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Battle sights: the use of small arms in modern military operations is characterised by the need to observe and accurately engage targets in complex situations. Soldiers using optical sights have the advantage of being able to rapidly acquire and engage targets at longer ranges and under poor lighting conditions.

In the early 1970s the British Army decided to mount optical sights on the standard 7.62 mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifles of soldiers deployed on internal security duties in Northern Ireland. Like most assault rifles developed during the early decades of the Cold War, such as the Soviet AK-47 and the US M14, the Self-Loading Rifle was designed to deliver a high volume of fire at comparatively short ranges and was fitted with simple iron sights. It quickly became apparent in Northern Ireland that soldiers involved in an internal security operation had to be able to clearly distinguish terrorists from civilians, especially in a crowded urban environment, and then accurately engage targets without causing collateral damage. The Sight, Unit, Infantry, Trilux (Suit), which provided 4X magnification and had an eight-degree field-of-view, was fitted beginning in 1973. Its purpose was twofold--target identification and precision engagement.

Most modern assault rifles introduced since the 1970s have been designed with either integral optical sights or a 'flat-top' rail system that allows day and night sights to be fitted. In 1978 the Austrian Army fielded the Steyr 5.56 mm Aug, the first assault rifle designed with an optical sight as a standard feature. The rifle's Photonic 1.5X sight is optimised for battle conditions and has a simple black ring reticule to allow rapid engagement of man-sized targets out to ranges of 300 metres. Photonic also produces sights with 1.3X, 2X, 2.5X and 3X magnification and a selection of reticules. The British Army's SA80 assault rifle, fielded in the late 1980s, is fitted with the United Scientific Instruments 4X Sight Unit Small Arms Trilux for infantry units and iron sights for units not engaged in small arms combat. Although the SA80 achieved no significant export success, the sight itself has been sold to several countries for use on other weapons.

Canada's Elcan Optical Technologies, a subsidiary of Raytheon, developed the Specter OS 3X sight in the late 1980s to meet the requirements of the Canadian Army. The service bought nearly 65,000 3.4X sights, type-classified as the C79, for mounting on the Diemaco C7A1 5.56 mm assault rifle (an improved version of the M16A2) and the FN Herstal Minimi C9A1 5.56 mm light machine-gun. The sight measures 160 mm in length and weighs 640 grams on its mount, making it one of the larger day sights designed for use on assault rifles. The C7A1 with an Elcan sight was later bought by Denmark and the Netherlands. Elcan is now upgrading Canadian sights to the C79A2 configuration with a green cover, an improved mounting spring and new tritium inserts. The company also produces 6X and 10X versions of the Specter for special applications.

The 'global war on terrorism' has provided American forces with a blank cheque to acquire optical sights and other improvements for small arms. Using the Specter OS 3X as a base Elcan developed the 3.4X M145 Machine Gun Optic for the US Army. Under the army's Rapid Fielding Initiative, intended to expedite the fielding of equipment to troops on operations, the M145 sight is being deployed on 7.62 mm M240B and 5.56 mm M249 machine guns. Unlike the standard Specter OS ballistic compensation in the M145 is in the reticule rather than in the mount. With a different reticule the M145 can also be fitted on the M4 carbine and M16A4 rifle.

The US Army's Program Manager--Soldier Weapons is seeking a new Machine Gun Weapon Optic System to be used with the M249, M60 and M240B. The device must have a magnification of 3.5X (+/-0.5X), contain a lighted reticule with adjustable brightness and bullet drop compensation lines out to 1200 metres and incorporate an anti-reflection device and a laser filter unit. Battery life must be comparable to the current M145 sight.

Elcan has recently developed the dual-role SpecterDR which it describes as <<the most advanced rifle sight in the world>>. The sight can be used with both eyes open in 1X red dot mode in close quarter battle (CQB) situations and switched to a 4X mode with reticule in under a second to engage targets at longer ranges. It provides a 26[degrees] field-of-view at 1X mode and 6.5[degrees] in 4X mode. For emergencies the SpecterDR has an integrated back-up iron sight that is bore sighted to the scope. The sight weighs 600 grams with mount and is 154 mm in length.

