The Future Of Electronic Gunsights

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Electronic gunsights, such as those developed by TrackingPoint, will become an increasingly important aspect of military and civilian small arms development in the coming years. Such optics have already given dramatic improvement to accuracy and hit probability in larger military systems, for example tanks and other armored fighting vehicles. While TrackingPoint’s system is clearly geared towards the precision shooter, it hints at other capabilities that could be applied through electronic gunsights in other areas where small arms are used. In this article, I aim to speculate as to what some of those capabilities might be.

1. Adjustable Dispersion Automatic Weapons

The cone of fire created by the natural dispersion of an automatic weapon is an important consideration in its design and application. The possibility for passively stabilized weapon sights that could allow for a controlled “pattern” of fire, which further could be adjusted according to the circumstances, could improve machine gun versatility and effectiveness.

2. IFF for Law Enforcement, Special Applications

Against a sophisticated opponent, the sort of transmissions needed to integrate an identify friend or foe (IFF) feature into an electronic weapon sight could pose a significant disadvantage, but for law enforcement or special applications missions against terrorists or guerrillas, especially in a hostage or combined forces situation, the disadvantages would be minimized while the advantages maximized. The ability to provide support through a weapon that “knows” friend from foe is something that I could see becoming very useful in the near future.

3. Control of A Fully Automatic Burst

It seems relatively simple to imagine that these sorts of weapon sights incorporating automatic fire control could be used to eliminate the “anti-aircraft” tendency of a rifle firing on fully automatic to waste its ammunition due to muzzle rise. A shooter firing a fully automatic weapon is often absorbed in controlling that weapon; if electronic gunsights could compensate for this by limiting the burst only to those rounds fired when the muzzle hasn’t yet begun to rise, then much more ammunition might be saved in the application of full auto fire, without impacting its use with skilled shooters who can adequately control their weapon. Of course, there is a human interface concern here; one immediately remembers the awful reputation of the M16A2’s and M4’s burst limiter – essentially a mechanical device intended to do the same. Still, the prospect of an automatic rifle that automatically saves ammunition is an attractive one.

4. Squad/Platoon Level Target Marking

It is true that in many cases riflemen are directed to fire against targets they cannot see or locate. A system capable of directing attention to targets through a HUD or rifle sight could potentially dramatically improve the number of rounds on target, and if this were further integrated with a passively-stabilized system that ensures each round gets as close to its target as possible, the effectiveness of the squad or platoon as a whole against point targets could be dramatically improved.

5. Aiming Compensation On Infantry Rifles

In many ways retrograde features from the full TrackingPoint passively stabilized fire control suite are more attractive to the infantry rifleman. While not unheard of, the opportunities to make clear, precise shots such as those passively stabilized electronic gunsights assist with do not occur with great frequency. Much more useful, then, would be a sight that compensates for common human aiming errors actively. Lead, wind, and range calculation are all things that could potentially be incorporated in the future into the already common red dot gunsight as technology improves in size, weight, and ruggedness. Whether passive stabilization is incorporated alongside these features or not, the common soldier would be much advantaged through a sight that does the hard work of finding dope for him, and adjusts his aiming point accordingly.

6. We’ll Have To Create Another 3-Gun Category

I don’t think it would be that hard to create an electronic scope that recognized the center of a standard qualification silhouette and passively stabilized the rifle so that all shots went into the A-zone. I feel if such a sight were developed, it might affect practical shooting competition somewhat.

 

How far off each of these capabilities is, or whether they will be realized at all is not something I can say. However, I think electronic gunsights are here to stay, and as challenges in cost, shockproofing, and weatherproofing the internal electronics are met, they will be progressively integrated more and more into increasingly front-line weapons. As capabilities are added, tactics and even equipment may have to change, but how and to what degree is beyond my ability to predict.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • roguetechie

    Nathaniel,

    Really all you’d need to do to keep 3 gun interesting is open up the ranges quite drastically, speed up, and reduce the size of targets, integrate much more shooting on the move, be prepared for stage times to plummet, and quite possibly integrate new chamberings that can deal with the longer ranges.

  • Vitsaus

    Crazy future optic was not shown mounted to an XM8. 0/10 would not operate.

    • Andrew Hobby

      No G11 caseless ammo? Total noob-stick.

      • anon

        >2014
        >still using kraut space magic

    • GUNxSPECTRE

      Looks like we got a Ghost Recon operator here. Boom.

      • ghost

        I have been cloned, if you see any comment that makes sense with my ID on it, it ain’t me.

        • GUNxSPECTRE

          Fair enough. Thanks for the warning.

  • Matt Rogers

    These scopes, like color television and cellular phones before them, are merely a fad.

    • SP mclaughlin

      Sarcasm alert.

      • Matt Rogers

        More ‘tongue in cheek’ and aimed at the nay sayers really. Nathaniel F and the other writers are showing us the future. Instant zoom scopes, night vision, thermal imagery, precision machining and manufacturing….all of it is changing the way we shoot, hunt, and fight. Keep it up TFB!

