Category Archives: Optics

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

Tracking Point ProductsWe think the guys running TrackingPoint know what they have to do. In fact, we think they’re already doing these things. But here’s what, from our point of view, is missing from the current iteration of TrackingPoint hardware and software for real penetration into the upper tier SOF market.

So, Who Do You Hit First?

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upIf we were their marketing consultants (we use our MBA, but not like that), we’d also press them to focus on sell-in to certain SOF elements that are image leaders in the international SOF community. Sell, for example, to SAS, and you will have Peru, the UAE, the Netherlands, and many other nations very interested in your product line (Indeed, sell to SAS or to their US counterparts, and you’ll get sale after sale, worldwide). It’s important, also, not to over-discount the stuff to your lead customers: confidentiality agreements are fine and good, but they probably can’t keep, say, American shooters from telling the foreign shooters they’re training with or competing against, what a good deal you gave ‘em.

Another possible launch customer is FBI HRT. As their history of reckless shots and whacked non-targets shows, they could use the marksmanship boost. Meanwhile, despite their record, they’re very influential on local police procurement. Tag/track/release technology is just the ticket for police marksmen who never get enough time for training, and yet have to make more consequential and more constrained shots than a lot of military snipers. (A military sniper, outside of some rarefied CT or HR gigs, almost always has the option to no-shoot. FBI or police sniper, scope-on a crim threatening a hostage, might lack that luxury).

Who Don’t You Hit?

While the Marine Scout Snipers could use the hell out of this thing, it’s too foreign to Marine marksmanship culture, which is a master-and-apprentice culture that demands effort, even hardship, and eschews automation or corner-cutting of any kind. So we’d put these excellent Marine precision marksmen way down the list, right now. We’ve worked with enough 8541s to know that they like to do things the hard way, and they take particular joy in doing it the hard way faster than an Army guy can do it the easy way, and take a positively indecent glee in breaking the dogface’s easy-way technology. Bringing this to the Marines first means that they will use their considerable intellect and energy to break your machine and send you away with a duffel bag of expensive pieces (so they’re great for finding unimagined points of failure — there is that). Bringing it to them after selling it to the Army is not a panacea. It might be even harder, because they will be energized to demonstrate that the Army did Something Stupid, because if Marines believe three things about the Army it’s that: we have too much money, too little guts, and way too little brains.

You’ll probably need a Marine sniper on board to sell to Marine snipers. Once you do, you won’t get quite the global reach that you do by selling to SAS or its American counterparts. But you get in with the world’s greatest military image machine, and there is that. 

You have to be very careful about selling in to Hollywood. (One TrackingPoint precision guided rifle is already in the hands of the most successful firm that supplies movie and TV weapons and armorers). The reason is that an inept display of your product can hurt sales. (It would be very Hollywood to put the TrackingPoint system in the hands of a villain, to be overcome by someone like a Marine sniper or James Bond willing to use superior skill and old school firearms).

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

While the extant system has undeniable SOF applications, it also has limits, and some technical improvements — none of which are impossible or require TrackingPoint engineers to schedule an invention — would increase its marketability in military precision riflery circles.

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

It’s great that you have a computer in a scope, and it’s the wave of the future. But the computer can be located by enemy SIGINT. The video and wifi links need strong encryption, and in addition they need to be controllable so that emissions can be closed down. Even third world enemies often use electronic support measures these days, and so you need some RF low-observability measures, and you also need to have electronic counter countermeasures to ensure usability of the system in an electronic environment.

Two-way communications

This one engenders some risk, but there should be a capability for the opetator to hand off control of the PGM’s optoelectronic systems to someone’s telepresence from a support station. Or even from another field station.

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

There is everything in this weapons system that’s needed, for instance, to remotely measure a prison camp or a suspected SS-20 missile TEL. This capability would also tie in beautifully with the improved communications and encryption capabilities mentioned above.

