The U.S. Army recently received 115 production prototypes of computerized rifle scopes for their novel NGSW (Next Generation Squad Weapon). This is a 6.8mm infantry assault rifle/squad machine-gun. Currently these are two different weapons; the M4/16 assault rifle and the M249 light (squad) machine-gun. Both use the same 5.56mm ammo but the M249 is a different, heavier design introduced in 1984, two decades after the M16.
Advances in rifle and ammunition design since the 1980s led the army to design the NGSW, which not only combines the capabilities of the M4 and M249 but also takes advantage of three other new technologies; computerized rifle scopes, a more effective 6.8mm rifle round and lightweight ammunition. The 6.8mm round addresses troop complaints about the 5,56 round long-range accuracy and low penetrating power compared to the older 7.62mm round still used by snipers and in medium machine-guns. Penetrating power was mostly about urban combat where troops often had to fire at enemy troops in the next room. The 7.62mm could accurately shoot though most walls while the 5.56mm rounds was not as reliable at that. Troops did not want to go back to the heavier 7.62mm round for assault rifles and the 6.8mm round was developed because it provided better penetration as well as less recoil than the 5.56mm round.
No breakthrough new weapon is complete without including a computer. In the last few years computerized rifle scopes that could be used on any rifle to give troops or snipers a first round kill became available from an Israeli firm. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) has already adopted the SMASH 2000 scope. Finally, there was the lightweight ammo. This was always a possibility for the NGSW but until recently the viable candidates were of a different size than conventional ammo and required the NGSW to use unique ammo during the long transition period as the NGSW gradually replaced the M4s and M249s. The army didn’t have the budget for that. Then, in 2020 an American firm (True Velocity) introduced a lightweight composite (plastic) case for existing ammo. It is already on sale for civilians and the army is waiting for the 6.8mm version. This caliber is also popular with civilian hunters and sport shooters because of its improved accuracy and lower recoil. Hunters were also the first to adopt the early computerized rifle scopes. Big game is usually shot at long range and if your first round does not take it down, the animal disappears, eliminating possibility of a second shot. In combat there is a similar situation and over the last two decades all American infantry have been trained to use accurate single shots rather than a burst of automatic fire. If your troops can master the shooting skills needed to use single shots, you have a major combat advantage. The composite 6.8mm round weighs 30 percent less than standard (brass case) rounds and the weight savings in important for combat troops. The composite case 6.8mm round weighs as much as brass case 5.56mm round.
The army already has an American supplier (L3Harris) for a cheaper and less capable computerized rifle scope. The device is undergoing testing on the 115 NHSW production prototypes. Unless the L3 scope fails the troop tests, it will be adopted as the AN/PVS-24LR used on about a quarter of the infantry NGSW weapons initially. There is already a civilian version of the AN/PVS-24LR available, for about $10,000 each. The military buys in bulk and eliminates the additional costs of supporting a commercial product. The AN/PVS-24LR will cost a lot less than the civilian model but it is unclear how much less.
There are three candidates for the NGWS itself and one will be selected by the end of 2021 and production models of the new NGWS will be issued to troops in late 2022. The lightweight composite ammo can be introduced whenever the army is satisfied with it.
Meanwhile U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) was apparently satisfied with the 98 Israeli SMASH 2000 computerized scopes they purchased for field testing on their M4 rifles in 2020. SOCOM released videos of troops using the SMASH scope in Syria against moving aerial targets (a small box suspended beneath a moving quadcopter). As advertised, the latest version of the Smash 2000 made this possible and Israeli troops have been using it against Hamas quadcopters and helium balloons carrying incendiary devices across the Gaza border into Israel.
SOCOM needed a solution to the increasing ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) use of quadcopters in Syria and Iraq. SOCOM has become increasingly desperate to find an effective and reliable way to take down these small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Israel had a solution, which they originally developed for taking down kites and balloons used by Hamas in Gaza to send incendiary devices and small explosives across the border into southern Israel. Sharpshooters and snipers had proven somewhat useful but not very efficient. Few expert shooters could reliably bring down these small targets.
By early 2019 Israel found that a locally made computerized scope, SMASH 2000, could do the job once its software had been modified to handle kites, balloons and, it turned out, quadcopters. Initially SMASH 2000 could only guarantee a quadcopter hit if the small UAV was within 150 meters but that range has since been extended.
The IDF adopted the SMASH 2000 computerized sniper scope in 2018 and renamed it Dagger. When asked, the firm that developed SMASH quickly modified the Dagger software to go after moving fire kites and fire balloons used from Gaza. It worked and troops with the new software could use Dagger to take down a kite or balloon several hundred meters distant with one shot. When bought in large quantities, SMASH 2000 gear for each rifle costs under $10,000 and the price is falling as more are purchased. Israel issues Dagger gear to sharpshooters (troops recognized as more accurate shooters) and snipers (those sharpshooters trained to operate independently and covertly). American and Israeli military leaders began considering adopting Dagger in a more affordable manner, especially if the price came down more. The U.S. considered incorporating SHASH 2000 tech in the NGSW assault rifle to turn all troops into sharpshooters. The U.S. army settled on a more affordable scope that improved accuracy but required experienced shooters to get first shot kills. The army and marines already seek to train most of their combat troops to this standard.
