Twenty years ago as U.S. forces went storming into Iraq at the beginning of the Gulf War hardly any infantry soldiers had optics on their rifles. As they had been for s century, scopes were only used by snipers and Special Forces units. Today, as the U.S. military fights terrorism around the world, our troops would sooner go into combat nude than rely merely on iron sights when things get hot.
Optics allow soldiers to acquire targets quickly and help them put fire on that target when necessary. They are force multipliers for the U.S. military.
It's a truism that when the military starts using specific gear, law enforcement won't be far behind. After the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery and after 9/11, many agencies started replacing the shotguns in their patrol cars with M4 carbines and AR-15s. And officers who served in the military soon started outfitting those long guns with high-quality combat optics from companies like Aimpoint, EoTech, Leupold, Night Force Optics, and Trijicon.
Today, rifle optics that once were only seen on SWAT weapons are now commonplace on patrol rifles. A lot has changed in less than 10 years. Which begs the question, What innovations are likely to change law enforcement CQB optics between now and 2021?
The Bigger Picture
In recent years, the military has been equipping personnel with CQB optics that feature greater than 3X magnification. The goal is to give troops the ability to engage and destroy targets out to 1,000 yards. But too much magnification is a big no-no at many law enforcement agencies.
"Agencies restrict the amount of magnification that patrol officers can use because they don't want them acting as snipers," says Tim O'Connor, law enforcement sales manager for Leupold.
O'Connor believes that the restriction will be lifted at many agencies as more and more current military veterans join the ranks. "The folks coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are used to having magnified optics on their carbines, so they're going to look for that in law enforcement."
One of the primary reasons that many agencies are skittish about magnified optics on patrol rifles is a training issue. They don't have the money or the instructors to train officers to use such equipment. Veterans returning from "The Sandbox" eliminate that concern. They have already been trained to use magnified optics in the wars.
That's one reason why O'Connor predicts so many officers will soon demand higher magnification ratios on their rifle optics. "I think that's going to be the biggest change, what the officers are looking to use more than what's available to them," he says.
Improved circuitry in combat optics that allows them to run for several years on one battery is one of the great advancements in the field during the last decade. But most still require batteries in order to operate. As do the lights, laser indicators, and other accessories that officers and soldiers add to their rifles. Each accessory may even require a different
Experts contacted for this article believe the next generation of combat optics may be powered by a single battery. The idea is that the rails that the accessories are attached to will carry the charge instead of each accessory needing its own battery.[PAGEBREAK]
A company called Reset has already developed a powered rail called the RIPR (Rifle Integrated Power Rail) and exhibited the device at the annual Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show. The RIPR is a combination of a battery pack and a rail. The rail has numerous gold-plated contact pads where users can attach accessories. Reset says that leading accessory manufacturers are planning to make products that will work on the RIPR.
Whether the RIPR is a success or not, one thing is clear: optics manufacturers believe some sort of powered rail will be part of your M4 in the near future. "The complexity of such a system is a barrier," says Leupold's O'Connor, "but the technology is very new. I would expect that the technology will streamline and trim down very rapidly."
Smaller, Smarter Scopes
Probably by the end of the next decade when you look into a CQB optic and place the reticle or the red dot on a target, you will get a lot more information than you do now. Experts say the scope will probably calculate range, bullet drop, and maybe even environmental conditions and automatically adjust your aim.
It's not as far-fetched as it might sound, says Brian Lisankie, president of Aimpoint. "We already have full-size military systems that automatically compensate for distance, angle, and environmental conditions using a laser rangefinder." But don't look to add that "smart" Aimpoint system on your carbine any time soon. The military version is big, expensive, and designed specifically for crew-served weapons.
Currently Aimpoint's focus for its line of long gun sights is to make them smaller, tougher, and more energy efficient, not so much smarter. At this month's SHOT Show, the company is expected to launch two red dot sights with 2 MOA dots that obscure less of the target; currently these sights have 4 MOA sights.
Tod Litt, military, government, and law enforcement business development manager for Night Force Optics, says his company's focus for the next few years will be making scopes smaller and more powerful. "We want to see how much magnification we can get into a smaller package," he says.
But Litt cautions that technology can only take combat optics so far, at least for the near future. "The perfect scope doesn't exist. If it did we'd have a 1x25 that's about six inches long. Everybody is always pushing for a smaller package."[PAGEBREAK]
Probably the greatest advance in weapons optics that we will see in the next few decades will be the digital scope. It's coming, but no one that POLICE contacted for this story would hazard a guess as to when.
"That's the real game changer," says Leupold's O'Connor. "Once you go there, everything opens up."
Using a digital scope, a shooter would be looking at a display screen instead of through the optic. A camera would capture everything the shooter saw and preserve it as evidence. The technology exists today to do this, but it's bulky and the sight is not as precise as a conventional optic.
And size and precision are just some of the problems that have to be solved in order to develop a digital combat scope. The system would have to survive combat conditions, maintain zero, and be energy efficient so that operators wouldn't have to worry about their batteries under fire. The current models of digital scopes are really only practical for hunters.
"It takes a while to get off the bleeding edge with something like that," says O'Connor. "The cameras have to become much smaller and the displays more robust."
But once off the bleeding edge, the payoff for digital technology in CQB scopes could be huge. A single, compact scope could incorporate night vision, thermal, rangefinding, bullet drop compensators, and even capture video evidence to justify the shooting in court.
Such predictions have to be taken with a grain of salt, however, because tactical shooters tend to be hesitant to adopt new technology. For obvious reasons, they don't like to go into combat with something unproven. O'Connor says that's especially true of SWAT snipers. "Most law enforcement guys in a sniper situation are using 10- or 15-year-old glass on their rifles," he explains.
What new types of combat optics will be developed between now and 2021 is hard to say. But one thing's for sure, the CQB scopes of tomorrow will be smaller, more powerful, and smarter.
Duty Pistol Optics
Very few officers now use combat optics on their duty pistols, but that's expected to change in the near future.
The advantages to optics on a duty pistol are evident in any pistol competition that permits them. Shooters can acquire targets much more quickly and make more precise shots at longer distances.
Manufacturers are getting ready for law enforcement to adopt this technology. "We've got a mount for the Glock pistol now for our Micro," says Brian Lisankie, president of Aimpoint. "You can zero that sight and ring steel at 75 to 100 yards."
Leupold law enforcement sales manager Tim O'Connor believes pistol optics will soon be very common in law enforcement. "As red dot sights become more reliable and more energy efficient, you will see more pistol sights," he says.
O'Connor adds that some manufacturers are already producing Level III retention holsters for duty pistols equipped with optics.
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