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

Now that we have that in-scope computer, fully integrated with the hardware of the firearm, we need to have a way to make it more adaptable to different ammunition loadings, including one-time, single-mission loads. And that has to be done at the unit level; otherwise you’ve got a potential breach of compartmentation.

tracking_point_trad_mode

This is a sales stopper with top tier units. They develop their own long range capabilities, including, at times, loads, and they do it because they think they, like benchrest shooters, can handload a more consistent, higher-precision round than even premium ammo suppliers can do.

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

The running joke is that a soldier or marine can break a ball from a ball-bearing — just leave him alone in a room with it, and you’re a half hour from looking at a broken ball, and hearing, “Uh, I dunno, sarge. It just broke!” (Bearing-ball, hell, these guys could do that with a wrecking ball). You want your machine to be wrecking-ball strong.

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

The capability of the system has to degrade gracefully. If you’re sneakin and peekin’ on Day 38 of a “14-day mission,” dead batteries can’t leave you in shoot-randomly mode (let alone, can’t-shoot mode). Even an ACOG, which is probably harder to break than the gun it’s atop, has cast-in backup sights. But with a TrackingPoint gun’s scope being dependent on a CCD display at the shooter end, you can’t afford to have dead batteries.

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

We can’t be the only ones who looked at this and thought, “tag, track & x-act really could up the game of a door gunner and/or Boat Guy.” Hell, those Chenoweth sandrails might come back from the dead, if the gunners in them could actually hit things instead of just contribute morale-raising decibels to a fight. Imagine this Hollywood concoction, except real, and with the boost in hit probability than TrackingPoint promises.

You know you want one (more on the movie gun soon).

Note that these are just for the military employment of tracking point, as combat weapons technology. We haven’t even addressed the utility of tracking point for big game hunting, which is what the thing was developed for in the first place. Its applications for everything from African plains game to heliborne predator control seem self-evident. We haven’t even hinted at the potential for a rimfire TrackingPoint squirrel slaughter system, something that would sell itself once the price comes down.

As we all know, the guys running TrackingPoint are not stupid. They are probably thinking of most if not all of these things already. If not, hey, our rates are reasonable; drop us a line.

New from TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint has refreshed its AR lineup in three calibers (5.56, 7.62, and .300 Win Mag) and also offers three things calculated to increase the appeal of their precision-guided firearms: lower prices, financing, and a virtual reality glass device, the Shotglass.

If you ever wanted to break the last taboo and enjoy a shotglass while shooting, now’s your chance. This one doesn’t hold a precise measure of amber nectar brewed by Scotsmen, though:

shotglass

The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell. If you buy a TrackingPoint PGF by 30 November 2014, the Shotglass is free; after that, it’s an additional $1k. We’ll probably discuss it in greater depth when TP puts up their Shotglass video; for now, we can’t imagine anyone who wants or has the gun turning the Shotglass down.

The lower prices are relative — they’re still nosebleed-high, just not arterial-nosebleed-high any more. For example, the 5.56 AR is $7,495.

tp_ar-newest-use-me_1

For that, Tracking Point offers:

  • Perfect impact on targets out to 0.3 miles, moving as fast as 10 miles per hour.
  • The same Tag-and-Shoot™ technology found in fighter jets
  • Advanced target tracking technology
  • Comprehensive, purpose-built shooting system.

We’ve discussed the TrackingPoint technology before, but the implementation in the ARs differs from that in the bolt guns. First place, you don’t need the guided-firearm voodoo to just shoot. The optic comes up with a crosshair reticle with mil-dots and a red dot at center. Different TP releases have called this “Standard” or “Traditional” mode. Note that the interface does give you range in this mode, but not wind speed or direction.

tracking_point_trad_mode

Next up is “Freefire” mode, which is present, so far as we know, only in the gas guns, not the bolt guns. In this mode, you range something near a group of targets, and the scope adapts to that range and to the atmospherics (note that the wind speed is displayed in this mode). The reticle cues you that the Freefire Mode has been selected, and it eliminates the mildots. Those are not necessary in this mode, because your point of aim is computer adjusted to equal your point of impact. In “Freefire” mode, the Guided Trigger is not activated: the trigger works like any AR trigger.

