Springfield 1903 with the zero-losing Telescopic Musket Sight M1913 by Warner & Swasey — currently on GunBroker.
For most of the 20th Century, most of the world’s militaries put great efforts into denying the superiority of optical to iron sights. There were several reasons for this iron-sight bias: first, optical sights were originally fragile, and vulnerable to failure modes that iron sights were not, such as lens breakage, reticle dislocation, and fogging. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the military is an environment where hard effort is not only celebrated, it’s almost fetishized. An optical sight seemed to make accurate shooting so easy that marksmanship trainers worldwide thought of it as “cheating.” Third, sport target shooting, which was heavily cross-pollinated with military marksmanship training then as now, had rigid equipment rules that specified iron sights.
Over the years, the technical problems were solved. The toughest and most persistent was fogging, which was solved by putting an artificial atmosphere into the scope, in place of the precipitation-capable air atmosphere of old. The manufacturer suctioned the atmosphere out of the scope, and replaced it with pure nitrogen gas — no water vapor to lead to fogging. This was done for military optics at first, especially for aeronautical ones, around the time of the Second World War. Leupold shipped the first commercial scopes with this feature in 1949; rather than a new model it was a running change in production of the 2.5x Plainsman scope.
The Warner & Swasey was a prismatic design.
But long before that, scopes were being used for military marksmen. In World War I, miscellaneous scopes were mounted to rifles for what the Army called “sharpshooters.” These may have included the notoriously zero-non-holding Warner & Swasey Prismatic and 5x Winchester A-5.
[T]elescopic and mirror sights are delicate and easily damaged, and are in consequence not well suited for general military use. There seems, however, no valid reason why picked shots detailed for special duty should not be provided with the most effective sights which exist, even if the rifle so fitted require special care.
Several optical sights have been devised, and some of them have done excellent service in match shooting. These may be divided into three classes — the use of lenses without any tube, as in the early aerial telescopes; the employment of lenses to give a reference-line, with or without optical aid, the so-called collimating sights; and finally, telescopes, prismatic or otherwise, complete in themselves with arrangements for elevation and deflection, and with means for ready attachment to the rifle.
The best known telescopic sight is that of Dr. Common, which he perfected in 1901; as regards principle it has not been improved on. The Zeiss prism telescope-sight [Presumably the Zeiss Zielklein -- Ed.] is really a small periscope; it has the disadvantage that considerable light is lost in the prisms, far more than in a simple telescope. In this sight, and in the similar Goerz prism-sight, means are provided for illuminating the cross-wires at night.
The Warner & Swasey scope was calibrated to an optimistic 3,000 yards.
According to a frontline veteran quoted by the magazine, this illuminated reticle provided the German sniper with a considerable tactical advantage over his British opposite number.
A 1919 article in the same magazine had, along with some descriptions of sniper tactics still in daily use and some clearly optimized for the stationary Western Front, this note about equipment:
The rifle lasted decades more, but the sight didn’t.
Snipers’ rifles were always the pick of those furnished an entire division, and were fitted with extremely complicated and accurate calibrated sights. Small telescopes, with scaled measures spaced upon them, gave the sniper the distance of an object while he sighted his weapon, and permitted him to tell within a few feet how far away his intended prey was stationed.
That sounds more like they’re talking about rangefinders, perhaps stadiametric rangefinders, than scopes. Follow that link if you can; there’s a great deal of interesting information about Great War sniper tactics in there.
Period American Army doctrine, which one expects to be backward and hidebound, turns out not to be silent on sniping and telescopic sights. Now, it’s not exactly voluble on the subject, either. In 1917-18 there was no sniper manual, just a single paragraph in the Small Arms Firing Manual, 1913 (corrected through March 15, 1918 with Changes 1 through 20).
253. TELESCOPIC SIGHTS.–To properly equip a special class of shots who, in action, may be employed as sharpshooters, the telescopic sight is adopted. These sights are supplied by the Ordnance Department at the rate of two to each company. They will be assigned to the enlisted men found best qualified to use them, and may, in the discretion of the company commander, be carried by them at inspection under arms.
Not less than four men of each company will be given a suitable amount of practice with these sights.
Occasionally you find a sight without a rifle, and a rifle without a sight (there’s one of each on GB now, but the scope base would have to be fabricated).
It’s interesting that this brief doctrinal mention fails to suggest any need for special training and maintenance, and fails to note the assignment and zero of the rifle to one individual. It’s simply a shooting-prize, handed to the guys who shoot best at qualification (which, then, was known-distance bullseye shooting. Perhaps we’ll have a few more excerpts from this manual in the days ahead). There’s also no mention of the painstakingly learned two-man sniper-spotter teams, search techniques, or concealment and decoy-position tactics that are the meat of the 1919 article linked above. It’s sniping as shooting, period; something that would strike today’s school-trained sniper whether from Marine, Army, SF, or SEAL sniper school as reductive to the point of absurdity.
We’re probably going to pull another excerpt or two out of the 1913 Manual, and then put the .pdf up on here for your edification.
The photo, taken over 100 years ago, was at the School of Musketry, in one of America’s oldest still-serving military installations, the Presidio of Monterey, California. The building these 1911 worthies pose before may in fact be one of the converted stables that were still used as instructional venues for many years. In the 1980s, they held the Slavic languages departments of the Defense Language Insititute.