The red dot sight concept was originally developed by the Swedish company Aimpoint for the civilian hunting market. For military users the narrow of field-of-view is the biggest disadvantage of employing optical sights, particularly in CQB situations. Red dot technology allows the shooter to rapidly acquire and engage targets while keeping both eyes open, thus maximising situational awareness. Simply placing the dot on the target should ensure a hit. After completing a two-year evaluation of available sights the US Army awarded its first production contract to Aimpoint in 1997 for the 1X CompM2 passive red dot sight. Aimpoint has delivered about 200,000 sights, type classified as the M68 Close Combat Optic, to the US Army and in mid-2004 received an order for a further 70,000 M68s. Soldiers equipped with the M4 carbine or the M16A4 rifle are each issued an M68 and also a laser designator that can be used in conjunction with the Aimpoint sight. The CompM2 provides no magnification and, as the Close Combat Optic designation indicates, the sight is most effective in engagements out to 300 metres. The 130-mm-long sight weighs 200 grams and is powered by one 3V lithium battery that has a life of up to 10,000 hours depending on the power setting. There are ten brightness positions for the red dot, six for use during the day, including an 'extra bright' setting, and four for use with the helmet-mounted PVS-14 monocular and other night vision devices.

Aimpoint has supplied its CompM2 sights to more than 60 military customers including many special forces units. The Swedish FMV defence procurement organisation ordered some 50,000 red dot sights in late 2002 for delivery to the Army Home Guard during 2004 and 2005. In mid-2004 the Italian Ministry of Defence placed a contract for at least 24,000 CompM2 Acies sights to be delivered between 2004 and 2006. Aimpoint claims the advanced circuit efficiency technology used in its latest CompM3 sight extends battery life to up to 50,000 hours. Unlike the CompM2 the new sight is available with a choice of two dot sizes--two or four minutes-of-angle (MOA). A replaceable 'dark earth brown' cover for better camouflage is also available.

Aimpoint has recently introduced a 3X magnifying module for use with its red dot sights. This measures 110 mm in length, weighs 200 grams and can be quickly attached or removed from Aimpoint's new Twist Mount. The sight has been used by US forces in Afghanistan.

The introduction of optical sights into US service was led by the US Special Operations Command through projects such as the Special Operations Particular Modification (Sopmod) kit for the M4A1 carbine. In 1995 the Command adopted the Trijicon 4 x 32 Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (Acog) to the Sopmod kit and the following year added Trijicon's Reflex Sight.

The Acog allows accurate engagement of targets at ranges out to 800 metres. It features the company's Bindon Aiming Concept which Trijicon describes as an "optical breakthrough" that permits a both-eyes-open shooting method. A fibre-optic system collects ambient light and helps ensure daytime brightness and controlled contrast while in low light or at night the reticule is brightly illuminated by tritium. The scope requires no batteries. Incorporated in the top of the Acaog is a back-up battle sight that has a tritium dot on the front post for low-fight situations.

Impressed by the performance of US Army units equipped with the Acog in Afghanistan the US Marine Corps conducted field tests that demonstrated a 'remarkable' improvement in accuracy when marines engaged targets out to 600 metres. The Marine Corps Systems Command bought an initial quantity of 6000 TA31F 4X Acaog for $ 7.5 million to equip units of the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In August 2004 Trijicon received a multiyear $ 660 million contract to deliver up to 800,000 TA31 sights over a five-year period. Trijicon began delivering sights in October 2005 under an initial purchase order for 104,000 sights at an approximate unit price of $ 610.

The TA31RCO is a slightly modified version of the TA31E It incorporates a ring reticule instead of the chevron-shaped reticule and a new target reference system allows a rifleman to provide an accurate reference to the location of a target to other members of his squad.

Saab Bofors Dynamics selected the Compact Acog as the integrated primary sight for the Nlaw light anti-tank weapon that it is supplying to the British Army. The 2.5 x 20 sight will be zeroed during Nlaw assembly and will not need to be again.

Trijicon's red dot Reflex sight provides no magnification as it is intended for CQB use out to ranges of about 300 metres. As with the Acog, the Reflex sight is illuminated by both fibre optics and tritium. It is available with four different reticule designs: a 6.5 minute-of-angle for quick target acquisition, a smaller 4.3 MOA dot for more precise shooting, a 1.29 MOA triangle and a 14.4 MOA chevron shape. The sight measures 10.8 cm in length and weighs 119 grams.

