Facilitating night operations and long-range target engagement
Requirements to advance the capabilities of Special Operations Forces (SOF) Assault Rifles (AR) and sniper rifles alike demand the integration of 360° Picatinny Rail Adaptor Systems, allowing for the rapid integration of optical gunsights, scopes and designators in line with the modern SOF ‘golf bag’ approach to cover the expanse of special operations. Options range from holographic weapon sights, such as L-3’s EOTech (the company has paid the US DoD compensation of $25.6 million following accuracy issues associated with ‘thermal drift’) and Aimpoint’s MICRO-T2 for CQB missions, through to Trijicon’s Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG), and Aimpoint’s COMPM4S magnification options.
As Colt’s Director for International Sales, Matthew D. Fehmel (a former USMC Lt.Col.) explained to MONS: “We have seen the demands for technical specifications on ARs go full circle. A few years ago the primary demand was for maximum rail space required to attach the myriad of new and emerging technologies that provided tactical advantages in aiming, sighting and speed of target acquisition[….] The problem that resulted was a six-pound rifle with six pounds of accessories mounted on it. This has forced the demand back to weight reduction and improvements to the weapon platform that assist in improved accuracy. Capabilities in demand now are: Less rail space strategically placed, ideally modular in nature; extended rail space achieved through a low profile gas block, allowing for rail space beyond the front sight; fully ambidextrous lower receivers and, finally, full floating barrels, ideally through monolithic upper receivers.”
At AUSA 2016, Raytheon subsidiary Elcan Optical Technologies unveiled its latest optical gunsight solution in the SPECTER family of systems, designated the Digital Fire Control System (DFCS). According to the company’s Rifle Sight Product Manager, Dan Pettry, the DFCS represents the proliferation of fire control system technology down to the lowest tactical level. “Systems are wanted that will aid the shooter in achieving a first round hit in unknown distances in different conditions, while also improving situational awareness. This technology is not that hard to do but packaging it in a small, light and robust package – that is where the real challenge is,” he explained at a media briefing in September 2016.
The DFCS comprises a laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator and ‘disturbed reticle’, operating from a single CR123 button battery with up to 13 hours in continuous operation, it was explained. Disturbed Reticle technology comprises a two-spot weapon sight, the first point of aim (PoA) of which features a laser designation for initial tracking of a target to provide range and bearing, while the second PoA designates Point of Impact (PoI), allowing for the most accurate delivery of ammunition on target.
Measuring 24cm in length, the DFCS weighs just 1.3kg in comparison to lighter legacy day sights. Pettry described how the, “game-changing,” system, which also features a X1.8 continuous zoom capability, provides operators with a digital micro display to provide accurate range to a target; and a ballistic calculator capable of automatically adjusting reticles, allowing a shooter to aim off within seconds.
However, SOF sources explained to MONS their concerns regarding over-reliance on high-technology weapon sights such as the DFCS for fast-moving scenarios when deploying ARs. “This type of tech is fine for sniper systems but there needs to be some kind of redundancy back to a basic optical gunsight within this technology should FCS elements become unserviceable during a mission,” one such source explained.
Elcan Optical Technologies is currently planning two further generations of the DFCS following this initial variant, with follow-on developments for Generation 2 and 3 systems including ruggedisation for environmental extremes, integration of meteorological data, including temperature and pressure readings and of anemometer technology to record wind speeds.
Elsewhere in the market, there is a continuing focus on networking optical gunsights to helmet-mounted sensors, including I2 and IR technologies. Options include a current effort by Harris to downsize its Tactical Mobility Night Vision Goggle (TM-NVG) FUSION solution into a scope for ARs. According to company officials, this optical gunsight has already proven its capability to provide a fused I2/IR sight picture to operators, although ranges for initial concept demonstrators remain limited to just 200 metres.
Currently being evaluated by an undisclosed European SOF customer, the TM-NVG FUSION weapon sight has been designed to provide increased situational awareness to operators in day and low light conditions, providing optical overlay fusion, colour imagery display and camera capture export capabilities which can be disseminated to other assault team members and tactical operations centres if required.
The optical gunsight provides operators with a 40° field of view which can be upgraded, depending on customer preference, to include GPS, mapping, text message and targeting information from other C4ISTAR sources, networked through software defined radios.
