Weapon Optics: Red, Green Dot


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

It has become almost a pop-culture icon. Everyone is familiar with the scene in movies and on TV: A silent red dot appears on the chest or the back of the head, and we know that’s one dead bad guy. But nothing is so black and white, or red or green for that matter, in the real world of tactical gunsights. “It’s been said that the best riflescope is the one that’s on your rifle when someone is shooting at you,” said Daniel Pettry, product manager (rifle sights), Raytheon ELCAN Optical Technologies.
Gunsights have been around for just about as long as there have been rifles. The human eye just was not designed to focus precisely at great distances. In its simplest form, the original iron post gunsight allowed the eye to “sight” down the gun barrel and line it up with the intended target. But the eye is not very good at focusing on near and close objects at the same time. Modern optical gunsights or telescopic “scopes” were designed to make up for those limitations. Over the years a wealth of technologies developed to make targeting more accurate and marksmen more lethal.
Traditional thinking was that long barrels were required for long distance accuracy, and designing highly accurate optical sights for long-barreled weapons was not that challenging, mainly due to their relatively high sight radius. But with special ops fighters’ emphasis on short-barreled, lightweight combat carbines, optics needed to be rethought. “The biggest challenge,” said Pettry, “is evolving to the SOCOM community’s needs as they change. If you look at one of our sights even from as little as four years ago, to the exact same sight today, there is a pretty significant difference. Some manufacturers get stuck on one design and do not take the time to evolve with the battlefield.”
One leading sight is Zeiss’ Spotter 60, a 20-60x72 asset. It was designed from the ground up as a military spotting scope. It produces the highest quality image that technology currently is able to produce, according to the company. The Spotter 60 is armored and very robust, designed for abuse.
This system is adaptable to night vision devices via Picatinny rails that can be attached to five hard points on the body of the Spotter itself. The reticle design is a spotting scope with an “L” shaped design that leaves the field of view as open as possible.
The Zeiss Spotter 60 draws a fine line in a front focal plane scope that delicately balances thickness issues, making a reticle that is easy to use. And the reticle is illuminated. “Coatings on the glass, and the ease of sight picture, have a very forgiving effect on a soldier’s eyes when looking through the Spotter for long periods of time,” according to Carl Zeiss Optronics, USA, President and CEO Rick Miller. This in effect keeps the operator in the fight longer by not straining a trained spotter’s eyes over time to the point where he has to rest.
Raytheon ELCAN began development of the SpecterDR Rifle Scope in 2004, in close cooperation with the Navy for their special forces SOPMOD kit (Block II). The DR appropriately stands for dual role. SpecterDR actually switches instantly from a 4x-magnified sight to a 1x close quarters battle sight at the throw of a lever. “As you add more capabilities to a rifle sight, it gets bigger and more complex,” noted David Dalrymple, manager, global marketing and business development with Raytheon ELCAN. “So especially as that relates to the special operator, we are fighting that complexity-to-weight issue.”
With that in mind, Dalrymple and Pettry explained that the whole purpose of the SpecterDR was to answer the need for a single multipurpose sight that was not only equally capable at close quarters as it was at long range, but also a lens with the best technology available, all in a simple, yet rugged package.
“We are a little different than the metal fabrication companies that became rifle sight manufacturers in that ELCAN is, and always has been, a precision optics company,” said Dalrymple. “The glass that is within a riflescope is its driver. You have to start with the best glass, and fabricate it in ways that provide the performance the user requires—and we do that all in house— exactly.” Pettry amplified that point, saying that “instead of being a rifle sight company that is trying to figure out how to make the best glass, we already have the hard part figured out.”
According to Dalrymple, over 30,000 SpecterDR sights have been delivered to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Indianapolis. “This represents only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the benefits of the SpecterDR are recognized and integrated into other elite infantry programs,” he continued. “In addition to the SpecterDR 1-4x and SpecterDR1.5-6x already in service, 1-6x and 5-10-20x multi function sights are being tested and evaluated.”
“As of right now every special operations unit in the United States is using [Raytheon ELCAN] sights in some capacity,” Pettry observed. “The feedback we have gotten is very positive. You know, unlike standard military, a lot of special operators have a choice of what they can carry, and that is the best feedback we can get—the fact that our sights are being chosen so widely by the special operators.”

