Weapons: The Future of Sniping

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June 30, 2016: An American firm (TrackingPoint) has introduced another version of its computerized scopes; NightDragon. This version allows for using an IR (infrared) spotlight with a range of nearly 200 meters and a scope with a sensor that makes the IR light visible to the shooter. Normally IR is not visible to human (or animal) eyes. The computerized scope tracks the target in the crosshairs and fires when the computer determines that a hit will be achieved. Targets can be moving as fast as 24 kilometers an hour. Costing $13,000 each, this is one of the few TrackingPoint sights available for the civilian market. Most of their computerized aiming systems are only for military or police organizations.

In 2013 TrackingPoint introduced its first computerized shooting system, the XS1. These initially cost $27,000 but the price has since come down as the firm introduced more models and sales increased. These scopes are expensive because they are sensor equipped and computerized to the extent that initial tests showed that over 70 percent of first time users could hit a target over 900 meters distant with the first shot. For a professional sniper first shot success averages about 25 percent and 70 percent on the second shot. Second shots are not always possible as the target tends to duck after the first one. The army tested the XS1 and found it worked by did not try to adopt the system for a lot of military sniper rifles, even though it would be a major improvement for snipers. The major obstacle was the wear and tear of battlefield use and the fact that most snipers were satisfied with their existing scopes. Snipers are trained to take good care of their rifles, scopes and the growing number of electronic gadgets they now use but the XS1 was a major leap in terms of electronics, sensors and required maintenance. It was recognized that the XS1 technology was the future and just as the many new (since the 1990s) sniping accessories have become rugged and reliable enough to be standard items, so will the XS1 approach. Meanwhile the TrackingPoint tech was adopted for a small number of sniper rifles that could make good use of it as is.

The XS1 was sold mounted on a rifle and with the bipod, loaded and the scope, weighs 9.25 kg (20.4 pounds). The bolt action rifle (with a five round magazine) fires the .338 Lapua Magnum. It has a folding stock and is 1.26 meters unfolded and 1.12 folded. The fire control system on the rifle collects much information (target imagery, atmospheric conditions, cant, inclination, Coriolis Effect) but the shooter still has to estimate wind velocity and direction. The scope incorporates a display that tells the shooter how to move the rifle to hit the distant target that has been selected and when to pull the trigger. The rifle actually fires only when it is properly lined up. The manufacturer has sold several TrackingPoint equipped rifles so far, mainly to police organizations or a few wealthy hunters who don’t like to miss. TrackingPoint now provides a growing list of computerized scopes for ranges of 350-1,300 meters for. Prices range from $10,000 to $17,000.

In 2014 the U.S. Army bought six XS1s for evaluation and eventually decided to acquire some of them for situations where snipers needed to assure first round hits on long range (over 1,000 meters) targets. Initial results of the U.S. Army XS1 testing found that soldiers who had gone through standard military rifle training would get hits on the first shot 90 percent of the time when using the XS1. In the hands of trained snipers it’s closer to 100 percent of the time. Trained snipers are very effective, but it was clear that the XS1 and its technology could provide snipers and regular troops the ability to get that all-important first shot on target over 90 percent of the times. Sometimes there are targets that require that because, as any sniper knows, if the target notices the first shot he will often duck fast enough to avoid the more accurate second shot following several seconds after the first.

There have been other technical solutions developed to improve the shooting skills of troops. One approach was to use advances (lighter, cheaper, smaller) in brain activity monitoring equipment to detect the pattern of brain activity common in known expert shooters and then use brain wave monitoring headbands that use a feedback device (vibrating or sound) to let the trainee know when he is thinking like a sharpshooter. Expert shooters, or scouts or pilots often refer to this sense of being on top of a situation as being “in the zone” Tests of this approach shows that it does work and can find “the zone” and help most troops to find it. This approach has to be developed further to make it easier for instructors and trainees to use in normal training situations. Work is underway to use the “haptic neural feedback” approach to teach other military personnel the expert techniques used by the most skilled troops. The brain monitoring approach takes time, which the TrackingPoint tech has immediate impact.

 


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