tracking_point_freefire_mode

In Advanced mode, the reticle changes yet again. In this case, it takes several shapes depending on whether and where the Tag has been applied. In advanced mode, the tag is applied with the red button, and then the reticle changes color and shape. The illustration below shows a tag applied to the running coyote. The blue reticle indicates that the shooter is not ready to take the shot: he is not holding the trigger back. When he holds the trigger to the rear, the color changes to red, and the weapon will fire when it is in proper alignment. At any point, the shooter can safe the gun by releasing the trigger.

tracking_point_advanced_mode

Advanced mode does something that was considered impossible for centuries: it removes most sources of human error from marksmanship. This is the sort of thing that becomes possible, when you embed a complete Linux computer in a rifle optic, and tie it in to the physical rifle several different ways.

You’ve probably noticed that TrackingPoint expresses distances in decimal tenths of a mile, rather than the yards or meters common in the shooting world, which suggests that they may see their customer base as coming from outside the present limits of the shooting world. (To which we say: welcome! While it’s cool to have a gun that can calculate all this, it’s incredibly empowering to have a head that can calculate all this, and yet, it is possible and available to you. So may your new TrackingPoint firearm be a gateway drug to a new plane of existence for you).

In any event, 0.3 mile is about 480 meters (which the US Army considers the effective range of the individual rifle platform) and 530 yards.

The guns each have a limited effective range which seems like it was programmed into the weapon as a maximum “lock range” (the system has an integrated rangefinder and environmental sensors). This may be intended to ensure that shooters have a positive experience with the precision-guided firearm, but it may also serve to ensure that the ARs don’t cannibalize the higher-end sniper and hunting rifles.

precision-guided-300-wm-semi-auto_0

The top of the AR line, the .300 Win Mag monster, offers the same claimed benefits as the 5.56 version, except that it offers “perfect impact on targets out to 0.5 miles, moving as fast as 20 miles per hour,” for a more-than-your-pickup-truck $18,995. (Our pickup, anyway: 4-banger, 2 wheel drive). (Half a mile is 800 meters or 880 yards). Unfortunately, now that somebody’s actually built an AR that’s perfectly sized as a bayonet handle, there’s no bayonet lug.

The 7.62 AR offers slightly less performance (0.5 mi, moving targets to 15 mph) for slightly less money: $14,995. If these prices seem high for ARs, well, they are, but no other ARs do these things, this well.

precision-guided-semi-auto-7.62-new

 

 

When TrackingPoint first announced the AR line this spring, there was a .300 Blackout version available. A prototype, using a Daniel Defense upper, was clearly visible in their first AR video, but the gun is not on their price list today. The TrackingPoint technology offers the potential to have a firearm that automatically corrects its zero for the Point of Impact shift common with suppressors; it can also, potentially, store several load profiles. (The ballistics-adapting capability of the weapon depends on it being fired consistently with a load whose performance parameters are known to the software).

The bolt-action rifles, which have not been updated, offer similar performance, actually, in similar calibers. Only the mighty .338 LM extends range to 0.75 miles (1200m — 1320 yards). The bolts are priced differently than their semi-auto kin, a little lower in 7.62 but the highest-price version of the .338 is near-as-dammit $28,000. With great power comes great liabilities, Spider-man. In addition to that, you might want to think hard about budgeting for the extended warranty and the software maintenance contract — software maintenance alone is a stiff $2k/year.

The electricity to drive all this juju comes from batteries in compartments in the stock or the AR and in integral battery compartments in the optics of the bolt guns.

TrackingPoint’s managers are keenly aware that the prices of these guns are an obstacle to sales, and so they have a financing program with decent terms: 10% down, 36 months, 10% interest. (They don’t say how it’s compounded or what the APR is). There’s also a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee, “You can feel completely confident that TrackingPoint stands behind its products.”

We’re not sure it’s really, in their words, “the most incredible shooting system known to mankind.” But we are sure want one of these pretty badly. Just not $18-30k badly. Yet.