At the time of the photo, the weapons issued to riflemen had just gotten out from under the label “musket,” even though the now-archaic term “musketry” remained in declining use for marksmanship for another decade or so in the English-speaking world. But by 1911, the muskets were gone, stored away, sold off, given to Grand Army of the Republic (Union vets’ version of the VFW/Legion) posts, whatever.
Regulars had the world-class Springfield 1903, replacing both infantry rifles (muskets) and cavalry carbines, and inventors and engineers the world over were applying the latest developments in metallurgy and smokeless powders to the then-young concept of weapons that would reload and fire themselves. Many of these inventors were American, but they went overseas in search of customers as American military budgets lagged. But the young officers and sergeants of the School of Musketry followed the developments carefully.
Officers in the front row of the photo hold swords that, in 1911, were still not entirely ceremonial in nature, especially for cavalrymen (elsewhere in the Army, an ambitious young lieutenant from a military family was redesigning the cavalry saber with a straight blade for using on point in the charge, in the latest European practice. You may have heard of him: 2nd. Lieut. George S. Patton, Jr). After all, an officer went to war 100 years ago with a whistle and the six shots his revolver held — the School had just finalized the radical new Colt Automatic Pistol, which offered another shot and a rapid reload, and safeties and lanyards optimized for mounted combat.
Some of the men who worked on that project must be in this picture.
These men don’t look quite like the soldiers of today. They’re smaller and leaner — even if we average in the 15% of today’s soldiers who are women, an idea these 1911 troopers would have found otherworldly. They’re almost all white (there is one man who may be a black enlisted man, possibly an orderly of some kind, or who may just be a white man in shadow).
Definitive information was rather hard come by in those days. In contrast to the 20th Century wall of manuals and regulations, or the modern dimensionless information resources on Army Knowledge Online, the school had a small library. How small? In 1916, after a move to Ft. Sill, OK, these were the books that might have been professional reading for the weapons man of a century ago.
Mainly About Shooting
Sharpshooting for Sport and War
Irish Riflemen in America
Report of Rifle Shooting in the U. S. under the Auspices of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice for the year 1908
The Pistol and Revolver
Suggestions for Military Riflemen
The U. S. Revolver Association
These are not sections, mind you, but individual books. All of them. That was it — all the information the School of Musketry had on, well, musketry and related subjects, which the library categorized under “sport”. Don’t take our word for it. You can download the entire library catalogue here: School of Musketry Library, 1916. (pdf) On a dusty western post like Ft. Sill, or a pleasant seaside one like the Presidio of Monterey, books were rare and precious commodities.
And to get one of these books, of course, the interested soldier or officer had to physically go to the library. When it was open. And borrow the book. If someone else didn’t have it out already. There was no way to know if the book was in at the moment, short of going there and laying our own two eyes on its place in the stacks.
On the plus side, there was little risk of information overload.
One School officer from the Monterey days was 2nd Lieut. Parker K. Hitt. Hitt was a pioneer of machine guns in the US Army. After he retired as a Colonel after a long and distinguished career, he penned an interesting reminiscence of his time in the School of Musketry for a professional journal, Military Review. It ran in July, 1960, a wonderful thread that ties together Col. Hitt’s youth 100 years ago, the dawn of the machine gun, and readers of this blog who were not yet born when Col. Hitt told his story, two and a half Army officer careers ago (a freshly commissioned 2LT who read this article in 1960 could have retired, certainly a Vietnam veteran, out of the Hollow Army of 1980. His son could have retired before 9/11). Take it away, Col. Hitt:
The School of Musketry was started at Monterey following one of the most significant military developments in the history of the United States Army. This was the issue of two Maxim machineguns to each infantry and cavalry regiment in 1906.
I was a lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry, with battle experience in the Philippines wit h the British one-pounder (pom-pom), the Gatling and the Colt machinegun. In the fall of 1906 I was placed in command of the provisional machinegun platoon which was authorized for the regiment.
MG squad B/2 Inf. circa 1917. Same guns, accessories and uniforms as Hitt’s men would have had in 1906. Photo via SADJ.
Machine gun doctrine was rather thin: “a single copy of a book by the Vickers-Maxim Company on the assembly and operation of the gun.” Questions on the history and technology of machine guns were referred to Captain John H. Parker, whose nickname, “Gatling Gun Parker,” came from his employment of that weapon at Santiago. (Parker and Hitt would settle a dispute over the superiority of the Maxim or the Gatling appropriately — on the range, with the Benet-Mercié machine rifle, an American Hotchkiss variant, also playing).
These initial guns were type-classified the U.S. Maxim Machine Gun, Caliber .30, Model of 1904. There’s an excellent and technically detailed retrospective on the weapon by Robert Segal online at Small Arms Defense Journal. (He doesn’t note the genesis of the steam condensing hose, which is mentioned in Parker Hitt’s article). They look an awful lot like an early Vickers Maxim, and with good reason, as the first 90 were made by Vickers and serials 91-287 were made under license by Colt. They were chambered for the then-standard cartridge, .30-03.
