February 27, 2016

Precision guided mini-grenade guns and smart rifles that turn any soldier into a sharpshooter

The precision grenade launching XM25 destroys the value of cover. Built-in targeting lasers, infrared sights and a ballistic computer calculate the exact location of the target so the weapon can fire a projectile precisely past it. The 25mm round — essentially a precision-guided mini-grenade — waits to detonate until it has passed whatever cover the target had and can strafe its unprotected side. It will blow up above a trench or foxhole, on the far side of a wall or barricade.

The Army, typically, calls this the “Counter Defilade Target Engagement System” (CDTE), defilade being a military term of art that boils down to “cover.” Built by OrbitalATK, the XM25 is officially a “new start” program in the fiscal 2017 budget. Initial per-unit cost of the early models ranging from US$30,000 to $35,000. The army will be fielding about 1000 per year.

The XM25 is not the only technology with the potential to put a precision-guided weapon in the infantryman’s hands. “If you want to build a smart firearm, it’s available on the market,” retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former commandant of the Army War College, notes. “There’s an outfit in Austin, Texas called TrackingPoint,” he said, which makes a lightweight gunsight that calculates the trajectory to the target and fires when the gun is in the precisely right position to hit, compensating for any unsteadiness in the hand of the shooter. “You pull the trigger, and you just hold it on the target until the dot turns green and the gun fires by itself.”

With TrackingPoint, “an untrained shooter can hit within a half-inch of his or her aimpoint at 1,000 yards, nearly an order of magnitude more accurate than world-class shooters,” Scharre wrote in a December study for the Center for a New American Security.

TrackingPoint bolt-action systems cost between $12,995 and $27,500 and are available in .338 Lapua Magnum, 300 Winchester Magnum and 308 Winchester. Semi-automatic systems cost between $7,495 and $18,995 and are available in 7.62 NATO, 5.56 NATO and 300WM.

In March 2014, the company TrackingPoint revealed their smart scope was being integrated onto the M2010 sniper rifle. The Army purchased six systems in January 2014 for testing and the networked scope and guided trigger had been added to the platform.

There’s also a DARPA project called EXACTO — EXtreme ACcuracy Tasked Ordnance — that developed a laser-guided bullet that can change course in mid-flight. “This allows extreme accuracy at long range, including against moving targets,” Scharre wrote. However, EXACTO has the downside that each individual bullet requires precision-guidance electronics, while TrackingPoint combines a smart gunsight with regular, inexpensive bullets.

Precision-guided bullets like TrackingPoint and EXACTO aren’t quite as revolutionary as precision-guided grenades, since even smart bullets can’t bypass cover the way the XM25 can. Nevertheless they could make better shots out of everyone from elite snipers to supply clerks, giving them a better chance to survive. They could also let troops kill their targets with fewer rounds and fewer chances of shooting innocent civilians, a major concern in modern wars. And they could achieve these real-world results for much less than a new aircraft.

TrackingPoint’s precision guided firearms system uses several component technologies:

  • Networked Tracking Scope: The core engine that tracks the target, calculates range and the ballistic solution, and works in concert with the shooter and guided trigger to release the shot.
  • Barrel Reference System: A fixed reference point that enables the networked tracking scope to make adjustments and retain zero over time. The barrel reference system is factory calibrated to a laser reference.
  • Guided Trigger: The rifle’s trigger is hard-wired to the networked tracking scope. The networked tracking scope controls the trigger weight to eliminate trigger squeeze and shot timing errors.
  • Field Software Upgradeable: Software can be uploaded to the scope to add capability.
  • Heads Up Display (HUD): The HUD indicates range, wind, reticle, video storage gauge, zoom, and battery life, plus LRF icon, Wi-Fi on/off icon, compass icon, cant wheel, inclination wheels and off-screen indicators.
  • Recording: An integrated camera captures video and still images from the networked tracking scope and heads up display. Recorded images can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet from the scope and transmitted via email or social media

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