For $2k you can spend the day at TrackingPoint in Pflugerville, Texas, meet the staff, see the plant and fire the gun. If nothing else, you’d learn how to pronounce, “Pflugerville,” and maybe even who Pfluger was.

Here’s Another Scope of Tomorrow: Sandia’s RAZAR

Sandia National Labs is better known for playing around with things that go boom and make entire grid squares vanish, than it is for small arms. But the RAZAR scope (Rapid Adaptive Zoom for Assault Rifles) is right in our wheelhouse:

Sandia operates two laboratories for the Department of Energy, but has been known to turn its talents to DOD work.

Sandia says: “RAZAR adaptive zoom is a revolutionary method whereby true optical zoom is accomplished by cooperatively varying the focal lengths of multiple active optical elements in the system.” In effect, this gives you at a minimum the dual magnification of the Elcan SPECTR we’ve used, but without having to take your hand off the rifle. It also offers all intermediate magnifications and fields of view between its extremes. Sandia, again:

RAZAR, and its component lenses, are market leaders from a performance standpoint. It can zoom in milliseconds and perform 10,000 actuations on two AA batteries. The weight, power, and speed requirements for mechanical zoom make them pro- hibitive. RAZAR allows target engagement at diverse ranges and provides several distinct advantages including speed and high resolution at varying distances.

The interface at present is a plus arrow and a minus arrow, fitted on the forearm rail much like a vane switch used with a light. A better interface, if you had a RAZAR with a very wide range of magnification, would be four buttons: plus or minus increment buttons like the current design, plus zoom-to-the-max and -min buttons.

They patented the technology in 2005 (US Patent Nº 6,977,777) and are actively trying to license it to industry. Really trying. Interested?

The RAZAR is actually only one of several Sandia optics developments that are highly interesting. Foveated lenses are another; they developed these to give UAVs a light, compact wide-angle lens but it’s not hard to think of ground forces applications for such a device. And then there are variable radius synthetic mirrors… you can see an overview of these technologies in this promotional PDF from Sandia.

Hat tip: Thanks to John in the comments for getting us started on this.

Tracking Tease

Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don't know yet what exact model our guys had.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.

Quick take-aways:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
  • It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • Here’s how the zero-zero capability works:  they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
  • The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge. 
  • It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
  • They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
  • An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but
  • A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.

As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.

Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.

We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.

We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!

Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.

Civilian-legal IR laser illuminator

PEQ-2 on an M4 clone. This unit was IR only -- note blue lock keeping switch on low power. TNVC image. Click to Embiggen.

2000-vintage PEQ-2 on an M4 clone. This unit was IR only — note blue lock keeping switch on low power. TNVC image. Click to embiggen.

At the start of the war in Afghanistan, we had the AN/PEQ-2 TPIAL, which is actually something pretty useful under that welter of characters. Let’s break out the descriptive acronym: Target Pointer/Illuminator Aiming Laser. What a TPIAL is, is a laser floodlight and laser sight, slaved to one another so they both align with the weapon’s zero, both working in the infrared regime where it cannot be seen with the naked eye.  The PEQ-2 was a decent unit but only worked with night vision, was bulky and took up a lot of your rail, ate batteries like Godzilla carboloading for the Tokyo Marathon, and had a bad tendency to get knocked off zero, or knocked clean out of the fight, if clobbered pretty hard. In time it was replaced by the PEQ-15 ATPIAL. (“A” for “Advanced” Target Pointer/Illuminator Aiming Laser, naturally).

ATPIAL-C on a similar weapon. Note size difference.

ATPIAL-C on a similar weapon. (This is what PEQ-15 looks like, too). Note size difference between this and PEQ-2 above.

The PEQ-15 has a number of advantages over the PEQ-2. It was smaller, lighter, and more durable. The battery life is even longer (not long enough, but it is an improvement). It has an ingenious “saddlebag” cross-section that lets it mount to the top rail of your carbine without interfering with any ordinary iron or optical sight. Taken together, these things mean it screws up the balance of your carbine less than the PEQ-2 does.

