of an individual from significant distances if necessary.  

As well as effectively commanding the attention and notice of civilians, the HML-5M spotlight is also routinely used in convoy operations. The ten million candlepower beams from these spotlights are well suited to illuminating convoy routes during night transports and have seen action since their deployment in Escalation of Force Kits in 2009. Overpasses, road blockages, other vehicles, and roadside obstacles are quickly and efficiently illuminated by the HML-5M spotlight, providing convoy personnel with excellent visibility of potentially dangerous structures. Mounted on vehicle rooftops and turrets, the spotlights provide supplemental forward lighting, illuminating the route ahead of the convoy far beyond the distances of standard headlamps alone. Additional security is obtained from using these spotlights for rearward illumination as well, helping to ensure that routes remain clear as a convoy passes.

In addition to passive uses such as identification of civilians and general illumination, the HML-5M 24-Volt Magnetic Spotlights  are also semi permanent in mounting design, allowing them to be placed just about anywhere they are needed, permitting personnel to incorporate their use into offensive actions. These lights are mated to a 100-pound magnetic grip base that is strong enough to securely hold the spotlight in place under heavy off-road conditions as well as allowing the light to be mounted to machine guns, turrets, or any desirable solid metal surface. 

Handheld capability is a primary feature of these spotlights with the inclusion of a reverse pistol-grip handle and a tension-hinged base that allows quick and stable positioning of the light once directed onto a target. There is no adjusting or tightening of pivots or lock downs. The light is simply pointed and released, maintaining positioning until moved again. The HML-5M 24-Volt Magnetic Spotlights from Larson Electronics are durably constructed, using polycarbonate lenses that resist damage from rocks and debris and heavy gauge steel for the frames. The housing is constructed of plastic composites that resist impacts and UV damage as well as dust and dirt. Designed specifically for the Humvee but suitable for a wide variety of vehicles, the  HML-5M has ring connectors on a twenty-one foot detachable cord for permanent attachment to battery terminals, or can be connected to a power source using spring clamps. Also available are the Hubbell military plug and the NATO slave cable plug, further enhancing the lights portability between vehicles.

These spotlights are capable of being tilted on their mounts nearly straight up or down, making them effective from the elevated position of a gunner’s perch during vehicle inspections or the illumination of tall buildings. Further enhancing the military competence of these lights is the availability of an HML-5M-IR lens cover. This cover, when attached to the spotlight’s face, shifts over ninety-three percent of the spotlight’s light energy into the 850nm or 940nm wavelengths making it an effective light source for the operation of night vision equipment. Combining this spotlight’s maneuverability with this ability to serve as an IR light source adds to the HML-5M spotlight’s versatility and effectiveness, making it a valuable asset in combat operations as well as peacekeeping missions.  

The U.S. military has emphasized its commitment to ensuring not only the safety of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but its determination to avoid civilian casualties as well. These Vehicle Checkpoint and Escalation of Force kits put together by the military with the HML-5M spotlight included as a standard part of these kits equipment stand as examples of that commitment and the military’s determination to follow it through.

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