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Companies Line Up to Vie for New Marine Corps Infantry Optic

  • Leupold employee demos the company’s Mark 6 1-6X variable powered scope. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
    Leupold employee demos the company’s Mark 6 1-6X variable powered scope. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
  • The Vortex Razor HD Gen II rifle scope. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
    The Vortex Razor HD Gen II rifle scope. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
  • Jeff Moshier of Trijicon demonstrates the features of the VCOG optic. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
    Jeff Moshier of Trijicon demonstrates the features of the VCOG optic. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)

LAS VEGAS -- The Marine Corps wants to turn every grunt in the squad into a de facto designated marksman, and the service is getting ready to give them new gear to make that happen. Among the items sought: a new infantry rifle optic with variable power settings, allowing grunts to engage targets at close range and at distances of up to 600 meters.

According to a request for information published in late August, the Marine Corps is seeking what it calls the Squad Common Optic, usable with the M4 carbine, M4A1, and M27 infantry automatic rifle.

Among a list of detailed requirements for the optic are an illuminated central aiming point visible in daylight conditions, a minimum field of view of 18 degrees at minimum magnification, and no point of aim shift when adjusting through the magnification range.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the division gunner for 2nd Marine Division and one of the Marine Corps' preeminent weapons experts, told Military.com recently that equipping infantrymen with such technology, and training to know how to use the capabilities it provides, would allow them to take full advantage of their weapon and build additional versatility into their role.

"I've got a rifleman with an M27. He's got a suppressor and he's got a variable power optic," Wade said. "He can do the full range of things that rifle's capable of doing."

Though the service is in the early stages of outlining its requirement, a number of companies are standing ready to prove they have what the service needs to make infantrymen even more capable.

Among them is Trijicon, the maker of the Marines' current 4X fixed-power scope, the advanced common optical gunsight, or ACOG. Jeff Mosher, Trijicon's director of domestic business development, told Military.com at SHOT Show earlier this month that the company's VCOG, or variable common optical gunsight, with 1-6X power, could fit the bill for the Marine Corps. He also indicated the company could modify the design to meet the service's needs if required.

"They haven't come out with the exact requirements yet, but what we try to do is engage the Marines as best we can, and say, 'is this what you're looking for?'" Mosher, a retired Marine Corps officer, said. "We'll be ready to do what they want to do. We take our service to the Marine Corps very seriously."

The VCOG, in its current form, has been commercially available since 2013. A first focal plane optic, it has an optional quick release mount and a large dial fin, designed to be adjusted easily with a gloved hand. It also comes with a variety of illumination settings with intermittent illumination "off" between each setting to allow the user to dial back and forth easily.

"It's made in the same rugged capacity as the ACOG was," Mosher said. "So this is the variable choice for the warfighter."

Leupold & Stevens, Inc., has its own idea of what the warfighter needs. Like a number of companies, Leupold is paying attention not only to the Marine Corps' interest in a variable power optic, but also to very similar requests from U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Army. SOCOM, which is calling the device it wants the squad-variable powered scope, released a solicitation in November for a contract worth up to $33 million.

Sam Horstman, in government sales for Leupold, said the companies Mark 6 1-6X variable powered scope had been previously purchased in smaller quantities by the Army for its Soldier Enhancement Program. But he also noted the company wasn't ready to speak publicly about everything being submitted in response to the solicitations, indicating there may be newer offerings or configurations.

The current Mark 6 variable scope has a 1X power capability very similar to the current close combat optic in use by the military, Horstman said. At 17 ounces, it's lighter than some competitors, and features ultra-bright illumination and low-profile dials.

"What we've found and what we've heard from end users is they want a really bright, daylight visible dot at 1X power, an intuitive reticle, and something you can equip soldiers with and it doesn't have an additional training burden," Horstman said. "They have so many training requirements already, and we want to give them something they can pick up with minimal training."

At Vortex Optics, executives hope the Marine Corps and SOCOM will look beyond what has typically been considered for tactical rifle scopes. The Vortex Razor HD Gen II is a 1-6X power variable optic, like the other two contenders, but is a second focal plane scope, while the other two are first focal plane.

With first focal plane scopes, the reticle starts tiny and increases in size as the magnification increases. With second focal plane scopes, typically used for hunting, the reticle remains the same size regardless of magnification, meaning shooters have to do a little additional work to calculate distance and minute of angle.

But Scott Parks, in military and law enforcement business development for Vortex, said the data speaks for itself: the Razor HD Gen II ranked first, he said, in all but one category in a blind SOCOM evaluation that was part of the command's ongoing acquisition process for a new optic.

"On 1X power it's able to be used as quickly, per SOCOM studies in an assaulter role, equally or faster than a traditional red dot [optic]," Parks said. "We put the red dot in the scope, and when you look through the scope there's basically, it's almost like a heads-up display. The scope disappears."

The optic offers users a wide field of view, Parks said, and the illuminated dot feature was more visible with a second focal plane optic. He noted as well that, in tactical situations, precise calculations were not always a battlefield reality.

"It's a man-sized target, it's big, he looks about that, I'm holding here," Parks said. "I don't have time to go, 'where's my 300-yard hashmark.'"

It's not clear when the Marine Corps will move forward with the acquisition process for a squad common optic. SOCOM is expected to announce a contract award for its variable-power optic at SHOT Show next year.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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