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US Army Wants Smart Optics for Infantry Squads, Sources Say

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LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Army is considering buying smart optics for infantry squads, sources said.

The service is drafting a requirement for a squad fire-control system designed around a common weapon optic, a technology that would link all of the squad members' optics together, according to a source who agreed to discuss the effort on background.

The technology would allow a squad leader to put a digital tag on a target, and the rest of the squad would be able to see the tag when they looked through their optics, the source said.

A spokesman for the Army at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, didn't immediately return requests for comment. (Monday was a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.)

The Army has tested multiple types of smart scope technology in recent years, including One Shot XG developed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's research arm known as Darpa, and TrackingPoint Inc.'s so-called smart rifle.

The Austin, Texas-based company has made headlines in recent years for using a computer-powered scope to help novice shooters hit targets as far away as almost 1,000 yards, though it restructured in recent months amid reports that it stopped taking orders and laid off staff.

TrackingPoint officials were again present at this year's SHOT Show here in Las Vegas. They highlighted how Taya Kyle, widow of the Navy SEAL and sniper Chris Kyle, recently used one of the company's smart rifles to defeat NRA World Shooting Champion Bruce Piatt.

They also touted new models, such as the $15,995 M800 DMR Squad-Level Precision-Guided 7.62, known as the Squad Designated Marksman (advertised as "the nuclear bomb of small arms"), and the $12,995 Precision-Guided Semi-Auto .300 Hogout ("optimized for decimating your hog population").

John Lupher, TrackingPoint's chief technology officer, said he was confident the U.S. military would eventually adopt the precision-guided firearms. He said officials from Army Test and Evaluation Command were in the process of testing the company's new tag-on trigger-pull technology.

"There's been a tremendous amount of discussion within the Army particularly and also some in Special Operations about how this technology can be incorporated," he said. "It's primarily squad-level overmatch is what they're focused on. The question is how can you bring fire control into the squad to allow for maximized standoff distances and better lethality of range."

Lupher said the Army may release a requirement for a system as early as March, more than two years after the service began testing the company's products.

"Being allowed to shoot to maximum range unsupported allows for tactics to change," he said. "So it's much larger than just testing a weapon and saying that's better; it's also understanding how military doctrine can change with the capability and that takes a long time."

Even so, Lupher said the Army is likely to look for offers from multiple vendors and acknowledged "a lot of very capable DoD companies" that could field a potential solution.

The source who spoke to Military.com also said the Army hasn't apparently embraced TrackingPoint because the weapon systems are expensive and difficult to use in moving-target scenarios. For example, the source said, if the enemy target is moving among civilians, the tag can be inadvertently transferred to a nearby civilian, increasing the risk of collateral damage.

Lupher said the company will continue to improve the system's image processing and automatic target acquisition.

"The ideal would be to acquire targets essentially instantaneously or at least faster than human perception and then be able to engage those targets at ad hoc ranges out to the maximum effective range of the weapon," he said. "That's what we're focused on doing. We're going to continue to improve that capability and it's just going to get better from what we have right now."

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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Army Army Equipment Infantry 2016 Shot Show Brendan McGarry Matthew Cox

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