Currently, SMASH 2000 is cost-effective if only one or two men in a Special Forces team (of twelve) have one. For SOCOM snipers, hitting the target with the first shot is even more important. SMASH 2000 enables troops to do that with more certainty and less stress for the shooter.
For Israel SMASH 2000/Dagger solved an immediate problem. Since early 2018 thousands of kites and helium balloons have been launched towards Israel. Each one is equipped with a lightweight incendiary device that goes off (most of the time) when it lands on the Israeli side of the border. The kites and balloons are more of a nuisance than a threat but have started over a thousand fires. Most of these are small brush fires that do not spread, but several have destroyed crops or trees and required firefighters to put out. Eventually, some of the floaters carried small explosives. Israel has used airstrikes to destroy over a thousand of these kites and balloons on the ground at launching, storage or manufacturing sites, as well as several hundred in the air using UAVs operated by civilians who had developed similar skills for UAV “battles”. Israel has also adapted some radars and other sensors to detect these slow, low altitude objects and that made the special Dagger scope even more effective against the fire kite/balloon attack efforts. Because of all these countermeasures, the use of kites and balloons has declined but not disappeared.
The SMASH scope also convinced the IDF that this device could turn just about any soldier into a sharpshooter or sniper. First offered the SMASH scope in 2017, the IDF tried it out with infantry and special operations troops, and by the end of the year approved it for use. Based on that success, in early 2018 SMASH was offered to foreign militaries (and police organizations). By early 2019, the SMASH scope demonstrated its flexibility by how quickly its software could be modified to handle wind-blown targets like fire kites and balloons as well as quadcopters.
There were several major innovations in SMASH 2000 compared to the earlier computerized scopes pioneered by American firm TrackingPoint. SMASH could be mounted and used on any weapon with a Picatinny rail. This allows the scope software to work with the trigger of each different weapon. The scope puts a visual block around potential targets the user is aiming at. When the user has the intended target in the block, a button is pushed and that target is locked and a precise firing angle calculated, and shot automatically fired unless the user intervenes. Other computerized scopes use the same basic concept but more recent models do it more reliably and cheaper.
The most convincing test of the SMASH scope was to have new recruits use it while receiving their first rifle training. Some 70 percent of these novice shooters made accurate shots the first time they fired the SMASH equipped rifle. A few dozen shots later and they were performing like expert snipers. In the hands of snipers and experienced troops, SMASH enabled difficult (moving or obscured by smoke) targets to be hit with the first shot. The IDF was sufficiently impressed to order 2,000 SMASH systems, mainly for use by snipers.
TrackingPoint pioneered this tech and in 2013 introduced its first computerized shooting system, the XS1. These initially cost $27,000 but the price has since come down to less than half that as the firm introduced more models and sales increased. These scopes were still expensive because they are sensor-equipped and computerized to the extent that initial tests showed that over 70 percent of first-time users could hit a target over 900 meters distant with the first shot. For a professional sniper first shot success averages about 25 percent and 70 percent on the second shot. The army tested the XS1 and found it worked but did not try to adopt the system for a lot of military sniper rifles, even though it would be a major improvement for snipers. The major obstacle was the wear and tear of battlefield use and the fact that most snipers were satisfied with their existing scopes. Snipers are trained to take good care of their rifles, scopes and the growing number of electronic gadgets they now use, but the XS1 was a major leap in terms of electronics, sensors and especially required maintenance. It was recognized that the XS1 technology was the future and just as the many new (since the 1990s) sniping accessories have become rugged and reliable enough to be standard items, so will the XS1 approach or something similar to it like SMASH. Meanwhile, the TrackingPoint tech was adopted for a small number of sniper rifles that could make good use of it as is.
In 2016 TrackingPoint introduced another version of its computerized scopes; NightDragon. This version allows for using an IR (infrared) spotlight with a range of nearly 200 meters and a scope with a sensor that makes the IR light visible to the shooter. Normally IR is not visible to human (or animal) eyes. The computerized scope tracks the target in the crosshairs and fires when the computer determines that a hit will be achieved. Targets can be moving as fast as 24 kilometers an hour. Costing $13,000 each, this is one of the few TrackingPoint scopes available for the civilian market. Most of their computerized aiming systems are only for military or police organizations. The manufacturer sells TrackingPoint equipped rifles mainly to police organizations or a few wealthy hunters who don’t like to miss. TrackingPoint now provides a growing list of computerized scopes for ranges of 350-1,300 meters. Prices range from $10,000 to $17,000.
SMASH costs much less than the cheapest TrackingPoint system and can be used on most rifles and pistols. SMASH is more rugged and was quickly adapted to shoot down small UAVs, be used at night, make videos and have 4x magnification. That version was modified to take down fire kites and balloons. There are other firms developing computer-controlled scopes and as time goes by these scopes will have more features, become cheaper and more reliable.