The -15 has a visible as well as an IR laser pointer (selectable), which lets you use the pointer as a day sight if they day isn’t too bright, and lets you use it at night to intimidate enemies or as a pointer for allies without night vision capability. Best of all, it cost less to manufacture, so Uncle Sam could buy and issue more of them, and they became a standard part of a grunt’s kit rapidly.

But there was a problem with these, for the civilian market. The military lasers are Class 3B lasers, and are not remotely eye-safe. (There are lockout switches to prevent military users from inadvertently engaging high-energy mode in noncombat applications). The FDA, which regulates lasers in the USA, does not permit the sale of these devices to members of the public without licenses (which the FDA chooses not to grant).

TNVCsl

So L3 Communications, the makers of the PEQ-15, have made a civilian-legal Class 1 version, which they call the ATPIAL-C (“C” for “Commercial”). It’s basically the PEQ-15, made on the same production line out of most of the same parts, just without the high-energy mode. Even side by side they’re hard to tell apart. (Look at the laser safety label — the ATPIAL-C has a triangular warning icon, as befits its lower-energy laser, and the PEQ-2 the red starburst of an eye-unsafe laser). What you give up with the -C model is some range on the laser pointer, a lot of the range on the laser floodlight, ability to focus that light, and 100% of the risk of putting someone’s eye out or having the authorities take your eBay PEQ-15 away because it was originally stolen from Uncle Sam.

The ATPIAL-C is available for pre-order for $1200 from Tactical Night Vision Company (they charge your card when you order; shipping is supposed to be in November). TNVC has an exclusive deal with L3, at lest for the time being, for these things.

Training Smarter: Low Ready on Army BCT Ranges!

e-type_silhouetteApparently we got out ahead of our knowledge recently when we said that the conventional Army maintained cold range practices, and only some ARSOF were using hot range practices.

We thought we said that in answer to a comment on this blog, and now we think we might just have done it on another blog (’cause we can’t find the sucker), maybe Tam’s. Tam is on record that she thinks requiring extraneous manipulation of weapons on the range, creating the false idea that the weapons are now “safe,” and making people fear a loaded gun (even his or her own!), is a bad idea. We couldn’t agree more, but pointed out — to someone, somewhere — that such extraneous gunhandling, mythical “safe gun,” and situational hoplophobia, is how Big Green did it. Turns out, we was wrong.

This was, indeed, the “Way it Used to Be,” but over the last dozen-plus years of war, the Army’s gotten smarter (admittedly, they’re rising up from a low baseline here). There have been a large number of training changes, even in Basic Rifle Marksmanship, which are oriented towards the idea that the end product is not hitting targets on a range, but being able to “fight with a rifle.” That’s a quantum improvement, and it appears to have changed some of the Army’s excessive safety orientation. Here’s a chart of some of the differences:

army_bct_changes_2008

It’s taken from this PEO Soldier document from 2011. To break out some of the acronyms, BRM is Basic Rifle Marksmanship, taught to all soldiers in initial entry training. ARM is part of Advanced Individual Training for infantrymen. “Up and Downrange” referred to the way weapons had to be carried on the range: muzzle up, and pointed in towards the impact area at all times. The Army still clears weapons at the end of a firing evolution, but the trainees continue to handle their weapons as if they were hot, in the expectation that soon enough they will have to go about their business, confidently and safely, with a hot weapon.

The first bullet point in the comparison chart is the reason that we hot range advocates are hot range advocates: Students are trained to be comfortable with a rifle, not to fear it. You train as you fight, or should fight.

The Trainfire range system was a sort of physical world video game, in which any hit on the E-type silhouettes (used from 100 to 300 meters range) of F-type partial silouettes (for targets inside 100m) caused the silhouette to drop. These were used in field firing practice and for rifle qualification. The Trainfire system could also be cheated or gamed in several ways, for instance, a shot short of the target would often throw enough rocks, dirt, or debris onto the target as to make it drop.