  • The new 3-Gun category is something I hadn’t considered before! Open Class already gets a bad reputation as “pay to win” class, and I could see a competition specific electro-optic sight playing into that.

  • iksnilol

    Personally I am interested in a ballistic computer integrated into a scope with a rangefinder and wind measurer.

    Something in the 2.5-10×42 range, of course with a 30mm or 34mm tube.

    Also, wouldn’t an electronic trigger with a reduced ROF be better for conserving ammo? As in limit full auto to something much more manageable like 180 rounds per minute (3 rounds a second) compared to the standard 600+ rounds a minute (10+ rounds a second) that is standard.

  • Jeff

    How about if they have friend or foe indicators?

  • Lance

    Just great more computer crap strapped to you. scrap humans then adopt the T-800 robot. This is getting rediculas and out of hand with computer crap taking over.

    • I doubt any crewman of an M1 tank or pilot of an F-22 would agree with you.

      • ghost

        A crewman in a tank, or pilot in an F-22 is not an infantryman.

        • No, but I doubt they’d tell you all the computers were getting in the way.

          • Andrew

            What happened to land warrior?

          • LCON

            Land Warrior failed because of a number of issues particularly obsolescence in regard to the abilities it offered vs commercially available systems. Based on basicly a computer tower turned back pack by the Time land warrior was ready for field trials the Iphone and Smartphone revolution was in full swing and the small device offered everything land warrior wanted in one compact package. so Land Warrior tossed and the Army started investing in Smart phones which are cheaper and lighter.

            Particular to this subject and land warrior was the daylight video sight, thermal weapons sight and MFL (Multi-Function Laser) now many of the Future soldier programs include such systems but by 2007 when land warrior was canceled they had yet to work out the kinks particularly poor resolution from the camera, bulk and weight.

            in 2008 Land warrior was restarted as the Ground Soldier system and Trialed in Iraq and Afghanistan but less than a year later the program was renamed again this time as NETT Warrior after Robert B. Nett a MOH winner from the second world war. at it’s heart was the move to a Android based smart devices particularly modified Samsung Galaxy Note II which means the Army will have to change devices pretty soon.

            The Day video Sight was dropped along with the helmet mounted display. The Thermal weapons sight adopted, the MFL became the ANPEQ and added was the Enhanced Night Vision device and a laser range finder.
            Given the Emerging tech like Smart Glasses and see through HUD systems, Tracking point system, Micro UAV’s/UGV’s, Throwable autonomous sensors and powered Exoskeletons we could see a major step up in Nett Warrior shortly.

          • n0truscotsman

            I forsee things like this being common place in the future http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hornet_Nano

          • LCON

            already is.

          • noguncontrol

            well in those cases it actually helps, since it is much harder to control and aim with a tank or a fighter. but with a rifle or machine gun, it isn’t going to get any easier short of replacing human arms, skeletal system and eyes with bionics or cybernetics.

          • There are plenty of ways computers could assist in the aiming of rifles.

          • Anomanom

            Well with exoskeleton tech progressing nicely and augmented reality tech already in consumption, that is not really out of the question. Tracking point is apparently linking their smart scopes to google glasses.

    • n0truscotsman

      My argument against it is cost and diminishing returns.
      I would have to guess maybe 50 years well see a optic with one or two of the attributes listed above.

  • ghost

    Learn your iron sights first. Technology is wonderful, until it fails. Everything can go backwards from there.

  • noguncontrol

    o great, as if the current gen of optical scopes and gunsights were not expensive enough as it is, these new electronic ones will make a trijicon acog look like hi-point.

  • Tassiebush

    I quite agree with what you’ve said! In fact darn it I was typing a big long comment which now needs to be trimmed substantially Lol.
    To speculate a bit myself, these will probably follow path of mobile phones and in keeping with electronics there will always be concerns about durability but the advantages will be too huge to ignore it. Doubless they will be rapidly becoming ruggedized, minituarized and cheaper as well having a multitude of app like adaptations.
    I can see restrictions on their use being written into hunting/game related legislation/regulations as well as gun control related restrictions or attempts at least. Potentially there may be police/military only sights and initially civilian limited option civilian sights which get “jailbreaked” alongside more openware options. They may well become more disposable especially as capabilities leap ahead between models.
    It’ll be interesting too to see if counter measures like scramblers, viruses or EMP also get developed for them. There is also the possibility of deliberately built in backdoors if they are built for the open market. There will at least be paranioa about it which’ll never be put to rest. If they involve connectivity between sights then it might even be used to identify and target their users.
    Ultimately it will present a lot of opportunities for an new edge but pose many new too.
    As far as when and where they’ll be useful shooting at close range may well be the area of least advantage. I think in many ways just as the saying goes proximity negates skill. Well proximity may well negate the advantage of this technology also.

  • Whiskey Hammer

    So what do you mean by passive stabilization? I see the term used a lot but it’s not defined here and it’s the only article with the tag.