Electronic Sights
Optical telescopic sights are more sophisticated than ever, combining not only the best in ground glass magnification, but also an ever-increasing variety of electronic enhancements. These electronic sights not only provide precision reticles that allow more precise targeting of the enemy, but also much greater situational awareness, critical in the SOF or tactical situation. There are many varieties of electronic sights, but they basically break down to three major categories: red dot or reflex sights, holographic sights, or laser sights.
A point of explanation: red (and/or green) dot sighting solutions should not be confused with laser sights—which actually do project a red or green “dot” on the target, essentially indicating the trajectory of the bullet. The “red dot” in a red dot gunsight refers to the reticle, or “cross hair” the shooter sees within the sight. They are not always red, nor even always a dot, but “red dot” is the general term for such a reflex gunsight.
Aimpoint Inc. is generally recognized as the originator of red dot gunsight technology, and continues to be a leader in red dot solutions. The Aimpoint Mark III was introduced and was used extensively by the U.S. military in the early 1980s. Today, Aimpoint’s CompM4 is the standard issue tactical sight for U.S. forces, according to retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Blish, director, military business development, with Aimpoint Inc. USA. “Like all Aimpoint red dot solutions, the CompM4 uses a bright red dot that eliminates parallax issues, and allows the warfighter to shoot with both eyes open for greater situational awareness.”
Taking one look at the CompM4 that Blish uses for training and demos, it looks pretty battle-worn. “What I do after shooting a grouping,” said Blish, describing a typical demo, “I take it off the gun, I throw it down the range, across the asphalt, concrete, gravel, whatever—and when I put in back on the gun, after just throwing it across the range, it holds the same point of aim, the same point of impact.”
The Aimpoint Micro T-1 has a 20 mm optical and objective lens as opposed to the 30 mm found on the larger CompM4, which makes it more practical for the smaller carbines and shotguns typically carried by special forces. But according to Blish, “the smaller lens does not in any way impact your ability to shoot and use it. This weighs only 4 ounces, where the other Aimpoints can weigh up to 12 ounces with their mounts. So you save as much as half a pound with this optic, and that’s really important to special forces operating at over 11,000 feet in the mountains of Afghanistan.”
The Marine Corps and the Army currently deploy the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, (ACOG), designed and manufactured by Michigan-based Trijicon Inc. Unlike other reflex sights, the ACOG does not use batteries, and instead relies on tritium for illumination, providing a red chevron-shaped reticle. The ACOG also employs a bullet drop compensator, which corrects for the effects of gravity as a bullet flies closer to a target at great distances.
Trijicon has been making sights similar to the ACOG since the 1970s, and they have been popular with the SOF community ever since. In fact, it has been reported that many Marines and soldiers have bought the civilian version of the ACOG on their own, and agree that it was a worthy investment.
Matthew M., a soldier currently deployed internationally whose full name and rank could not be disclosed for security reasons, had this to say about using an ACOG in the field: “I am currently deployed to Tallil [Air Base in] Iraq, and I was issued an ACOG TA01NSN. I am a designated marksman and responsible for engaging targets from a distance for the safety of my troops. This scope is tough, and is accurate right out of the box up to 600 meters. It also has zero parallax. Hands down the best piece of equipment issued next to Gore-tex. It saves a lot of lives by allowing us to reach out and touch someone quickly and accurately.”

You Can’t Hit What You Can’t See
Even the most advanced and sophisticated optical or electronic gunsight still requires that you have line of sight with your target. This usually means if you can see the enemy, they can see you too. But what if you had a sight that could literally let you shoot around corners? That is the idea behind the SmartSight.
Invented by Matthew Hagerty, the SmartSight is a video “gun-cam” system that allows soldiers to shoot while remaining out of the line of fire. According to Hagerty, the SmartSight “consists of a wireless video camera mounted to the rail of an M4 or .308 SOCOM carbine, a small computer worn on a military vest, and a thumbnail-size color heads-up display affixed to a pair of protective glasses. In effect, SmartSight turns the muzzle of an assault rifle into a third eye—a soldier can crouch behind a blockade, stick his weapon over his head, and shoot his target with the same accuracy as if he were taking aim normally. No other weapon sight can do that.”
Hagerty has received a $7 million grant, and has four patents pending. He is hoping to turn over his fifth prototype of the SmartSight to special operations forces for testing next year.
High tech “heads-up” style gunsights are not only on the drawing boards of enterprising inventors, or relegated to the world of video games. Raytheon ELCAN has entered into partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create the Dynamic Image Gunsight Optic, or DInGO. DInGO aims to be an all-electronic rifle sight. In August, ELCAN was awarded a Phase I contract by DARPA to develop the fully electronic riflescope intended to enhance the marksmanship of soldiers and Marines. The DInGo riflescope will enable warfighters to engage targets from three to 600 meters with enhanced accuracy. DInGO will be retrofitted for the M4 and M16 combat rifles as a clip-on attachment to a traditional glass-and-metal sight.
According to an ELCAN press release, “DInGO’s proposed advanced features will include a reticle and field of view that will automatically adjust for target range, wind and bullet ballistics, enabling hands-free operation with point-shoot-hit capability.”
The idea is with DInGO, a soldier will be able to engage targets inside a building and then step outside and immediately suppress sniper fire at 500 yards away— without making a single adjustment to the scope itself. A laser rangefinder automatically adjusts to what the scope is pointed at, much like auto-focus and auto-zoom on a digital camera.

Keeping the Future In Sight
When asked what is next in riflescopes, Raytheon ELCAN’s Pettry said, “SpecterDR [has proved to be] one of the first successful multifunctional sights. In the future we plan to start gradually introducing more functionality, but the point is they will not be adopted by the customers if they are not reliable, and worth the additional cost in complexity they may add. An illuminated reticle is just one example of a small improvement. But then there was the issue of how to power that. However, battery and LED tech has improved so greatly that power consumption and weight for a lighted reticle is a non-issue. So that has become an acceptable evolution to the customer. We are going to continue to find ways to introduce technologies when they are mature, and when those added capabilities are worth it across the board.”
While there has been and certainly will be a trend toward more and more digital and imaging technology being added to riflescopes, high quality optical scopes will likely still have a place for years to come. “On the surface,” continues Pettry, “it may look like the nature of conflicts have changed for today’s warfighter, but when you really think about it, take the World War II soldier who was fighting from hedgerow to hedgerow in France, and then all of a sudden he is out from the hedges and fighting to take down a Germanoccupied town. It’s still the same kind of thing we are dealing with now, going from open country to urban fighting. The only difference is, then, you didn’t have any options. You had your iron sights and that was it, and so they didn’t think much about it. The needs haven’t really changed, but our abilities to improve upon what we can do to meet those needs—that changes constantly.”