Popular Science | The Past and Present of Tactical Flashlights and What is Low-Light Tactics?

Popular Science | The Past and Present of Tactical Flashlights and What is Low-Light Tactics?

  If you were to ask which piece of equipment has been most effective in the modern military field, it would undoubtedly be the tactical flashlight. Long before the advent of tactical flashlights, light had already played a crucial role in the battlefield environment. After early humans in primitive societies mastered the use of fire, they quickly discovered that the light emitted by flames could effectively repel wild animals and provide illumination at night. Primitive humans used withered branches and leaves and animal fat to make torches, which facilitated night illumination or hunting prey, thus breaking the curse of humans' nocturnal rest and daytime activity, as well as the taboo of darkness. 

  As time passed and the human population continued to expand, the footprints of the terrifying upright apes gradually spread across the world. With this expansion came the inevitable territorial and resource wars among different races. Initially, these were just wars between tribes, with everyone stopping at just enough for their own use. But who would be satisfied with a small home? Gradually, this evolved into wars between countries and even among different races. As the battlefields grew larger and the front lines longer, people discovered a problem: in the past, communication relied on shouting, but now with front lines that were several kilometers or even dozens of kilometers long, shouting was inaudible, and relying on messengers to run back and forth was slow and delayed matters. However, at this time, humans only used firelight for illumination, and most people did not think of the communicative function of light.


  It wasn't until the rise of the Western Zhou Dynasty in 1046 BCE that the appearance of beacon towers became the world's earliest long-distance communication device, which later also gave rise to a famous allusion—"beacon fires to amuse the feudal lords." As recorded in "Mozi: Orders," during the day smoke was called "feng," and at night fire was called "sui." It was not until the Qin Dynasty that beacon towers truly flourished. After the King of Qin swept through the six states and unified the realm, in order to strengthen and consolidate his rule and to guard against foreign invasions, he repaired and connected the various sections of the Great Wall from the Warring States period. At the same time, he established a beacon tower every 2.5 to 5 kilometers, connecting them in a chain. In the event of an enemy invasion, one tower would ignite, and then thousands would follow, playing a crucial role in military defense.


  Interestingly, in the TV series "The Three-Body Problem," the renowned human computers also rely on the lanterns held by soldiers to simulate the binary calculations of 0s and 1s of a computer. Over 100 years ago, American immigrant Conrad Hubert accidentally saw a flashing flowerpot made by a friend, and he encased a light bulb and battery in an iron pipe, thus the world's first flashlight was born. Humorously, due to the limited technology of the time, the English word for flashlight was "flashlight," which literally translates to a flickering light. With the advancement of technology, the performance of flashlights has also been improved. Thanks to their compact size and convenience, they quickly gained popularity with various military and police departments and naturally became one of the essential equipment for the armed forces of various countries. Especially after World War II, flashlights became almost a standard issue for soldiers, with almost one in every soldier's hand.


  As technology continues to evolve, today's flashlights have been upgraded with impressive performance and a multitude of features, providing convenience and safety for soldiers and police officers during their missions. Not only are they favored by military and police units around the world, but they are also popular among outdoor explorers, security personnel, and bodyguards due to their legality and ease of purchase. However, at the end of the day, a flashlight is just a device that emits light. What distinguishes a tactical flashlight from a regular one? And on what basis can it serve as an important tactical equipment, even leading to the development of a series of tactics?


  We are all aware that military and police personnel often need to venture into various adverse conditions, such as strong winds and heavy rains, swamps, or even armed escort missions, when executing their duties. To prevent flashlights from short-circuiting due to water exposure, they must possess robust waterproofing capabilities. For instance, the Klarus XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight, which is the same model used by the Hong Kong Special Duties Unit, has an IPX8 waterproof rating. This rating means it can operate continuously for 30 minutes at a depth of 2 meters underwater without any water leakage. Additionally, constructed from high-grade aviation aluminum alloy T6, it ensures structural reliability even in the challenging conditions of the battlefield, such as during falls or explosions.


  The back clip has pioneered the use of an embedded clasp, which completely eliminates the risk of the flashlight falling off and getting lost due to being snagged by foreign objects. However, if it only meets these criteria, it can only be considered a durable flashlight, and it is not sufficient to discuss tactical applications. As the anti-terrorism situation in today's society becomes increasingly complex, a significant portion of combat operations are often conducted at night, accompanied by a combat environment with low light or even complete darkness, leading to the development of a unique tactic—low-light tactics. To facilitate understanding, we introduce it step by step using the low-light four-node model.

1.Illumination with Light 

  In military operations or police duties, tasks such as inspections and surveys are common, which require prolonged use and handling of a flashlight. This poses significant demands on the flashlight's size and battery life. For instance, the XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight is equipped with a grade A 18650 battery with a 1300mAh capacity. It can last up to 120 hours on the low setting and offers a 4-hour runtime on the most frequently used 1200-lumen setting. Additionally, the flashlight is compact and lightweight, making it convenient for extended periods of carry. It features 5 different brightness levels to meet the varying illumination needs of officers under different conditions.


  Illumination is not limited to simply shining a flashlight directly ahead. For indoor environments with no light, one can raise the flashlight upwards to use the ceiling's diffuse reflection to light up the entire room. The maximum output of the XT11GT Pro can even make the room appear as if the lights are on.