Taking a Maxim to the field was not a light endeavor, the MG platoon requiring
10 pack mules, and pack equipment designed for horses. Each squad had one gun weighing about 58 pounds, and a tripod weighing about 52 pounds with tool, water, and ammunition load totaling about 800 pounds.
He remembered the guns fondly, but chafed at the parsimonious Ordnance Department ammo allocation: 500 rounds, per gun, per year. He managed to exceed that allocation a little… in Fiscal Year 1907/08, by over 20,000 rounds per gun.
For all this, Hitt records, the MG was a sideline at the School of Musketry:
The rifle was king in those days and a man went to the School of Musketry to have his chance to get in the Pacific Department rifle competition. I fired in the 1907 competition where we had the 40-round skirmish run and got a bronze medal with a score of 744.
The machinegun was a curiosity to the classes at the school. We let each member of the class fire a few rounds, showed them how to reduce jams, and had inspections of the platoon in field equipment, but otherwise I can remember no classwork.
Hitt also claims to have made the Army’s first reactive targets, that dropped when shot.
I think I was responsible for the first successful field targets used by the Army which would fall when struck by a bullet and yet stand in a wind. I made several models at Monterey, including a rotary one which turned over automatically when struck, exposing a fresh target. The drop targets were afterward taken up by the Ordnance Department, which manufactured them for a time.
During Hitt’s tenure, the School also tested the coming Army sidearm, as we mentioned above:
The first models of the Colt pistol were tested there and I found a way to make the pistol go off by juggling the safeties alone without touching the trigger. Colonel Marion P. Maus, president of the test board, was incredulous and on trying it for himself the gun went off and the bullet chipped a neat nick in the toe of his boot.
Presumably he is referring to the Colt Model 1905 Cal. .45 semiautomatic pistol. His time at the School in Monterey lasted until 1910, when his unit got orders to Alaska and he assumed command of a rifle company in Nome.
On returning from two years in the North, he was asked to take command of the machine guns again, to find that they’d never been unpacked in Alaska and his well-drilled crews had been dissipated. He had to start again from zero. Hitt would later serve in the Fort Sill iteration of the school in 1916/17 or so.
Before there was an assault rifle ban (1994), before there was the Bush executive import ban (1989), before there was even the Hughes Amendment that distorts the NFA market (1986), there was The Complete Book of Assault Rifles, a 1980s annual magazine that claimed to be an Expert’s Guide to the Most Versatile Firearms you can Legally Buy. We’ve got a few of these in the still somewhat chaotic Weaponsman Reference Library section of the [Soon to be Named] Unconventional Warfare Reference Library, including at least Vol. 2, No. 1 (1985) and the issue you see here, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1986).
The front cover is a splash of pictures and text, promising gun tests, comparisons, controversy and a “Complete buyer’s guide to all assault rifles.” The back cover is a hilarious posed picture with two meaty dudes with HK33s. Both are wearing ERDL camouflage and unshaped, badgeless black berets right from the surplus store. One of them appears to have a knife sheath — without a knife — on his web gear. In other words, if this is your rescue force, you’re probably going to die. Sorry ’bout that.
Despite the cornball covers, the magazine was quite good and contains 98 pages of content with no advertising (that’s a double-edged sword, as gun ads of this vintage are usually fascinating period pieces). The articles vary in quality, and in how they’ve withstood the test of time.
An analysis of the M16A2 by Gary Paul Johnston is particularly notable. Johnston heartily welcomed almost all the changes in the Deuce version of the military AR as practical improvements: reinforced lower receiver, heavier barrel, better sights, vastly superior handguards and slip ring, another 1″ of trigger pull. But he liked the three-shot burst as little as we do, proving himself a genius. (And the Army finally $#!+-canned it recently, proving all of us prophets. Kneel before our greatness!). Johnston goes into the history and function of the burst device at some length, and provides comparison photos and descriptions of its antecedents, like the four-position 1960s-era burst device (which rotated 360 degrees through safe, semi, burst and auto settings).
Some of the articles aren’t as convincing: the one about the awesome M1 Carbine, or the CAR-15 and Ruger Mini-14 comparo that never mentions the elephant in the room, accuracy. (At the time, a good M16 Carbine with M193 was a 1.5 to 2 MOA gun; a Mini-14 was maybe a 5 MOA gun. Both have since been improved and the gap’s been closed somewhat).
There are bargains lost — the $495 Chinese AK — and weapons that never really caught on, like the Australian Leader or the excellent but expensive AUG. Some prices are not that far out– Springfield Armory was selling their SAR-48 FAL clone for $899, $1883 in 2012 dollars. There’s in-depth on the then-new Daewoo K2 and the then-elderly Beretta BM59.
Two of the most interesting articles cover guns that never caught on, the FN CAL, and the even more exotic, FARC-3.
The FARC-3 was the “assault rifle of tomorrow” in 1986, and we guess it still is. The resemblance to the AR-18 and Stoner 63 is come by honestly enough, for the FARC was also a Gene Stoner design. Funded by DARPA and built by the Ohio company ARES, the FARC acronym stood for Future Assault Rifle Concept, and the gun used an AK-ish operating system, with striker rather than hammer fire, and then-novel plastic magazines. The article predicted that the idea of plastic magazines, at least, was here to stay.
