Visible Lasers For Non-Lethal Force? | Tactical Rifleman

Do visible lasers have an application in military and civilian circles? It’s quite possible that they may allow a non-lethal solution to a problem. To illustrate how, Karl, of the Tactical Rifleman YouTube channel, tells a story about how a visible laser was used as a non-lethal deterrent during a mission in Mosul, Iraq.  

Karl, from Tactical Rifleman, discusses several types of lasers.
Karl, from Tactical Rifleman, discusses several types of lasers. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

One night during that operation in Iraq, he observed a member of his team using a visible laser to scare off a non-combatant from the area. Normally, they used IR lasers, which are invisible to the naked eye. But on this night, that visible laser saved a life. Karl (retired USSF) confides that from that point on, he decided to keep that technique in his tactical toolbox.

Karl explains that the military often prefers IR lasers because, as mentioned, they are invisible. In short, they won’t give away the position of the operator when used. The ability to paint a target at 100 meters without them knowing it is a real advantage.

An operator lights up a target.
An invisible laser and illuminator is a favorite tool of Special Operations Forces. It’s nice to be invisible. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

Karl goes on to describe an IR Illuminator, which is like a flashlight but only shows up on night vision, which shows the Infra Red spectrum. Unless the enemy is using night vision, he cannot see the IR lasers or illuminators. The illuminators allowed IFF (Identity Friend or Foe) at a longer distance.

Tactical Rifleman Karl explains the laser/illuminator capabilities of his carbine.
Here we see a carbine equipped with a Red Dot Sight and IR Illuminator and Laser, along with a Visible Laser. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

He describes newer units that they were issued. These had not only the IR Illuminator, IR Laser, but also a visible (red) laser. At first, Karl said that his team dismissed the visible laser as a real option. After all, they also had red dot sights (RDS) on their rifles, which they preferred to the red lasers.

An IR Illuminator lights up a target down range.
An IR illuminator, invisible to the naked eye, lights up targets at distance like a flashlight. It helps to Identify a Friend or Foe (IFF). (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

Then they began zeroing during the day using the red (visible) laser because it was zeroed the same as the IR laser. The IR and visible lasers were culminated at the factory to be zeroed to the same point of impact. For a time, that was about the only use that they had for the visible laser. In fact, Karl said, “If anyone would have asked me, I’d have told them that there’s no way I’d ever use a visible laser.”

An M-4 with lasers and illuminators.
A laser/illuminator unit on a Special Operations M-4. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

“I want to say it was 2009, we were in Mosul. I was out with the Assault Force and we hit the target silently. We drove up with our Strykers. Assault Force got out, snipers went high, the Assault Force hit the target. We didn’t blow up any doors or anything, we were nice and quiet, and we had good results with that because we captured the bad guys like that. A lot of times, they would sing like a canary when we Tactically Questioned them. They’d let us know where their boss was. He might just be two blocks away. So by not blowing open the doors, we were able to flex to the boss’s house and roll him up also.

“This particular night, I came outside and the Assault Force is outside, and it’s probably 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. It was dark out, but you got streetlights every so often. I looked down the road and here’s this gentleman in his white man-dress and big beard, walking down the middle of the road, Q’uran in one hand, twirling his beads in the other hand. When I looked at him with my night vision goggles, there were like 30 IR lasers all over this guy. That was some funny shit right there. He couldn’t see them. That sounds funny, but I’m the sergeant major on the scene. What does that tell me?  Because there’s 30 IR lasers on this guy, there are 29 other guys who aren’t pulling security in other directions.

A target painted with numerous IR lasers.
A non-combatant, lit up by multiple IR lasers. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

“I only needed one guy to watch him, he’s a non-combatant. How do you let that guy know? Usually, what happens is, he walks up and gets too close and you have to grab this guy. Next thing you know, you startle him and he grabs the barrel of the rifle of that young Marine or Army guy because he’s scared. It happens too often that they have to end up shooting the guy off the end of their gun. And now this poor non-combatant, this poor, innocent civilian, even though he’s violating curfew…he’s just another one of God’s creatures that didn’t deserve to die that day. Unfortunately, I thought that’s what was getting ready to happen there today.

“One of my assaulters, he made that red circle on the ground with the red laser and when the non-combatant looked down at the circle, the guy slowly moved the red laser up onto the guy’s chest and when the guy looked down and saw the laser on his chest, he looked up with big eyes and there was my assaulter standing under the street light waving at him, got his attention, and motioned him away. He immediately turned and took a different route.

A non-combatant with a laser on his body.
The non-combatant with a laser dot on the center of his chest. It proved to be the necessary deterrent, and he un-assed the area. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)
Lighting up a target with a visible laser.
Special Operator aiming a laser at the non-combatant. (Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

“I thought to myself, that was a textbook use of non-lethal force. Nobody had to confront this guy, nobody had to shoot him with a bean bag, nobody had to wrestle him to the ground. We got his attention with the red laser and visually gave the guy a reason to go away and it worked great.”

A special operator using an IR laser downrange.
A special operator using an IR laser downrange. ( Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

Karl isn’t a huge proponent of lasers, but he’s seen their effectiveness in a combat zone. He cautions people not to rely on them solely.

I will echo those sentiments. When people find a neat gadget that has some use (sometimes limited or specialized use), they tend to fixate on it and rely too much on it. Lasers certainly can fall into that category.

Special Operators.
US Special Operations Forces, the guys who normally use IR Lasers and Illuminators. Photo: Tactical Rifleman)

On the other hand, the cases where we see lasers ending confrontations without physical force needing to be used sure do exist, and we should not ignore them. Up until this point, all the instances that I had heard about were in the civilian world, not the military. As Karl mentions, it’s another tool in our tactical toolbox. Granted, as civilians, we’re not going to have access, for the most part, to IR lasers and illuminators. Certainly, though, we can acquire visible lasers, use them and train with them.

Perhaps it’s a tool that you’d like to check into further if you already haven’t.

If any of our readers have an opinion on lasers or have real-world experience with them, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Let us know in the comments section.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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