Painting the Target

image001-1000IR Laser from aircraft on landing zone in Afghanistan

(This is a quick dispatch on the fly.  No time for editing, so please take it as is.)

02 November 2012

The Benghazi attack leaves many open questions.  It has been established that high-level failures occurred.  The fact that our Ambassador is dead is evidence, and there is much more.

A subject that continues to garner attention is that one of the former SEALs was “painting” or lasing a target.  Some people have opined that he would not have painted the mortar position unless there was an armed aircraft overhead.  As much as I do not want Obama in the White House, we should still stick with facts and not supposition.  The facts are bad enough.

It is untrue that people paint only when there are armed aircraft overhead.  In fact, I have seen soldiers paint from the ground or from the air on many occasions, simply to covertly identify an object using an IR laser pointer. Troops often use lasers on their rifles, or the excellent Air Force JTACs will sparkle something with no intention of putting a bomb on it.

The two green images in this dispatch were taken the same night.  We were waiting on some helicopters to come pick us up, and I was wearing a PVS-14 night vision monocular. I had the same device on my camera. Suddenly, an aircraft that we did not even know was there started painting our LZ (landing zone).  Importantly, using night mode, the camera would have detected the laser even without the PVS-14.

Presumably the pilot was painting so that the helicopters could find us.  Not that the helicopters needed it, but for whatever reason, the pilot began sparkling.  Normally I only see aircraft sparkle when they are relaying information like, “There are about ten men in the tree line to your northwest.  Watch my laser.”  Or they are about to drop a bomb, or they are spotting for a missile shot.

It is possible that any painting that occurred in Benghazi was to identify the mortar position to other ground forces, or maybe for someone overhead.  But again, the idea that there had to be an AC-130 gunship on station (or whatever) before someone would paint, is false.

image002-1000Aircraft painting helicopter LZ in Kandahar Province, 2011. Anybody with a normal video camera could see this from great distance.

The SEAL might have been painting for the Predator, or for the benefit of other guys up on a high floor, or maybe to help others maneuver into a position to kill the mortar crew.  I have zero idea.  Painting a target can also help snipers.  The SEAL could have been painting for someone else who was using a machinegun, a grenade launcher, or some other weapons system.

What can be said is that to crank up an IR laser in a relatively advanced country like Libya risks identifying the lasing source even more than the target.  The Libyans may use normal camera gear, or have cheap night vision gear that can be bought all over the world.  They might just use smart phone cameras.

The enemy is known to do this in Pakistan.  They watch for our lasers to know when missiles or bombs might be on the way.  They use normal cameras to detect people who are emplacing IR beacons for air strikes.  Nothing that I am saying is classified.  I learned these things from paying attention to our enemies.

If US Soldiers do not also know these things, it is a training failure.  The enemy surely knows it.  Al Qaeda figured out how to drop the towers in New York.  They long ago figured out IR sources.  They are savages, but they are smart, and IR lasers and strobes are simple.


IMG 9467-1000pxAir Force IR laser during mission in 2010, Kandahar Province. Modified Canon Mark II 5d camera, but no night vision.

If I were an enemy commander, I would put personnel in key positions in advance with night vision or video cameras specifically to watch for IR sources, with instructions to call me if they see any.  Since I would be attacking Americans who use IR, I would make sure to get this gear and practice with it.

If a laser is coming from the sky, it is time to scatter, or time to get very close to the Americans.  If the IR source is coming from a building, I would prepare forces on the ground with cameras or night vision devices pre-designated to attack all IR sources that they can identify.

The investment required to see our lasers is at most a couple of hundred dollars for a used camera. The moment that the laser operator begins to sparkle the target, his position is burned.

People will be painting tonight in Afghanistan.  It is common practice.  Afghans have been caught with normal video cameras that feature a night mode strapped to their weapons.


IMG-2804-1000pxStreaks in the background are blacked helicopters. Canon Mark II 5d camera is modified to see IR, but no night vision.

