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Modern Day Minuteman – “Strobing” Technique, Not Function

Today’s education topic is something that is near and dear to my heart, “Tactical Illumination”. In particular, a technique called strobing. Notice I said technique, not “function”, which is where I’ll digress for a moment to explain something that is, in my opinion, a clear and obvious indication that the finer points of employing white light in a tactical environment are greatly misunderstood by manufacturers and most tactical professionals out there. Now some of you at this point are probably scratching your head and saying, “Brian what the fuck are you talking about?” Well gentleman, go grab a beer from the fridge, crack it open, sit back and I’ll explain.

As I said previously, I’ve had the privilege of training with many leaders and legends in the tactical industry. One such legend and mentor of mine is a man named Dave Maynard. He was one of the founders of the Surefire institute and was basically responsible for giving Surefire a reason to go from a laser business to a light business. I trained and worked side by side with Dave for nearly a decade. He is a man of many talents, but his forte is low light gun fighting. He taught me every trick in the book regarding low light gun fighting and when he had taught me everything he could; I took what he had given me and devised a few more great tricks of my own.

One of the tricks Dave taught me was a technique called strobing. All lighting technique’s effectiveness varies on the amount of environmental light. Strobing works best in near black conditions. To achieve effective strobing you flash the weapon light on and off to create what I call the “techno effect”. I call it this, because if you do it correctly the effect resembles that of a techno club strobe light and is very disorienting. In order to do this correctly you have to flash the weapon light at the proper “Pulse Rate”. If the pulse rate is too fast it severely limits the effectiveness of the technique. If it’s too slow well then you may be distracting the threat but not disorienting him/her. This is where “function” becomes an issue that needs to be addressed.

A lot of tactical light companies out there, whose engineers have probably never even held a gun, let alone shot one, had their marketing team tell them, “Hey lets put an auto strobe feature on our new awesome weapon light”. They thought this was a great innovative idea because they heard the term “strobing” used by an operator or low light instructor and took it for it’s literal meaning. I’m sure what I’m about to say is going to hurt some feelings out there, don’t take it personally, but you fucked up. I know it sucks when someone says that, however even though it sucks it helps us all make corrections and be better at what we do. Now you engineers out there are probably saying, “What the fuck Brian, it took me three years to design and engineer that weapon light!”

I know you put three years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars into that product, but here is a dose of reality for you. I put you guys in the same category as companies that make body armor or other forms of life saving equipment because if their product is poorly designed, manufactured or fails people die. The same is true for weapon lights.

By incorporating an auto strobe feature in your light, all you did was put a feature on a weapon light that makes the shooter think he’s disorienting the bad guys, when in actuality he’s not. In fact, not only does your light fail to disorient the bad guys, it actually makes the shooter easier for the bad guys to see in the dark and kill. The first reason for this is because all auto strobe settings on all the weapon lights I have tested the “Pulse Rate” is too fast, and in some cases not pushing enough lumens to create the “techno effect”. The second reason is most shooters leave the strobe in constant on mode, this causes extreme target fixation and tunnel vision all of which occur naturally in high stress situations but are amplified in dark conditions when the only visual stimuli is acquired through the illumination of your weapon light. This scenario makes them an easy target for additional threats outside their light cone.

My other huge complaint about the existing weapon lights on the market is the double tap feature on the switch that makes the light stay in constant on mode. This feature was a cross over function from IR weapon lasers. “Hey if it’s good for IR it’s good for white light too right?” WRONG!! This feature definitely sucks and will also get someone killed. Remember earlier when I mentioned, “Pulse Rate”? I can’t get the pulse rate correct on my strobe technique if the light gets stuck in constant on mode when I try and actuate the switch quickly. Here’s another little pearl of wisdom, you don’t need to use the constant on feature for hands free illumination from a weapon light. If you are doing something that requires constant white light illumination, like casualty management, or searching prisoners or doing SSE, it’s a job for your hand held, head lamp, or helmet light, not your weapon light.

Your weapon light is for intermittent use only. A fail safe way for me to spot a shooter who hasn’t been properly trained on light employment, is if he or she utilizes what I call, “light on stay on”, switching the light into constant on mode and shooting the drill, or clearing the room or structure, with the light on the whole time. That technique is wrong and will get you killed quicker than a day hike in the Khyber Pass.

If you are a responsible armed citizen or armed professional that works in low light environments regularly and you think that your weapon light is simply to see what you’re shooting at in the dark, you’re gravely mistaken. If you are a weapon light manufacturer please keep in mind you are building a valuable life support tool that can help distract, disorient, and destroy the threat. More importantly, the features of your light and how it is used can mean the difference between someone going home or going to the morgue.