The Army has finally woken up to what everyone else (including many armies) knew decades ago: optical sighting systems are superior, period. Ten years ago, using an optic was “cheating.” Now they understand it’s “training.” (The Army’s standard optic is the M68 Close-Combat Optic or CCO. The same designator is used for the Aimpoint Comp M2 and Comp M4. In the conventional Army, certain specific troops also get an ACOG M150, but that’s not used in basic combat training). Train as you fight.

Even ten years ago, range firing, even for qualification, was “admin”: if your weapon failed or jammed, you got a mulligan, called in Army range fire an “alibi.” Stages were designed to use the rounds you had in a given magazine, so that your mag change was never on the clock. Now, the qual fire is more releastic. If you have a jam, you have to conduct immediate action and reengage your targets — just like in combat. If you run out of ammo, well, they taught you how to reload an M4, do it and drive on. Just like in combat. And some of the e-hadjis (or enemy of your choice) out there in the target array will take multiple hits to be incapacitated — just like in combat.

As noted on the slide the minimum qualification (“Marksman”) on Trainfire or reduced-distance ranges was (and is) 23 hits out of 40. (Bear in mind, this might be done in any weather, so it’s not a completely unrealistic evolution — just mostly unrealistic). The max qualification, Expert, required and requires 36 hits.

In the long run, these training changes will produce soldiers who are more confident and more effective with their individual weapon, especially if in-unit sustainment training also makes similar advances.

This cultural change won’t happen overnight. It needs to have sustained command emphasis, and we need to have young people come up, especially in the NCO ranks, who trained like this, to replace those sergeants and sergeants major who aren’t bright enough to follow the reasoning of the policy, and can only do what they saw others do before them. So firming up this policy may require 25 or 30 years of emphasis and effort, but it will produce more lethal combat units, and support and service-support units far more capable of self-defense, one soldier at a time.

The biggest threat to this change is, indeed, personnel policy. Currently, the Army gives little weight to combat experience and is throwing experienced combat leaders out, while promoting combat-shy ticket-punch collectors, who rode to the sound of their careers while the Army was off fighting a war (the current Sergeant Major of the Army, who spent most of the war hiding out in Army schools and did one, late, tour as a sergeant major on a FOB, exemplifies this perfectly). But the same current Army leadership doing that are the guys who signed off on this, which illustrates, perhaps, that the leaders are doing the best as they see it.

When is a Used Scope Worth $5k?

With a couple hours left to go, this scope is over $4,800 at the CMP Auction site. It’s worth a lot because it’s a rarity, of no small historical significance.

USMC Sniper scope2

Anybody can stamp “USMC Sniper” on a scope, but when Unertl did it, the scopes went to the Marine Corps scout-sniper program — he never sold one to the civilian world. So everybody who’s a fan of Marine snipers, whether they’re real ones like Carlos Hathcock or the fictional kind like Bob Lee Swagger, wants one of these scopes.

Many years ago they were rebuilt by US Optics, and stored. And they wound up at CMP. They have a mil-dot reticle.

USMC Sniper scope3

You’re on your own for a mount… but if you need this you can solve that little problem.

USMC Sniper scope1

CMP Auction here.

We want this so bad we can taste it, but then we’d need to build the whole gun, and we’re not Marines around here… better to let the authentic Marines have it, but we’d sure like to see (and shoot? Pretty please?) the gun when it’s built.

Now, we SF guys need a 1980-vintage M21 with Leatherwood ART II. Sooner or later.

UPDATE

The scope sold for exactly $5,000. CMP doesn’t have another scope auction scheduled at present.

 

Crimson Trace’s “Foundation of Success”

crimson-trace-laserFrank Miniter writes in the normally anti-gun Forbes magazine with a remarkable business story — a profile of the way the spirit reduced to a few handwritten lists, recited with the faithfulness of a cloister’s vespers, animate a business in our industry: Crimson Trace, the maker of compact lasers and laser handgun grips, like the one on the Glock at right. A taste:

There are two handwritten lists on the sheet of notebook paper. They are written in black ink on a sheet of paper torn from a legal pad in 1994. He tells me he used to read these aloud with his business partners—mostly engineers—every morning. Small edits show it was tweaked and added to until they thought it perfect. So perfect, he says, they got so they could say the numbered lists without the piece of now crinkled and smudged paper. When that happened Lew put the lists in a frame and tacked it on the wall.

