Why we like the ACOG

One fixture in the SOPMOD kit since the beginning has been the Trijicon ACOG, which is an acronym for Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight. Optical sights were long-resisted on spurious grounds of fragility, but it’s hard to overcome their greatest advantage, that they put the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane, even apart from any magnification on offer.

The ACOG series, and particularly the version of the sight used by SF and other SOF, has been a great success, and an attempt to replace it in SOPMOD II with the Canadian Elcan sight hasn’t entirely taken. The Elcan is a beautiful piece of glass, to be sure, but where the ACOG rules is in durability.

One first-person story might explain why.

We were conducting a search-and-seize at five site simultaneously. The operation had been planned for weeks, and exploited intelligence information gathered painstakingly over months. The target included a warlord’s illegal toll house/checkpoint, a weapons cache, a Hekmatyar financial support agent and — reportedly — a prison in which unfortunate souls who had crossed the local satrap were reportedly confined.

Just prior to kickoff we learned that the mission had been compromised. CPT Vince, an officer who had all the tools (West Point, Airborne/Ranger/SF, etc) but had so far distinguished himself by the opposite of valor, let it slip that he’d let his interpreters use his satphone to call home the night before the op. He hadn’t been thinking about the possibility of compromise, but as one of the terps was already suspect and several others had ties to one ethnic group/political party or another, maybe we had better cancel the op.

Despite Vince’s (deliberate?) compromise of the mission, the TF commander said go. And so we went, only ro find, as we had suspected and feared, the news of our operation had gotten to most of the sites before us. No shot was fired, but most of our targets were simply gone. We did rescue the miserable wretches from the prison, where it turned out they’d been held in a ransom-for-profit scheme and most were horribly ill from the conditions of their confinement. At the last minute, Vince had opted out of any of the assaults, which was just as well because no one trusted him not to flake under pressure: instead, he went to the local warlord whose various profit centers we were taking down to negotiate with him.

The checkpoint/shakedown station was gone. The building was there but it was stripped to the walls. The warlord’s men, weapons, flag and even the flagpole were gone. Vince reported in that he was laughing at us. The weapons crates were still in the cache, but every one was empty– we bagged a grand total of one spam can of 5.45mm ammunition — ammo that didn’t fit the warlord’s guys’ guns, only those of his ethnic Hazara enemies. The finance site likewise came up a dry hole, although we did uncover a truckload of looted antiquities they couldn’t move in time. (We got an attaboy from the Afghan National Museum for that one).

It was on the financier’s site that I entered the Hindu Kush Luge Competition with my M4A1 as my sled and a rickety staircase as the track. As I was about to enter a 2nd-floor door at the top of a high staircase, the door slammed open and into me. As the stairs ran along the wall on the outside of the mud building, I twisted so as to go down the rickety wooden stairs rather than straight off the landing, Afghan architecture being innocent of such Western decadences as railings. (If you fall and break your neck, that is a tragedy but it was the will of Allah). Hands, knees, shoulder, face, forearms and carbine were my various points of contact as I tobogganed down the stairway to collapse in a heap. Gradually I realized that I had lost nothing but some skin and a good bit of face (in the oriental, not anatomical, sense). And I’d gained a bumper crop of contusions and quite a few splinters. My buddy had the guy who’d opened the door secured, and when he saw me begin moving, he started laughing.

In the end, the guy was just a dude who opened a door, not a Taliban, at least, not a big one. He was even more scared than we (after all, it was his house). And my injuries would heal. My carbine had taken the worst of it.

There were wood splinters jammed into various parts of the gun, including the scope’s eyepiece. The rubber covers had been left five or six stairs from the top. There were lots of gouges to the alloy forgings of the rifle and the scope, down to the bare metal if not deeper. The on-off-mode switch for my PEQ-2 had had it and the PEQ wasn’t straight on the rails any more.

With much trepidation, I swept the splinters and debris out of the eyepiece and raised the scope for a look. It still looked good. The next day, I took an ammo can, paced off 100 meters, and fired a five-round group offhand. The can sang with five ringing hits. Each round hit within two inches of the center of mass of the can. All this, and the TA01NSN had held zero.

I went from liking the ACOG to loving it.

The cold hard fact is that, even though the Elcan is twice or more as expensive as the ACOG, and larger and brighter, one of those would not have survived that impromptu facial glissade. So we’re sticking to the ACOG.

TA01NSN as used by SF early in OEF. Image: Trijicon

There are two basic ACOGs used by the military, the one used by SF is sold to the public as the TA01NSN. It’s very durable and relies on tritium for illumination, so it will go dark in 12 years or so from manufacture. It’s also a little hard to get from the factory, which isn’t good at shipping on time or at keeping the wholesale-retail civilian channel informed. If you think you’re going to need one next year, now is a good time to place an order. (On the other hand, the earlier you order the sooner the tritium goes dead. Trijicon will service expired ACOGs now, but they won’t service some of their older tritium products, which may be the fate of your ACOG by the time its glow fades to black).

The conventional Army standardized the TA31RCO as the M150 (the Marines use a slightly different version of the TA31RCO). The essential differences between the two scopes is that the TA01NSN includes backup iron sights forged into the scope case, and the TA31RCO includes a fiber optic illuminator to light the reticle by day. The M150 version also comes with a KillFLASH attachment, highly recommended for all optics.

Oh yeah, there’s a reference to a Bible verse on the casing, too, which has the added benefit of offending all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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