Remember education is the foundation, do you’re research and acquire the knowledge to enhance your level of readiness, and ensure success at the “Moment of Truth”.
Until next time …

Brian Bishop served for 8 years as an active duty Infantry NCO in the United States Marine Corps. After being honorably discharged he served an additional 5 years as a defense contractor in support of DEA and USASOC counter narcotics/FID operations. Brian has completed several combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently the CEO of Orion Design Group, a leading industry design firm and the chief instructor of Orion Applications, a training group specializing in, weapons and tactics training solutions.

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13 Responses to “Modern Day Minuteman – “Strobing” Technique, Not Function”

  1. AttackBlue1 says:

    This is about to become required reading for our team. Nicely done.

  2. AmazingKG3 says:

    Reads like a drunken rant, but awesome points all around. Low Light fundamentals is seriously overlooked by a lot of people unfortunately.

  3. Marvin Martian says:

    Good article. Thanks for the time writing it.

  4. Chris K. says:

    This article is great in that it draws attention to a little used technique. It does not however speak from a LE perspective. Understand the strobe feature is useful in LE situations, this way you purposely get the suspect to stay focused on the strobing light while your check ins remain undetected as they approach from the flanks to hook up the suspect. Same with constant on – for LE specifically there are situations such as felon stops that require a constant beam of light for several minutes.

    • ODG says:

      Agreed Chris, everything is situational dependent. Keep in mind the threat situation is never entirely known, dispatch could report one armed male, and you can arrive on seen to 2 or 3. Blinding a threat to distract him is great but don’t do it at the expense of target fixating yourself and having his buddy flank you, that technique is a two way street. Keep your head on a swivel and look for threats outside your light cone.

  5. Fox says:

    Meh- I think the most important note in this article is to the manufacturers. Make better features on your weapon lights. Maybe even create some that are really SMALL and AFFORDABLE (surefire…) as in below the triple digits. I really love my surefire scout, but jee wiz guys $480.00+ for one of these? WOW. Other than that, thanks for another tool I can use in my tactics tool box! And that was free!

  6. Dr Q says:

    It seems to me that during building clearing strobing or using your light intermittently only makes it more difficult to see it, understand it and effectively react to it (the possible threat). Also if your night vision is like mine once you’ve killed your light you are operating blind, especially the darker the room. Additionally if the threat is already in the area you are clearing he is familiar with the layout and may be in a better position to deal with the dark, an advantage you can mitigate with your light. With the output of modern weapons lights and their ability to illuminate an entire room keeping your light on can have the same effect as turning the room lights on and constant light seems only to make the job easier. With the stipulations that I am not saying strobing or using your light intermittently is always the “wrong technique” and we are talking about room clearing/building searching how about some opinions from the readership.

    • ODG says:

      Dr. Q thanks for the post. It may be easier for you to see the environment and the threat with your light constantly on however, keep in mind darkness is your friend it hides you from the threat, and a light in constant on mode makes you an easy target for threats outside your light cone and causes you to be target fixated and “ride your gun”. Success in a low light no light environment is utilizing several principles and techniques in concert with one another.

  7. MarcusAurelius says:

    Interesting information. You mention that the typical pulse rate is too fast. Often, 7-10 pulses per second is casually thrown around as a disorienting pulse rate with little or no science behind it…what effective pulse rates do you recommend?

  8. James says:

    So what am I supposed to do?

    This article is all about what’s wrong and what you’re not supposed to do. So what’s the correct technique? If I’m mistaken as to the purpose of my weapon light, please educate me.

    I can’t currently justify the budget for a weapon light with a strobe function, so that’s not much of an issue, but what do you recommend as a good “pulse rate”? The low light classes I’ve taken usually stress “flash and move” techniques instead of strobing of any kind.

    As a law abiding civilian gun owner who’s not associated with any LEA or group otherwise, I don’t have department policies or approved training courses or best practices or anything like that to consult. I have to take in all the information I can find, figure out who knows what they’re talking about and who’s just talking out of their a** and then decide what would work best for me in my situation. I welcome any information that can be provided.

    Thank you.

  9. CanadianCivy says:

    Ok, but how often is red light used? From my understanding is: If you’re going back and forth from light (light on) to dark (light off) and back again, your eyes don’t have time to adjust. (Quoting Mythbusters here) It takes 20 minutes for the human eye to adjust to *total* (<- this might be what makes my point moot) darkness, but it seems to adjust to lit conditions pretty fast comparatively. So, to me, white can suck at night; NODs/NVGs have other issues besides $$$$; what are some down sides to red light that white light doesn't have?

  10. Hank says:

    Thank you for this article. I hope less manufactures will make multi stage strobing super lights just because they can. Going through low light classes, I came to a conclusion that I want a light that is one stage and bright.