We had a helicopter shot down this year in Afghanistan during a pitch-black night while conducting a MEDEVAC.  A suicide bomb detonated and the helicopter launched to rescue casualties.  It is possible that the suicide attack was actually a helicopter ambush.  One pilot told me it was the darkest night that he had ever seen.  The chances are very low of hitting a blacked-out helicopter on a pitch-black night using an RPG.  It is possible that the RPG gunner aimed at the IR strobes using a camera, or he may have used an actual surface-to-air missile.  Anyway that you look at it, it was a lucky shot, but it takes a lot less luck if you can see the IR strobes, and if you are in a position where you know that the helicopter will be low and slow.

Recently in Norway, Norwegian Soldiers told me that in Afghanistan they were ambushed one night by accurate machinegun fire.  When they switched off their IR strobes, the enemy firing stopped.  When they switched their strobes back on, the firing resumed.  They switched them off, and the firing stopped.

We still own the night, but not for long.  It is contested.


+12 # RE: Painting the TargetTravis 2012-11-02 13:56
This is a good example of why we cannot cut spending on our military; technology is always advancing and evolving. We must stay ahead of it, especially when it comes down to the safety of our troops!
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-8 # RE: RE: Painting the TargetwoodNfish 2012-11-02 14:08
Not true. We have not had a good reason to be in Afghanistan for at least 7 years. We should have left a long time ago.It is much cheaper to mind your own business.
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+7 # RE: RE: RE: Painting the TargetTravis 2012-11-02 14:12
Did I specify "Afghanistan"? This is an “in general” comment, not a specific theatre of war! We will be at war somewhere again even when this endless-war is over!
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+4 # RE: RE: RE: Painting the TargetFrank 2012-11-02 17:20
Folks we are not actually fighting anymore just training and over seeing the Afgan troops. Our soldiers prefer to fight but "The Rules" have changed. I prefer we bring them home since they are not actually performing a Win the War mission any more. Since our country is going down the proverbial S******.

We need money back in our economy and not in some ass backwards country Who by the way hate us. Karzei is a criminal and only cares about the US Money.
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+2 # RE: Painting the TargetPat 2012-11-02 14:16
In order to pick up an IR signature, would it have to be a digital video camera or would and older camera using magnetic tape also work? Of course I suppose that its actually the screen or viewing lens where the IR signature is seen. I don't know if the signature would actually be recorded.
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+2 # RE: Painting the Targetts alfabet 2012-11-02 14:55
But Michael, the report from Fox News was not only did Woods "paint" the Islamist mortar position, but he also "requested" the Spectre to fire on the target he was lasing. Though the report does not specifically say that there was a Spectre on station, it is clearly implied by Woods' request. Also, difficult to believe that Gen. Ham would have sent drones to the area but neglected to also order some type of CAS unit as well (though it may have taken longer). Clearly we need to hear from General Ham directly.
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+5 # Erikerik 2012-11-02 15:21

As a Seal with experience in Afghanistan, wouldn't he have known that lasing the mortar position would give up his position? If so, why would he do it if not expecting somebody to light it up? So much is not known about this firefight.
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+2 # RE: ErikTravis 2012-11-02 15:51
Thank you for your service!
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+3 # ErikLarry 2012-11-02 16:54
Thank you for your service and dedication Erik. Perhaps Ty was not in direct communication with anyone while he was taking fire and had just assumed there would be something flying overhead, sooner than later that could take out the mortar position. I'm sure he knew the dangers as well as told by Michael by painting the target. I believe I read that he said, "where's the effing Spectre" but nobody came.
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+4 # RE: Painting the TargetEric Spesl 2012-11-02 18:24
In modern warfare, everything is possible, every day something new shows up... And scariest thing is that our enemys advancing too...