“Vote for me, you %#%$# or I’ll bash your $^$@#!! head in.”
One of the interesting factoids is just how rare murders with rifles are. While opponents of gun rights like to show a picture of an Evil Black Rifle and quote the scary number, “30,000 gun deaths,” most of those are suicides. There are only about 12k-odd homicides a year, of which 8k-odd are done with all firearms. But almost all of them are done with handguns, and almost all of them with guns acquired outside of normal commerce, one way or the other. The skells blowing each other away in Chicago aren’t choirboys who bought their heaters at Wal-Mart. (Note that many “homicide” numbers, also, include maybe 1,000 justified homicides, mostly by police in furtherance of their duty, and sometimes by armed citizens).
But in those 8k gun homicides, the number of rifle killings is less than a rounding error. This story has been widely reported in the gun media… here’s the Breitbart version:
[I]n looking at the FBI numbers from 2005 to 2011, the number of murders by hammers and clubs consistently exceeds the number of murders committed with a rifle.
Think about it: In 2005, the number of murders committed with a rifle was 445, while the number of murders committed with hammers and clubs was 605. In 2006, the number of murders committed with a rifle was 438, while the number of murders committed with hammers and clubs was 618.
And so the list goes, with the actual numbers changing somewhat from year to year, yet the fact that more people are killed with blunt objects each year remains constant.
For example, in 2011, there was 323 murders committed with a rifle but 496 murders committed with hammers and clubs.
“This is my hammer…there are many like it, but this one is mine — wait, does this pink tie make me look gay?”
It is obviously just a matter of time before the politicians now saving us from rifles, like the angry Mr Schumer pictured here, move on to protect us from the significantly deadlier hammer menace. True, people who can show good cause for owning a hammer, like professional carpenters and homeowning thumb hunters may be able to get a license for a properly registered standard claw hammer. Certainly no one needs a 16-lb sledge assault hammer or an easily concealable Saturday-night-special tack hammer. So we can expect these to be banned. For the children!
Accordingly, since there’s absolute bugger-all to be bought in our local FFLs’ shops, we got out ahead of the next big ban and went to Lowe’s, where we bought a selection of the biggest, ugliest, and most “tactical” hammers we could find. (Seriously, in Special Forces we never needed hammers like this, just a piton hammer for climbing and a couple of claw hammers in the team engineer kit). We are now sitting on a treasure trove of certain-to-appreciate-after-the-ban hammers, bars, and blunt instruments of all kinds, and for a hell of a lot less than that SCAR-17S we were eyeing on GunBroker.
We even bought a big end extra ugly crowbar, that will do as a hammer in a pinch (if you don’t mind a missed nail leading to the destruction of your wood structure). And we’re figuring out where to weld on the bayonet lug and flash hider. Because when hammers are outlawed, only us outlaws will have hammers.
One of SMG’s FG42 replicas. Rather than embed his video, we’ll just give you a picture and a link. The picture is the one they have on GunBroker right now.
Pretty, isn’t it? Go here for Ian’s short writeup and nearly 16 minute video, including disassembled examination, a comparison of what’s like the original and what’s not, and some shots of it in action. at an IPSC match. As Ian says, “Hope you enjoyed the video… you probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we did because this thing is just really awesome!”
We actually ordered one of these, then never finished up the paperwork as various crises struck around here. Even though we laid in the required stock of ZB-26 mags. What the hell were we thinking? True, paperwork’s “not our bag,” as folks said back in the swinging sixties. But some paperwork is worth it. We’ll be rectifying that this week, especially now that we’ve seen video of one in action. WE WANT!
Of course, Chuck Schumer wants it, too, but not in a healthy and hygenic way like us. That pervert.
Most of our readers know the broad history of submachine guns (machine pistols in euro-speak). A submachine gun is normally defined as having three characteristics: pistol cartridge, shoulder weapon, automatic or selective fire. The weapon rose, and fell, for reasons we’ll get into below the video as we enumerate the generations. But until very recently the pistol-caliber SMG was in the doldrums, dumped by one of the opinion-driving SOF units that once favored it after a very well-known operational failure, and replaced by ever more compact and ergonomic carbines.
Still, vendors keep introducing new SMGs. Colt even makes several awkward 9mm AR-15 variants to give law enforcement and site security customers the familiar ergonomics of the top carbine withe the ballistics of its main competitor for those roles, the MP5. Now here comes SIG with a new SMG, aimed at the MP5 rather directly.
SIG clearly borrowed both MP5 and AR characteristics liberally, whilst adding their own twists, the best of which is definitely the quick-change barrels and stocks. Anyone who’s ever changed an AR or H&K barrel knows it’s a non-trivial adventure. The weapon is more compact than the MP5, with the superior ergonomics of the AR platform. But the targeting of the weapon at the LE MP5 market is crystal clear. And it’s not subtle: SIG uses the same model suffixes as the Oberndorf outfit. About the only thing they could have done to better salt H&K’s wounds would be to make the thing accept H&K magazines (maybe they do. The magazine and its catch area look very similar).