Under the title “Our Mission: What it’s going to feel like” is:

1. Our futures are financially secure
2. We all own part of everything
3. Work is fun
4. Our tools and equipment are topnotch
5. Our customers love us
6. Our building and property are impressive to say the least
7. We own other profit-making corporations
8. Our profits are at all time highs
9. Our competition cannot touch us
10. We are moving forward into the future

Lew proudly says these ten hopes and dreams aloud to me as he did every morning with his team for years.

via The 21 Rules That Built An Industry Leader.

Miniter seems to have lasered in on something that is of bedrock importance to the Wilsonville, Oregon company. While the first list describes how the founders of the company intended to wind up (and did), a second and perhaps more-important list was titled, “How do we get there?” and comprises 11 more rules. (To read it, you’re going to have to click over to Frank’s article and Read The Whole Thing™, which you know you wanna do anyway).

And here’s founder Lew Danielson’s ideas about why these rules are about people, not things; and how it influences hiring:

The rules to run a business by must deal with people, not products. This is because people create the products. When I hire someone, and I still interview everyone, I ask them about their hobbies and passion. I want to know them as a person—I figure if they made it to my office others have already vetted their resumes. When I ask someone if I can count on them and they get these misty eyes and tell me they better believe I can, well, then I know I have a loyal and passionate part of the Crimson Trace team.

Frank Miniter has far more information about the culture of Crimson Trace and the character of its people packed into his column. We’d tell you you-know-what, but we already did, right?

Road to Precision

This YouTube playlist documents at excruciating length (the whole playlist is hours long) Canadian Ryan Pahl’s four-year effort to break into F-Class high-power rifle competitive shooting.

Spoiler: in the end, he decides he just doesn’t have the resources (human or capital, we’re not really sure what his problem is) to get to the next level. So he decides to take his shooting in a different direction, at the end of the playlist. But if you hang in for the whole thing, you’ll learn a lot about rifle competitive target shooting and the level of competition that’s out there these days. You’ll also learn quite a bit about what it takes to put lead on target, when “on target” is defined as very small and quite far away.

The fact is, Ryan shot better than many elite military unit snipers, and he was still, at the end, disappointed in his performance, measured against the real high-power competition gravelbellies.

And benchrest shooters look at high-power shooters’ best groups, kind of like physicists look at psychologists — “they do interesting stuff, but is it really science?” — and they have the groups to justify that attitude.

There are two sets of things that competitors do. The first is a variety of things that actually improve shooting performance, including such things as handloading with extreme uniformity. These things are mostly unchanged from competitor to competitor and year over year. Then there are the superstitions, which do tend to change: they get swept up as enthusiasms or fads by the community for a while, then they’re all on to the next fad. But an outsider has little hope of figuring out which is which. (Best guide to a fad is the absence of a plausible physical explanation of why it helps, but that’s not perfect as some useless superstitions sound perfectly plausible).

This could be edited down into a single, shorter presentation, that would be worth buying as a DVD or download. We’ll admit we fast-forwarded past the many groups that were recorded in apparent real-time. Shooting holes in targets is one of those things that’s much more interesting when you’re doing it than when you’re watching the other guy do it.

Good luck to Ryan, and thanks for the video tour of a short career in high-power.

FDA Moves to Regulate Lasers, Ban High-Powered Units

Is that a warm glow we’re feeling, or are you just glad to range us? The Food and Drug Administration, apparently upset that all kinds of other agencies are getting their Nazi on and leaving the pill police behind, wants to restrict and, functionally, ban, all but the lowest-powered laser pointers. Everything but the green five-watters in the chart below? Banned. “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Pretty neat,” as some politician or other said.