Keep up!
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+1 # RE: Painting the TargetAy Uaxe 2012-11-02 20:08
The important take-away (as a citizen supporter of our military, but regrettably one without military experience) from just the facts of the Benghazi attack is that two ex-SEAL "contractors" and a very few other guys were enough to make a big difference in the battle and Woods was able to lase the mortar so that a missile, specter, A-10, a ground unit, whatever could get there could take it out. If he could lase the mortar, he and others could also probably have directed fire to minimize collateral casualties immediately around the compound, had something with a mini-gun flown over. In other words, all Obama's and Panetta's pathetic excuses are complete lies, objectively disproven by the basic, unembellished, facts, without any speculation. The other fact is that higher command just didn't see fit to make that little (in the scheme of things) extra effort to win this battle in the ongoing war with Al Qaeda. Those Americans and any allies they had were deemed expendable (or worth more dead?). As a result, we have lost invaluable human resources, respect on the ground in Libya and throughout the world. What must Libyans think about whether the U.S./NATO will support them when they fight against AQ, when our "leaders" utterly failed to support our own people? I don't know if a new administration will be any better, but I hope, pray, and vote that they can't be any worse.
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+1 # Uttin on da ITZ!!!Rudy 2012-11-02 20:10
Body Count: 1 Amb; 2 SEALs; 1CIA Comms Tech; 1CIA Dir; 1 SECDEF (as if); 1 SS Agent (inadvertent collateral); 1 SEC State (again, as if); 1 AFRICOM CO; 1 Carrier Task Group CO; 21 DEM Senate fails; 33 DEM House fails; 1 POtuS and posse.
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+1 # RE: Painting the TargetArlene 2012-11-03 21:10
Fair enough, Michael but, I highly doubt these SEALS didn't already know this. No matter the reasoning, the CIA (according to Catherine Herridge) said, Tyrone and Glen died at 5:30AM. The worst part of all this is the Counterterroris m Security Group was not convened or consulted. They are supposed to be consulted immediately so they can coordinate against any terrorist attack. I'm so mad about all this, my thoughts would put a drunken sailor to shame.
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+1 # RE: Painting the TargetNani 2012-11-03 21:33
My guess is Woods received confirmation to laser his target, expecting an immediate response. They were underarmed, unable to fight off 30 men. Woods believed help was in the immediate area.
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+1 # RE: Painting the Targetwallyj 2012-11-05 22:06
" or for the benefit of other guys up on a high floor, or maybe to help others maneuver into a position to kill the mortar crew."

Did he not know that there was no other guys around?
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# I don't knowMark Brown 2012-11-07 23:08
These are very impressive photos. Surprised this material is not classified. When I was in Night Vision was in its infancy. Night Vision equipment was huge in comparison to the much small stuff that is made today. As I watch military information sites and learn about some of the advances that have been made in weaponry, training, technology, communications. I was a commo guy working the VHF sites that sit on hill tops, without anything to protect the site. We were all cross trained 11B and I am very glad of that. We usually had a squad of infantry to guard our perimeter. These photos, as you said - raw images - just amaze me at what we can do. I watch helicopter gunship vidoes and am totally amazed by what a chopper can do in today's army. Thank you Mike for being our eyes and ears on the ground, especially with some of the difficulties you have had in pursuit of your passion. It is obvious you were (are - you never loose it) special forces.
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# sparkling the enemyKathyS 2012-11-08 01:34
Finally, I found an article by a journalist credible to me about this issue! Simply fooling and dispatching household roaches and rodents is difficult enough, but as 3rd world as these people might be, they are human with human brains (many of them probably attended some of the same sci/engineering classes I took while in school). I started making IR lasers for fun decades ago and I always found ways of detecting the beam - especially when near-IR focal plane arrays became consumer goods! (I happened to work for a time with HACs laser/thermal imaging lab and spent an adult life in the defense industry as a scientist/engin eer). People will find out ways to detect or defeat technologies after a time - like you said, especially in a city where components and knowledgeable superiors are). Great article and warning.

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# mrreed 2014-12-26 17:03
what man came up with this ,and what year,smart man or woman
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