In 2004 EOTech of Ann Arbor, Michigan received contracts to urgently supply 1930 M552 Holographic Weapon Sights (HWS) for use by US Marine Corps units deploying to Iraq and about 6000 to the US Army. EOTech was the first company to employ technology adapted from the pilot's heads up display in fighter aircraft to produce a holographic sight for small arms. The HWS was designed to be used with both eyes open. A laser diode projects the hologram image of a sighting reticule onto a hardened, three layer laminated glass window. The reticule features a 65 MOA outer circle for quickly engaging targets in CQB situations and a one minute-of-angle centre dot for engaging targets at longer ranges. If the window is partially obstructed by mud, snow or even shattered it remains fully functional as long as the shooter can see through any portion of the window. The HWS is shockproof, waterproof to ten metres and night vision compatible. A microprocessor encapsulated in shock-absorbing resin compound provides automatic battery check, up/down brightness scrolling and programmable automatic shutdown features. The Model 550, powered by two N size batteries that provide up to 200 hours of use is 102 mm long and weighs 181 grams. Developed at the request of the US Marine Corps, the 131-mm-long Model 550AA is powered by two AA batteries that allow about 1100 hours of use. For use by special forces units operating in a maritime environment, such as US Navy Seal teams, an upgraded Model 550AA is available that can be immersed in 20 metres of water for up to two hours. The HWS has 30 intensity settings including ten for use with night vision equipment. EOTech has recently introduced a variant of the Model 510 HWS specifically designed for FN Herstal's FN303 Less Lethal Launcher. Canadian troops have evaluated the HWS fitted to the C7A1 in Afghanistan as an alternative to the Elcan sight in CQB situations.

EOTech received a $16.6 million contract from the USsocom in 2004 to supply 66,666 Enhanced Combat Optical Sight--CQB units by 2009. This modified HWS will replace Trijicon's Reflex sight in use with M4 carbines and will also be employed with the new FN Herstal 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm modular Scar (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) family.

The sights are being bought as part of the Sopmod Block II (also referred to as Increment II) project, which is intended to replace Block I items with new items that 'reflect the latest innovations in optical sighting technology'. To provide an Enhanced Combat Optical Sight--Carbine to replace the Acog the command is evaluating two designs--a new sight from Trijicon that combines the capabilities of the Acog with its Reflex sight, and Elcan's Specter DR sight. Funding has been allocated to allow the USsocom to order up to 66,666 units of the chosen sight. The winning design will attract interest from the conventional services and export customers.

The first batch of Israel Weapons Industries Tavor 5.56 mm assault rifles ordered by the Israel Defence Force is equipped with the Multipurpose Aiming Reflex Sight (Mars) developed by the Israeli company ITL Optronics in parallel with the development of the Tavor. The Mars integrates a 1X holographic optical sight and a visible or infrared diode laser pointer in a single unit powered by a single AA battery that provides 200 hours of continuous operation of the reflex sight and 10,000 five-second illuminations of the laser. The aluminium sight weighs 310 grams and measures 132 mm in length. Tavors ordered by the Indian Army will also be fitted with the Mars. According to ITL it has supplied thousands of Mars units to the US Army with orders in fiscal year 2005 exceeding $ one million and the sight is in military service in other Nato countries, Asia and South America.

The Tavor will also be used with the Mepro 21 1X red dot reflex sight developed for IDF use by Meprolight. The ruggedised sight measures 111 mm in length and weighs 199 grams. The aiming point is illuminated by a fibre optic collector system during the day and by a self-powered tritium light source at night. Meprolight also produces the RS-22P 1X red dot reflex sight that uses the same system of dual illumination. The RS-22P, which measures 122 mm and weighs 250 grams, is fitted with a back-up emergency sight that is automatically zeroed at the same time as the optical sight. Both Meprolight sights can be fitted to a wide variety of weapons.

Aim Around Corners

Soldiers in urban operations who need to look around corners, over walls and through windows experience a high number of wounds to the head and upper torso. In late 2004 Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) developed the Off-Axis Viewing Device (OAVD) to reduce the vulnerability of Australian troops in urban operations in Iraq. Developed collaboratively by the DSTO and BAE Systems Australia the first 130 units were fielded with troops in Iraq in March 2005 only four months after the project began. Since September 2005 the device has been used by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The OAVD weighs about 500 grams and measures 150 mm and can be clipped to the standard optical sights on the F88 Steyr 5.56 mm assault rifle, the F89 Minimi 5.56 mm light machine gun and the M4 carbine. Two oval-shaped mirrors within the sealed OAVD reflect the image from the weapon's optical sight to the soldier who is able to search for and engage targets while keeping his head and upper torso behind cover. When not needed the OAVD is rotated away from the weapon's standard sight. The DSTO has concluded a licence agreement with Aimpoint to manufacture the OAVD and the army intends to make the OAVD a standard accessory for its small arms.

Macroswiss, for its part, introduced its Guncam at the 2005 DSEi defence exhibition. This consists of a gun or pistol-mounted laser pointer and a Cmos camera, the latter being connected via cable to a pair of special display glasses or to a wrist monitor. The laser pointer thus enables the gunner to expose just the gun around or above a wall and keep himself out of harm's way.
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Title Annotation:Infantry Weapons
Author:Kemp, Ian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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