WL-Powerabilitiesnew

Why? Because they’re from the Government and they’re here to help you, and because occasional asshats have aimed pointers at aircraft. (The usual outcome: asshat in prison. It’s a Federal felony to point a laser at an aircraft in flight. A guy got 14 years for this, last month). As the above chart (from laser vendor wickedlasers.com shows) higher-wattage and -wavelength lasers are powerful enough to, as your mother warned you, put your eye out. Kind of like a scissors, then, which the nannzies at FDA haven’t gotten to. Yet.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration published new draft guidance that could effectively put an end to high-powered lasers in the United States. It will not be formally approved until the 90-day comment period has passed.

The move is likely in response to the growing threat of laser strikes against aircraft. Since early 2014, the FBI has offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who reports a laser strike to federal authorities, leading to an arrest. Since the FBI began keeping track in 2004, there have been more than 12,000 reported incidents nationwide—and the incident rate continues to climb.

Earlier this year, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison in a lasering incident, believed to be the harshest such sentence in the United States, and possibly in the world. Pilots say that being struck with such lasers can be terrifying, causing temporary blindness and sometimes lingering headaches.

The new draft regulation expands the definition of surveying, leveling, or alignment (SLA) lasers, which are currently capped at five milliwatts of power, to include consumer-grade lasers. Sites, like WickedLasers.com, openly sell lasers with up to 2W of power for $200 to $600.

via Feds issue “draft guidance” to restrict high-powered laser pointers | Ars Technica.

The clowns managing the transition from nanny to Nazi at the FDA (which is where we get the neologism nannzies) announce their power over lasers on a web page, but have yet to announce their intent to ban large sections of the things, although they do assert that any laser not now making less than their future limit IS ILLEGAL. (Emphasis theirs).

Even the smallest handheld, battery-powered lasers are capable of emitting laser light at hazardous powers. Larger models, the size of a small flashlight, can burn skin and pop balloons. More importantly, consumers should assume any size handheld battery-powered laser they do not directly control has the potential to blind or permanently affect eyesight.

Do not purchase a handheld, battery-powered laser labeled with hazard Class IIIb, Class IV, Class 1M, Class 2M, Class 3B or Class 4 unless the manufacturer has an approval from FDA (called a “variance”) to allow the purchase.  Sales without a variance, or sales that violate the conditions of the variance, ARE ILLEGAL.

You might have something to say to that, but the only thing they want to hear from you is “Jawohl,” and a smart click of the heels. If they want any lip from you, they’ll scrape it off their brass knuckles.

So how did the payroll patriots at the FDA come to regulate lasers? They just decided to grab the power one day, and they up and did it. And nobody objected, so they kept grabbing more power. As they told the owner of the website LaserPointerSafety.com, they didn’t bother to announce the new regulation in the Federal Register, as the law requires regulators do. Why not? “Because of the way the regulations are stated, the FDA determined that a guidance document was not needed when making this determination.” (More detail in this pdf).

If that sounds like Because F!&% You then you’ve tapped into the essence of Washington attitude. What’s the best way to deal with criminal misuse of a product? Ban it! If they want any lip from you…

For the time being, of course, high-powered lasers remain for sale. The ArsTechnica story linked above shows you a 2 Watt laser (often stated as 2,000 MW, because 2 Watts sounds tiny when it’s actually a gorilla among lasers) for $600, featuring hip/cool/George Lucas-ified Star Wars styling. If your taste in lasers runs more to the functional than the theatric, you can get the same power in a knurled alloy tube from Sky Technologies for $270. It has a neat focus feature making it useful as a long-distance flashlight. And here’s one for $170, that’s visibly cheaper in both senses of the word.

But even if the ban slides through, despite the complete lack of applicable statutory authority, the FDA’s nannzies can’t — yet — come into your home and stop you from building one. Here’s an example:

And this site seems to be one source of expertise and parts. Scroll down past the ads. When will they ever learn, you can’t stop the signal?