May 07, 2020
By SGM Kyle Lamb [Ret.]
I sat back and stared as the tactical wizardry on TV was at its finest. It was a commercial for a light called the “Gladius.” This behemoth was really the first of its kind featuring a slightly protected tail cap that could be twisted from normal operation to strobe mode. The surprising thing about the commercial was the message: “If you use this strobing light against an aggressor, they will become disoriented and unable to continue their attack!” Wow. As a U.S. Army commando at the time, I had to try one. How easy would it be? I could fly across the world, kick in a terrorist’s door, set my light to the “makes bad guys quit” setting, and quickly get back to kissing ladies and babies.
A couple of weeks later I had my hands on this magic light. With all of the lights off inside our Special Forces team room, the fight was on. I grabbed another soldier and attempted to control his movements. When he resisted, I pushed the light’s activation switch and strobed his eyes from his bad-breath distance. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was unaffected.
After he twisted me into a pretzel, I felt it was my turn to be neutered by the light. My lab rat hadn’t acted like he should have, so I had to see how it worked and become the attacker. As before, the light did nothing but make me fight harder. With the strobe giving me the feeling that I was fighting in a 1980’s dance club, it was actually kinda fun. The Gladius was fine as a light, but its strobe wasn’t magical.
Let us fast forward to modern day, 2020. Why in the world would someone still want to use a strobe in a tactical situation? What advantages are gained or lost with the use of this feature? It appears on a product offered by almost every brand of light maker. I am a fan of an exceptionally bright light. But some in the fight-at-night business believe that you can have a light that is too bright. I disagree with that statement. I think a more applicable way of explaining what is needed is a bright light with a focused beam. This keeps the light on your target and doesn’t cause the user to be blinded by the excessive flood that can bounce off of cover and concealment.
Probably the best example of a focused-beam tactical light is SureFire’s Scout light (surefire.com). New Scout lights offer 500 lumens from a single-battery-powered LED, while two-battery models produce 1,000 lumens of output. Both types of lights can be had with a remote momentary/constant-on switch assembly and RM45 offset mount for $479. Either way, Scout lights are very bright and have very focused beams. But what about a strobe?
If you want to disorient your opponent, the strobe may or may not have the desired effect. As I said, the commercial I saw suggested that the actor was unable to congregate verbs once the Gladius’ strobe was in his eyes. In the real world, I have never found a man, women or child impressed or confused by a strobing light. If I sound negative, you are absolutely correct. This was a major brand hyping its product to sell you a new tool that you couldn’t get with any other constant-on light. The ad was untrue. Bad guys didn’t pee their pants. So, if strobes don’t cause immediate debilitation of an intruder, suspect or terrorist, why do many of us still carry lights with a strobe feature?
Many manufacturers still offer products with strobes as a feature. The fact of the matter is that strobes do help in a tactical environment when you need to cover movement, evacuate your family down a hall, or disorient the aggressor to your actual distance and movements.
When the strobe is activated, your eyes struggle to adjust to the changing light. Some are bright, then not. Your eyes can adjust quickly, but not as fast as a strobing flashlight. The effect allows the user to move forward or back with little-to-no awareness of the aggressor. Of course, if you start at 50 yards and move to 5 yards, they’ll know, but if you are at 50 yards and move to 40 yards, the bad guy will likely not be able to assess your movement reliably, especially if the strobe is extremely bright.
Another benefit of using strobing lights is that they can cover lateral movement. If the individual with the light moves left or right, it will be immediately identifiable. If the person with the light starts strobing downrange, your teammates will be able to move across or retrograde down a hallway without any indication to the person with the light strobing in their face.
The brighter the lights, the better. A good plan of action to move successfully is to have at least two teammates with strobes. One activates the strobe while the rest of the team moves where they need to. Once they are in place, the second individual who has already changed positions starts to strobe down range. The first strobing officer, soldier or gun-toting civilian can now turn off their strobe and scamper to catch up with the team. It’s important to mention that if you run in front of the man with the strobe you will light up like Sasquatch at Burning Man, so be careful where you plan to move, and don’t step in front of other team members’ muzzle.
If you don’t operate in a team environment or a family fire team, you can still be effective with a strobe during your movement. However, your choices are limited. Activate the strobe and move slightly to the rear or slightly forward. If you need to move across a hallway, set your light on the ground with the strobe in the right direction so you can get you and your family across and out of harm’s way as fast as possible.
The strobe is a tool and can be an effective tool. Just be aware that it will not degrade someone’s ability to fight, but also remember that it may confuse them long enough to allow you to move to a position of advantage or safety. Strobes are nice to have, especially if you are trying to move you or your family to safety. They are also good for when you are doing The Robot at a company dance party, but I digress.
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