2.Light Suppression

  Light suppression might be unfamiliar to those who are not well-versed in tactics; in layman's terms, it's so bright that it's impossible to keep your eyes open. Imagine driving out of a long tunnel on a highway; suddenly, you are met with a blinding light. Tactical flashlights exploit the human eye's sensitivity to light, using instantaneous strong beams to deprive the adversary of their vision. Here, we introduce a unit of luminous flux—the lumen (lm), which can be temporarily understood as a measure of brightness. A candle has a brightness of about 1 lumen, a smartphone's flash is approximately 15 to 20 lumens, and a car's halogen headlight ranges from 1500 to 2500 lumens. The human eye absolutely cannot stare directly at a strong light exceeding 800 lumens for more than a second at close range.


  However, the majority of tactical flashlights today far exceed 1000 lumens in brightness. Along with lumen value, it's important to consider luminous intensity, measured in candelas (cd), which can be simply understood as the intensity of light per unit area. The higher the luminous intensity, the farther the beam reaches and the more dazzling it is. The Klarus XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight I have features a Luminus SST70 LED, with a peak brightness reaching an impressive 3300 lumens. Being exposed to such brightness at close range could result in a complete loss of vision for at least 3 to 4 seconds. In combat, even a 0.1-second advantage can be decisive for life and death. Utilizing these 3 to 4 seconds, one can accomplish actions such as observation, shooting, breaching, and apprehension.


  In close-quarters combat indoors, special operations personnel need to endure extremely high psychological stress. In such a high-intensity combat environment, it is required that equipment operation be as simple as possible to increase the fault tolerance of equipment operation under stress. The Klarus XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight features a 5th generation tactical switch design, with a light touch to activate and a firm press to lock in the brightness level. The large mode button below allows for one-touch activation of strobe mode.

  In 2019, the Hong Kong police could be said to have used light suppression to its fullest extent. At that time, separatist forces were rampant, and the police employed a large number of tactical flashlights during their suppression operations. After surrounding the rioters, they utilized the intense light to disorient and daze, breaking the psychological defenses of the opposition.

  How does a tactical flashlight induce dizziness? This involves another of its capabilities—the strobe function. By using brief and rapid alternations of light and darkness, it can cause discomfort to the human eye. The Klarus XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight features variable frequency strobe technology, with strobe rates that differ, further preventing the human eye from adjusting to the changes between light and dark, thereby achieving the effect of disorientation. This functionality is not only suitable for military and police use; given its low legal risks, it is also a type of self-defense equipment that I strongly recommend. Particularly for women who may be at a disadvantage in terms of strength and speed, the straightforward operation and potent blinding effect make it one of the most suitable self-defense tools for females. Interestingly, the XT11GT Pro tactical flashlight can also be equipped with a gun clamp and a tail switch, converting it into a rifle-mounted light. Beyond the preference of military and police forces, it is also well-received by WarGame enthusiasts.

3.Light Deception

  When discussing light deception, let's introduce another term—photon barrier, which refers to drawing a circle with a radius of 1 to 3 meters centered around the light source, creating a circular illuminated area that acts like a shield in front of you. It can be understood as a one-way mirror where I can see you, but you can't see me, thus obscuring one's position. As we mentioned earlier, light is the most eye-catching in the dark. In such a combat environment, keeping a flashlight on for an extended period undoubtedly puts one at a disadvantage where the enemy is in darkness and we are exposed. Therefore, in low-light tactics, we typically use intermittent illumination. This method has an advantage: the moment the flashlight is turned on, we can clearly observe the enemy's position or the current situation, while the enemy can only see a vague blob of intense light. After turning off the flashlight, they are immediately plunged back into darkness. By using the cover of darkness, we can continuously change positions to deceive the enemy's situational awareness, observe their location, and create illusions for them, imposing significant psychological pressure. 

  If not, it means you've fallen into the tunnel effect. The so-called tunnel effect refers to the human body's instinctive focus on conspicuous or high-value objects in high-pressure situations, while simultaneously overlooking less important or inconspicuous things. This is the underlying logic of the FBI-style grip; when the perpetrator sees the strong light, they will instinctively shoot towards the light source, but at this time, your body is away from the light source, thereby reducing the probability of being hit. This grip method is very practical in relatively open and shelter-lacking dark environments, but if the other party is a master of missing human targets, then you're on your own.

4.Light Transmission


Due to the portable, compact, high-brightness, long-range, and long-lasting characteristics of tactical flashlights, they are favored not only by military and police units but also by forest fire departments, outdoor enthusiasts, and emergency rescue services. With its excellent directivity, light is widely used in search and rescue operations in complex environments. We just talked about candelas, which is the unit of luminous intensity; the higher the candela value, the farther the flashlight's range. The Klarus XT11GT Pro has a luminous intensity of up to 29,000 candelas, coupled with a mirror reflector cup, it has an ANSI standard range of over 400 meters. Also, because light travels in straight lines, it can be used at night to indicate target areas to teammates with a beam of light. For outdoor enthusiasts, the flashlight can also be used to signal Morse code, such as three short flashes, three long flashes, and three short flashes.

  It seems that since ancient times, light has been regarded by people as a divine presence. As the afterglow slowly fades, leaving behind the darkness of the evening clouds, it represents the only tranquility after death. Light, like withered flowers, vanishes from the world, never to be found again. He said, "Let there be light," and there was light.


Special thanks to @LUG鹿鸽 for providing high-quality content.

PS: The above content represents the author's personal views and is for reference only.

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