And yes, civilians, we hear there will be a semi-auto, NFA/SBR version for all y’all, as well as a 16″-equivalent Title 1 carbine — one more thing SIG does to thumb its nose at a longtime competitor, whose disdain for the non-governmental shooting public occasionally soars into the stratosphere of outright contempt. Of course, that depends on there being a civilian market, something that’s not really a lock at this time.
One interesting fact: launch calibers are .40 and .357. No 9mm yet… just the two most popular Federal law enforcement agency pistol rounds. Interrrrresting.
SIG has been excellent at getting new products out lately… now it has to work on its quality reputation, which has been taking a beating.
History of SMGs and where this fits
In the beginning, there was steel and wood: Lanchester SMG.
The first submachine guns were created by designers frustrated by the trench impasse of World War I warfare, and who built new weapons of unprecedented short-range firepower. They adapted service pistol rounds to simple blowback actions (complicated blowback actions, we’re lookin’ at you, James T. Thompson), and used traditional gunmakers’ art. Those were 1st Generation SMGs, and many armies entered World War II with them. (Germany was a rare exception, having adopted a 2nd-generation weapon before the war).
The Swedish M45B was copied in Egypt as the “Port Said.” It is a typical 2nd-Genrration SMG.
The second generation applied automotive and industrial mass production techniques to make those SMGs faster, easier and cheaper. Instead of machined steel and walnut, we have stampings, automated-screw-machine output, and wire and tubing, The same armies that started WWII with 1st Generation guns ended it with 2nd Generation weapons. (Japan was a rare exception, which put little weight on SMGs and never got beyond a 1st-generation gun).
While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62×25, folding stock).
The third generation was manufactured like the second, but featured a bolt that wrapped around the barrel rather then sat behind. Given the large mass of the bolt on a blowback 9mm or .45 caliber gun, this made for a more compact and controllable gun. But by the time these weapons were in general use, assault rifles which offered most of the portability, all of the selective fire, and much greater range than the best previous SMG were in common use. Armies often specified, when contracting for new rifles, that they replace both battle rifles and submachine guns, and in influential armies like America’s and Russia’s, that’s exactly what happened.
H&K’s most common MP5 variant, the MP5A3.
Some people consider the H&K MP5 a fourth generation. It was actually more like the term the British used for their Sten and Lanchester SMGs: a machine carbine. While a few armies adopted it, mostly armies that clung to a full-power rather than intermediate-cartridge rifle, it quickly found a niche in police and hostage rescue operations. This was somewhat unexpected for H&K, but they went with it, even making .40 caliber versions for American police. (The customer is never wrong when he approaches you with buckets of currency).
Suppressed MP7s and pistol abandoned by French SOF, along with their casualties, in a failed hostage rescue in Somalia this weekend.
Some further argue that there is a fifth generation — weapons like the FN P90 and H&K MP7 that are meant to be intermediate weapons between the pistol and the intermediate-cartridge assault rifles. Thee weapons are designed for bespoke cartridges that are not exactly (or not normal) pistol rounds, thus failing one of the SMG tests (pistol round, shoulder fire, auto capable). They’re more realistically descendants of the M1 carbine, and they’ve found market acceptance hard to come by. The MP7 has a small niche in special operations, but one wonders if it hasn’t been largely a cool-factor thing, like Chippewa boots in the 70s and 80s or a Suunto watch today. There just isn’t much it does that an AR doesn’t do better — a 416, if you’re one of the fanjugend.
So what killed the SMG, and will the SIG MPX succeed?
What killed the SMG is simple: AR-platform carbines began to approach the MP5 in size, while being miles ahead in capability.
This came home to the special operations community in October 1982, when the invasion of Grenada marked the high water line of SOF’s love affair with the H&K MP5. One special operations element found itself pinned down by a pesky sniper, armed with nothing but MP5s, and badly outranged. Indeed, to call the enemy shooter a “sniper” probably exaggerates his capabilities, as he didn’t kill any of the friendlies. He was just some Grenadan or Cuban schmo with an ordinary rifle, but if a guy 250 yards away from you has you under accurate rifle fire and all you have to shoot back at him is an 8″ barrel 9mm, that’s sniper enough to keep your head down. No SOF element ever again hit a target, beach, DZ or LZ without an answer for that 250-yard ‘tard.
The versatility of the AR platform truly threatens several specialist platforms. But with the MPX, SIG is betting that “horses for courses” will still animate special operations and police gun buyers. We don’t have pricing information yet, but we’ll bet that with production in the USA (likely in SIG’s new factory in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, not far from where this video was shot) they’ll be very tempting, especially for police agencies looking to replace worn MP5s. They’re clearly aiming at an MP5 replacement with better adaptability (convertible barrels, stocks, even calibers), better ergonomics (how long were the thumbs on the guy that designed the awful CETME selector the MP5 still has, anyway?), and better training commonality with carbines — all for less money than Brand H. We’ll see if law enforcement agencies are tempted.