Elsewhere in the fusion scope market, Thermoteknix has unveiled its latest product to the SOF market, featuring its ClipIR Small Thermal Imager technology. Designed to be integrated on legacy weapon sights including I2 options such as PVS-7, -14 and -15 models, MUM-14, and PBS-14 and -18 systems, the capability, according to company sources, now represents the new ‘normal’ for low light missions, with the provision of, “significant tactical advantages by combining the unparalleled detection capabilities of thermal imaging with the superior identification capabilities of image intensification.”
The sight add-on weighs just 150g, measures 11.5cm in length and provides operators with a 40° FoV, powered by a MicroCam 3 TI core sensor, meaning operators are able to identify targets of interest through smoke, fog, cloud and other obscurants. The technology forms part of Thermoteknix’s FuseIR Fused Night Vision Technology Demonstrator concept.
At AUSA 2016, Qioptiq, an Excelitas Technologies company, showcases its KESTREL I2 Rugged Night Vision Binocular, which is currently gaining large interest from specialised users. The KESTREL binocular configuration enables enhanced depth perception and is particularly suitable for vehicle driving, parachute jumps and Special Forces operations, even at very low light levels. KESTREL provides state of the art and rugged mechanical design offering stability of the goggle bodies for improved comfort during long periods of use. KESTREL offers great optical performance in a similar size and weight to other binoculars.
In other news, the company has secured a significant multi-million pound ontract for the supply of KITE In-Line Weapon Sights and maintenance items to the Commonwealth of Australia DoND in support of the Australia Defence Forces (ADF) LAND125 3C project. The KITE In-Line compact night sighting system is mounted on a weapon in front of a magnified day sight. KITE In-Line uses I2 technology to amplify the small amount of light energy available at night time, to present the soldier with a clear bright image of the night scene. It is possible to see a person at distances beyond 1,000m in night time conditions were the naked eye would struggle to see very short distances. This capability allows the soldier the ability to observe and engage any threats, providing the soldier with additional protection against an enemy using a lesser performing night sighting system.
In the maritime special operations domain, Meprolight announced in October 2016 that it had certified its MEPRO M5 Red Dot Sight (RDS) for operations at depths down to 66ft, following requirements emanating from USSOCOM. Units including the Naval Special Warfare Command demanded the holographic weapon sight be tested and certified at depths down to two atmospheres in order to satisfy emerging operational requirements during combat dive missions in which operators can ingress to targets and areas of interest from such depths.
The RDS is already ruggedised to MIL-STD specifications and comprises an AA-battery powered solution allowing for the rapid acquisition of targets with both eyes open for maximised situational awareness during CQB, MOUT and (maritime) CT missions in particular.
Speaking to MONS, Meprolight’s Vice President for Sales and Marketing, Benny Kokia, explained how the RDS includes switchable reticle brightness intensities, suitable for a wide variety of tactical scenarios. “To facilitate night operations and long-range target engagement, the RDS is compatible with GEN II and GEN III NVGs as well as with magnifying scopes. Its human-engineering allows positioning of NVGs and magnifiers close to the sight’s optics with no decrease in the field-of-view and without compromising convenient switch operation [….] We have invested a lot of R&D resources on an ongoing process of updating our systems so that they meet the most current requirements of our customers, including quick target acquisition, short trigger time, increase of first hit probability and reduced costs,” he explained to MONS.
“<I>We have foreseen these requirements as part of a learning process from combat experience of the IDF as well as NATO Forces<P>,” he added, while explaining how integrated laser rangefinder and magnification sights, “significantly,” reduce the target acquisition process and what he termed, “trigger time.”
Defence sources confirmed to MT how IDF SOF units continue to rely on RDS technology from Meprolight and other companies, particularly in support of CQB, MOUT and CT operations including specialist Hostage Rescue Operations (HRO).
“A recent experiment conducted with the US Army has shown that this integration cuts both requirements by 50% when compared to using separated optics and LRF systems. We have realised there is a growing need for optics that will be able to withstand high levels of shock and vibration and as a result developed a shock absorber that enables the use of our optics systems on robust weapons while maintaining high levels of lethality and precision,” Kokia concluded.
Evolution in scope technology looks set to drive the SOF small arms market in the near term, especially with the advance of augmented reality and fusion of I2 and IR into single sensors. However, in order to continue ‘owning the night’, SOF require high levels of training to better understand how to use such technology as the burden of C4ISTAR systems continues to rise.