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.