We love weapons of all vintages, their technology, their rich history, the stories they could tell if they could talk. While we certainly share the love that Ian and his gang at Forgotten Weapons have for the orphans and ugly ducklings of days gone by, we also have one beady eye on the weapons of days yet to come. Of course, while some of these technological developments might be the next Stokes mortar or MP44, and revolutionize the battlefield, others are certainly going to be the orphans. We’re going to talk a little bit about a new technology about to be shown at the SHOT Show, and about its evolutionary niche. First, a video (which may have an annoying ad. If so, sorry ’bout that).
What did you just see? Tracking Point (teaser website — the actual website goes live at midnight EDT tonight) is a combination of technologies that, taken together, make longer-range shots more likely to succeed. This technology has been bruited about for some time, but it involves a combination of laser sensors, target sensors, accelerometers, and environmental sensors communicating with a central computer, to take as much human error as possible out of the system.
The system was originally developed under the code name Project Gazelle. This is an early prototype on a Remington XM2010 popping grapefruit and similar size targets at 225 and 232M, and a hog at 330m. Note that the field range calculation of the laser rangefinder might be one of the most useful capabilities of the system. This video’s early version has a much cruder data display, and different crosshairs, from those on the production weapon.
“Essentially, what we’ve done is put a jet fighter’s ‘lock-and-launch’ technology into a firing system,” Tracking Point President Jason Schauvel (phon.) says.
The Tracking Point weapon — it is only delivered as a complete weapon with integrated scope, the parts of the technology are inseparable — is presently a bolt-action magazine-fed complete system with a bulky scope with what looks like three objective lenses on it. The sensors include video-optical, laser, acceleration, and environmental. Tracking Point refers to the components of its system as the Heads-Up Display, Networked Tracking Scope, Tag Button, Integral Laser Rangefinder, Ballistic Calculator, Tracking Engine, and Guided Trigger. Tactical versions will be available in .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag calibers, and a hunting model in .300.
In a display modeled on a pilot’s heads-up or integrated data display, the shooter sees, superimposed on his optically and digitally magnified view of the target, two vertical “tape” displays which apparently can show incline (relative to the x-axis), range and ballistic information, an arc that provides a digital inclinometer (z-axis), and a horizontal tape display of compass heading flanked by climactic information (temperature and ambient air pressure) . With Tracking Point, though, the shooter does not need to integrate that information in his skull. The computer does it.
The shooter places the crosshair on the target point and presses the Tag Button, a small red button resembling a cross-bolt safety in the front of the trigger guard, to lock on to the target. Then he presses the rifle trigger to commit the shot, but the Tracking Point weapon does not fire the shot mechanically. Instead, it monitors the micro-motions of the rifle and the macro-motions of the target, adjusting as necessary, and then fires the weapon when the shot is sure to be made. This can happen instantaneously if the shooter is solidly locked on to the target and using good marksmanship basics, or there can be a delay until the gun and target are in proper alignment. (We’d guess the system times out the shot at some point if the target is lost, even if the shooter holds the trigger back). Tracking Point’s term for this is a “Guided Trigger.”
This will sound familiar to anyone who’s been trained on the Javelin ATGM; the advance of this technology from bulky missiles for killing T-72s to a bulky rifle for killing antelope or elk (or such people as need killing) was an inevitable result of miniaturization and research.
Think of it as like the Constantinesco or Fokker mechanical interrupter gear of World War I, which wouldn’t let a machine gun discharge when an airplane’s vulnerable wooden propeller was in front of the muzzle (or, technically, going to be where the bullet was going to be at that point in space and time). The Guided Trigger won’t let the rifle discharge unless the gun-target line is correct for the round, range and conditions.
This has particular applications where the gun and/or target are in motion. Tracking Point has demonstrated busting feral hogs from an R44 helicopter.
The weapon most seen in early Tracking Point video was a .338 Lapua Magnum and they claim an inexperienced shooter with a few minutes’ training has what that call a Tag, Track, Xact range of up to 1,200 yards.
The Tracking Point weapon can also stream its video output so that another person can watch the heads-up display in real time. They demonstrate this on iPhone and iPad. The video can also be recorded — staff judge advocates will love that.
We’ve focused a little on intelligent weapons here before, but earlier military weapons have been problematical and have never achieved truly widespread fielding. Intelligent weapons factor in range, elevation, exterior ballistic, and atmospheric conditions to increase hit probability. The first such weapon was the SPIW, or the first attempt at such a weapon, and the analog solid-state technology of the time (early 1960s) was pathetically insufficient to the needs of the users. The technology continued maturing, and led to the fielding of the XM25 in Afghanistan. Parallel developments in Korea and Israel have tried to do something similar.
The Korean and American weapons have been subject to combat testing, and testing of both has been fairly inconclusive. Both systems are predictably complex and difficult to employ within their envelope, and the Korean weapon is reported to have been very unreliable. These weapons and the Israeli equivalent have also borne many of the markers of immature technology: bulk, weight, complexity, unreliability, and poor human user interface, although the American XM25 gunners have expressed great satisfaction with their weapon.
What DARPA hath wrought
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working for some years on improved fire control for sniper systems. PEO Soldier, which is waiting for the handoff of these technologies, sees them presently in transition from Research phase to Developmental phase.
Fire control systems allow snipers to quickly and accurately acquire targets and calculate a near-instantaneous ballistic solution, allowing the sniper to place the system using an electronically displaced reticle on target and confidently send the round.
