Combat Optics Evolve with the Fight

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From the rolling heights of Bunker Hill, to the wispy sands of Desert Storm, the American military marksman has been relying on training, guts and iron to put his bullet on target.

But in the combat zones of today, simple marksmanship using "iron sites" built into the rifle has all but vanished, replaced with video-game-like red dot scopes illuminating bad guys at ranges only the sharpest of shooters could hit in the past.

The war in Iraq introduced an explosion in the use of so-called "combat optics" with both the Army and Marine Corps introducing small scopes mounted on M-16s and M-4s as standard issue to all troops.

Marksmanship experts both inside and outside the services say the new sights are reliable, easy to use and make even the worst shooter far more accurate than traditional iron sights do.

The Marine Corps has issued the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight from Wixom, Mich.-based Trijicon, to its riflemen, giving grunts a four-times magnified view of a target illuminated by a red "carrot" that the manufacturer says can range up to 800 yards.

The Army issued a similar sight to some of its units in combat, but plans to field a new optic from Chantilly, Va.-based Aimpoint that doesn't have the magnification of the Trijicon ACOG, a company official said.

"In an urban combat situation like we're seeing these days, the magnification gets in the way," Aimpoint pro staff member Brian Garrett told Military.com at the 2009 SHOT Show in Orlando.

But with the proliferation of combat optics on the battlefield and huge government contracts in the works, manufacturers aren't sitting on their hands.

Aimpoint's marketing and business development chief, Brian Lisankie, said his company has miniaturized the current Army optic, reducing the length of the newly-issued "COMPM4" sight from nearly five inches to little more than two inches long.

They've also increased battery life of the COMPM4 to 70,000 hours of continuous use, recognizing that Joes sometimes forget to turn the LED powered reticule off when not in use. The smaller, Micro T-1 boasts a 50,000 life span on one battery.

"It doesn't do a Soldier any good to sight in on a target and not have the thing working," Garrett said. "This one is 'turn it on and leave it on.' "

Lisankie said Aimpoint is experimenting with a new sight that combines a laser range finder within the optic. All a shooter would need to do is press a button, range the target and a box would appear that showed where to aim.

"It's already demonstrated unusually high hit probability," Lisankie said, adding the new sight, dubbed the BR-8, would be particularly useful for M203 grenadiers who often have to lob their round onto a target.

And Aimpoint isn't alone in their combat optic innovation.

One of the most popular optics among the special operations forces is the EOTech SU-231 holographic sight. Diverging from Aimpoint's use of LED lights to illuminate the reticule, EOTech instead employs an eye-safe laser diode to light the dot.eotech.jpg

Some operators prefer the EOTech sight because it has a wide, square housing rather than a tubular one, making it easier to pick up a target for a quick shot, said EOTech director of product management, John Bailey.

But the EOTech sights come with a disadvantage, he admitted. The laser diode that lights the optic's internal reticule sucks power, limiting battery life of the SU-231, for example, to 1,100 hours.

The advantage, Bailey said, is that the laser diode is more durable and allows for the reticule to display more information.

And that's where EOTech's innovation comes in. Bailey said his company is looking toward using the combat optic as a mini head's up display, working to incorporate more digital information than just a sight picture.

"We want it to evolve with the digital battlefield," he said.

Instead of Land Warriors using a helmet-mounted digital display for their GPS information or other battlefield coordination data, why not use the EOTech sight?

Bailey said that while Trijicon has the majority of the Marine Corps market locked up, his sight has found favor with the Marine Corps spec ops community and his company is set to ship a limited buy of 5,000 optics to Marine infantry units.

-- Christian

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