One byproduct of the last 13 years of war, has been a significant increase in the accuracy of the U.S. military’s small arms. Primarily, that has been due to improved sighting systems. Iron sights still have their uses—but optical sights dominate. Where the actual rifle is concerned, both the Army and the Marines still cling to the M16 and M4 using the 5.56 x 45mm NATO round—even though vastly superior rifles and calibers are available (but that is another story).
As to the impact of such an increase in accuracy in combat, no data has been released on that—as far as I know—but suffice to say that we seem to rarely lose firefights unless substantially outnumbered; and anecdotal evidence would seem to support the notion that such improvements in accuracy are having an impact. In fact, the growth in the popularity of IED’s by our enemies is—in its own lethal way—a comment on the fact that going head to head with U.S. forces is career shortening.
Small arms accuracy may be about to improve dramatically in the future thanks to a new fire control system developed by Tracking Point. In fact, the Army have just bought six XactSystem precision-guided firearm kits. Each will be calibrated to the XM-2010 sniper rifle and the M248 Mod 1 rounds, which are standard-issue .300 Winchester Magnum.
Let me quote briefly from that excellent publication, the Army Times:
Don’t expect the technology to remain exclusive to snipers if all goes well. Lucas said the Army is looking at advanced fire control for machine guns, carbines and the M320 grenade launcher.
TrackingPoint’s technology is well ahead of the field, Lucas said. Company officials put first-round hit probability in excess of 80 percent at 1,200 meters and upward of 98 percent at 800 meters. They call a 500-yard shot “easy” and consider 300 yards to be point-blank.
And variants can be mounted on weapons to include the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and the individual carbine. This gives soldiers first-shot probability at the weapon’s maximum effective range, substantially increasing lethality and standoff distances down to the squad level.
And shots are not confined to point targets. A processor inside the scope can track moving targets up to 10 mph. The computer calculates offset and lead and, like the point target, the shooter simply places the aiming dot on the targeting dot and squeezes the trigger.
The digital scope makes the difference. It has a 110mm telephoto lens and a 14-megapixel image sensor streaming at 54 frames per second. It ranges from 6x to 35x. Unlike most scopes, the capture begins at the longer length to keep the picture clear no matter the distance.
The tracking scope also offers a number of features that come in handy downrange. It can:
■ Hard-line secure communications
■ Live-stream secure video to Android and iOS smart phones and tablets.
■ Tie in to integrated dismounted soldier situational awareness systems such as Nett Warrior.
■ Designate or identify blue and red forces.
■ Conduct target handoff from a drone.
■ Provide 10-digit grid of a target.
The scope also can be used as a laser designator.
The following is how the system itself works:
The closed-loop system includes a Networked Tracking Scope and semi-electronic guided trigger. Here’s how it works:
■ The shooter lases the target with the push of a button located at his trigger finger. He doesn’t have to dial in all of the dope.
■ A computer calculates 16 variables to include spin drift of the bullet, barometric pressure, temperature and magnus effect. It immediately generates a ballistic solution and places a targeting dot on the screen.
■ The shooter does not look directly at the target. He instead looks at a small display screen in the scope, which is hard-wired into a semi-electronic trigger.
■ The shooter squeezes that trigger as he aligns the aiming dot with the targeting dot. A solenoid keeps the weapon from firing until the aiming dot hits the designated target point. But once they touch … BAM! Shot out.
This takes human-induced errors such as trigger jerk and jitters out of the equation.
■ After shooting a few rounds for familiarity, the whole cycle can be done in a matter of two seconds.
■ Windage is the one thing the scope doesn’t calculate. Predominant wind speed and direction is shown on the display and adjustments are easily made with the push of a button — one press compensates for one-half mph.
By the way, we civilians can buy a civilian version of the XactSystem for somewhere between $22,500 and $27,000—but you will be relieved to hear that includes a custom Surgeon rifle.
It really is about time that our military procured a new rifle firing a different caliber for general use. We have used the M16—and variations—for over half a century. As we all know, technology has advanced considerably over that time. Personally, I think it is about time we moved to caseless ammunition.