Two such systems include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) “One Shot” and “EXACTO” systems. The One Shot program will provide snipers with a technically advanced spotting scope capable of calculating cumulative wind effects to target and providing an accurate, adjusted ballistic aimpoint to the shooter. The EXACTO program is focused on developing a spotting scope-based target acquisition and guidance system that would steer maneuverable .50 caliber sniper bullets directly to a target. These DARPA programs seek to push cutting-edge technologies to increase operational range and hit probability of sniper systems. Maturity of these technologies and transition to the field is scheduled to occur over the next several years.
Note that the DARPA programs seem to focus on a sniper-spotter team, not the singleton operation that Tracking Point makes possible. (Of course, TP also enhances the power of a sniper-spotter pair).
A similar, sophisticated computerized sight made an appearance in a bestselling fiction work within the last couple of years, also. In his 2010 novel I, Sniper, Stephen Hunter had his fictional snipers go up against a bad guy armed with a system that had some commonalities with Tracking Point. While Hunter is a shooter and has a keen understanding of gun technology, his knowledge of military operations, including scout/sniper operations, is weak. But his books are fun to read, and you can’t argue with his success in that field. His conclusion — that at the state of the art a smart, experienced sniper with a “dumb” rifle can beat a hack with a “smart” rifle, is true at this time.
It might not be true in five more years of development. The bottle’s open, and the genie’s still materializing.
Why the technology?
This is happening because it’s technologically possible right now, and because the part of the sniper system that is most responsible for misses, and which most urgently needs upgrading, is the sniper himself. Most of us miss shots our weapons systems could have made. Using technology, intelligent-weapons designers are trying to take the human and his many causes of error out of the system, to the extent possible. Humans flinch, jerk the trigger, continue breathing while firing, misjudge range, miscalculate hold-over (-under) or lead, and misjudge their hold-over or lead. It takes discipline, training, and thousands of rounds of experience for a human sniper to drill these deficiencies out of his performance — and even then, he’s not 100% on 100 out of 100 days. A machine can be, which is why we’re going to see things like TrackingPoint and others that take some of the human potential for error out of the engagement loop.
It’s not just weapons that have this human-interface problem. Airline pilots will tell you that the basic difference between the philosophy designed into Airbus and Boeing cockpits is that the Airbus nannies the pilot more. It had more input by engineers, wanting to take away as much of the pilot’s ability to crash the plane as possible. Conversely, the Boeing had more input by pilots, and gives the pilot absolute authority, including to do things that in most circumstances would be somewhere between bad piloting and suicide, because in some situation it might be what a pilot needs to save his posterior. You might think that pilots like the Boeing more, but actually each craft has its partisans, and the pilots flying any particular piece of equipment tend to like it. You might think that one philosophy or the other had proven safer in line service, but that’s not the case (airline accidents are so rare that it’s hard finding significant statistical power in any comparison. Every one’s an outlier).
Limits of Tracking Point
It’s going to have several limitations, some of which inhere to all similar technologies and some of which are going to be unique to Tracking Point. Some of those limitations include:
It’s not fail-safe, and it’s irreducibly complex. If the whole system doesn’t work, the rifle doesn’t work. (There may be a “limp mode” that hasn’t yet been briefed).
Every component is a single point of failure.
Every component has only a single source.
It appears to be slower than a skilled shooter.
It’s the first generation, and so is likely to be quickly overcome by more new developments.
It’s a very likely target for the bansters.
The company is new (it’s an Austin, Texas startup) and an unknown quantity.
These limits noted, we’re going to see more of this.
So what’s going to happen next?
Going forward, we expect to see many more such technologies. Systems evolution has been converging in this direction for a while, considering the DARPA work quoted above and the PDAs used in Special Forces Sniper School and the iPod app Knight’s Armament Company developed some years ago. (But even in 2013, these technologies are still for early adopters).
Tracking Point videos
As we wrote this up on Sunday the 13th, Tracking Point was uploading more videos to their YouTube channel:
These are what’s usually included in a Lower Parts Kit. Most packaged LPKs also include a pistol grip and its associated fasteners.
Lately we’ve found interesting material a few blogs that were new to us. Most of these come to us via the indispensable Gun Wire, even when the story we report is not the one they featured (any site that rates a Gun Wire link is worth exploring a little). At the curiously named Jerking The Trigger (as in, we thought you weren’t s’posed to do that), we found an interesting and different approach to selecting a Lower Parts Kit (LPK) for an AR-15 build.
I have been getting a lot of emails regarding where to buy a truly top-shelf lower parts kit (LPK). My answer has been something like, it doesn’t matter because none of them are readily available right now. However, I have given it some more thought and I realized that the days of the complete lower parts kit may be numbered – or at least they should be.
Many people buy a lower parts kit and then promptly replace nearly half of it with aftermarket parts. Why not just start with the aftermarket parts you want and then fill in with high quality components where necessary?
If I wanted to build the best rifle I could right now, I wouldn’t buy a complete LPK. I would buy a few select components and then fill in the necessary small parts with quality components.
We normally use GI parts and only alter the trigger, but then, we build a lot of Retro ARs rather than chase the ever-improving (or at least -changing) state of the art. You know the old Kinks song, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion?” That’s what we’re not.
The factory parts — by which we mean Colt or milspec parts — are made specific ways, of specific materials. Aftermarket and particularly budget LPKs may not be made to that standard. Some of them are … how shall we word this tactfully? … never mind, to hell with tact. Some of them stink like a bag of homeless winos, melt under a hot stare, and are not only made of cheese, but of Cheez Whiz.
Assembling a lower receiver is not rocket surgery and needs no fancy tools (although some fancy tools help). The buffer tube, buffer and spring are sold separately because there are several versions. They may be included with a stock.
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but a small one. Most of the parts that go into an M16 or M4 lower receiver, and that, perhaps, should go into your AR’s, are investment-cast to near-net shape and machined to finish. Solid and roll pins are made differently. The solid pins are centerless ground for a precise fit, which is an extremely high-throughput manufacturing process highly developed by the automotive industry. The disconnector is an exception: it is often made by laser cutting; that’s not the process in the milspec technical data package but laser-cut disconnectors have been accepted. After manufacturing has completed the parts in-the-white to final size, they are heat treated as needed and finished with a phosphate coating.
Colt parts are good, but even before the current crisis made everything unavailable, quite expensive — about 250% the price of a budget kit. Surplus military parts are less available than they were; the military is now required to destroy rather than dispose weapons parts.
There’s a lot to be said for choosing a vendor at least committed enough to their product to put their name and phone number on the package. The bigger name, the more confidence you can have, especially if the vendor has military contracts (Bushmaster, Colt, Remington for example) and the parts are factory-tagged or labeled as milspec.
In the real world, most civilian AR users will sell their ARs to pay their nursing home bills before they wear out any of an AR’s wear parts. We’re accustomed to seeing military ARs that have soldiered for 40 or 50 years with substandard maintenance, and they’re still ticking over.
Two more things to think about before you take the link’s approach to building a premium AR lower.
First, don’t expect to recoup most investments in superior parts. Even though we’ve tried to make the case for paying $125 for a quality version of the $50 LPK, for example, you can’t expect an AR buyer to pay more for the resulting AR. In fact, the more you customize, the harder the sale will be; this is partly because the next buyer’s tastes will not perfectly match yours, and partly because whatever’s “hot” right now might well be a fad and not half as cool as whatever’s hot next week.
Second, the milspec parts have been the lucky recipients of hundreds of subtle engineering changes and literally billions of rounds and millions of guns worth of torture testing. The latest aftermarket trigger or safety? Maybe not. (We’ve seen ambi selectors held together with a screw that backs out from the vibration of firing. Testing FAIL).
But our bottom line on this article is that it’s an interesting approach; it gets the gun built exactly the way you want it while minimizing the scrap parts that wind up in your spares bin.
Typical page from the PEO Soldier Portfolio, this one featuring the M320 grenade launcher.
The dog’s breakfast that is US Army procurement is divided into various Program Executive Offices, each of which is commanded by a senior officer. PEO Soldier is responsible for equipment that is worn, carried or operated by the individual soldier, including small arms improvements, sights, armor, carrying tackle, and so forth.
PEO Soldier’s official mission is:
Develop, acquire, field and sustain affordable integrated state of the art equipment to improve Soldier dominance in Army operations today and in the future.
Translating that from the Army-bushwah into the Queen’s English, or at least the colonial variant spoken here, these are the guys (and gals) who are developing the next generation (and the one after that) of individual and organizational (but used by individuals) kit. They have fielded everything from the good (M4A1 upgrade, finally ditching the crappy burst device), the bad (the dreadful Army Combat Uniform and its non-concealing Universal Camouflage Pattern), and the ugly (but we’ve already mentioned the ACU and UCP, which are not only ineffective camouflage but look like a bag of barf).
The major areas of PEO Soldier are Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, Soldier Sensors and Lasers, Solcier Warrior (which produces high-tech integrated systems), and Soldier Weapons (our direct interest).
Things of particular interest on the website, all of which are linked from the main PEO Soldier page, include featured equipment at the main page, the PDF of the 2012 Rapid Fielding Initiative equipment, and the PEO Soldier Portfolio. Right now, the link still goes to the 2012 Portfolio.
One of the best makers of serious ARs for serious users, John Noveske was killed Friday night when his classic 1980s Land Cruiser left the highway near his home town of Grants Pass, Oregon. The vehicle rolled and Noveske was ejected. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
We at Weaponsman express our heartfelt condolences to John’s family and his many friends in and out of the industry. We grieve with you.
Noveske Rifleworks has issued the following statement:
Noveske Rifleworks would ask you to remember the passing of our founder, John Noveske, who died Friday, January 4th 2013 in an automobile accident.”
John planned for all eventualities, and wanted to ensure any changes would be as seamless as possible for our customers, dealers, suppliers, employees and friends. While this will be a trying time, we do not expect a change in the day to day operations of Noveske Rifleworks. We would like to thank you for your support as we deal with our loss, and would ask that instead of flowers, you consider a donation to a cause we will announce at later date.
John was more than just the founder of Noveske Rifleworks, he was a loving husband and father, and caring friend.