Op­ti­cal bat­tle sights are all the rage, but have you con­sid­ered all the “op­tic” an­gles? By Chuck Tay­lor

The im­ple­men­ta­tion of Op­er­a­tion Desert Shield on Jan­uary 17, 1991 and Desert Storm on Au­gust 7, 1991 her­alded many revo­lu­tion­ary ad­vance­ments in war­fare, but there were two in par­tic­u­lar that caught my eye.

The first was see­ing U.S. troops wear­ing knee and el­bow pads, which was a great shock to me be­cause, as an old in­fantry­man my­self, I couldn’t help but re­mem­ber our griz­zled old sergeants telling us in train­ing that, “You can get over skin­ning yer knees and el­bows, sonny; but you can’t get over be­ing killed!” Just how the two re­lated to one an­other was—and re­mains—a mys­tery to me, but the point is that we never used pads of any kind in ei­ther train­ing or ac­tual war­fare.

The sec­ond sur­prise—and one that was also a shock to me—was that nearly all the weapons ev­ery­one was car­ry­ing had some kind of op­ti­cal bat­tle sight on them.

To be sure, I was fa­mil­iar with red dot and re­flex sights, but I never ex­pected to see them in such pro­fu­sion on mil­i­tary weapons, be­cause I’d al­ways thought of them as be­ing too frag­ile to with­stand the abu­sive field con­di­tions typ­i­cal of in­fantry com­bat.

In sub­se­quent years, while many thought that such equip­ment was a pass­ing fancy and good old iron aper­ture sights would re­main the stan­dard, these sights not only con­tin­ued in ser­vice, but ac­tu­ally pro­lif­er­ated. And not sur­pris­ingly, it wasn’t long be­fore both lawen­force­ment SWAT teams and civil­ian shoot­ers who were in­ter­ested in self­de­fense em­braced them as well. Let's look deeper into this.

Pros & Cons

Their ad­vo­cates said that op­ti­cal sights al­lowed faster tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and en­gage­ment in the close-quar­ters en­coun­ters that are so typ­i­cal these days, and that they were quite re­li­able, even un­der the harsh­est of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. Their de­trac­tors claimed oth­er­wise—that they were too frag­ile to with­stand sus­tained field abuse, and that since both the Aim­point and Eotech

were bat­tery-pow­ered, they were sus­cep­ti­ble to both heat and cold and good ol’ Mur­phy’s Law—that when con­di­tions ex­ist that al­low any­thing neg­a­tive to hap­pen, it will.

As one with con­sid­er­able field ex­pe­ri­ence, I’d been per­son­ally touched by Mur­phy’s Law more than once and have the scars to prove it, so I ad­mit that this par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cism rang loudly true. Yet, as the years passed, op­ti­cal bat­tle sights not only re­mained in ser­vice, but con­tin­ued to in­crease in use. How could this hap­pen, I rea­soned, if they were as de­fi­cient as their de­trac­tors claimed? I have al­ways prided my­self for the fact that over the years, I have been able to re­tain my pro­fes­sional ob­jec­tiv­ity, but I ad­mit that I was puz­zled. On the one hand, it was clear that the op­ti­cal bat­tle sight was a suc­cess, but on the other, its weak­nesses seemed both ob­vi­ous and crit­i­cal—its fragility, and in the case of both the Aim­point and Eotech, its de­pen­dency upon bat­ter­ies seemed an open in­vi­ta­tion to trou­ble. I re­solved to ob­tain an ex­am­ple of each of them and test them thor­oughly be­fore ren­der­ing any de­fin­i­tive ver­dict and I did so with alacrity, since many of my tac­ti­cal ri­fle stu­dents were ask­ing me the same ques­tions.

Phases of Ex­pe­ri­ence

Both the Aim­point and Eotech utilize a red-dot type ret­i­cle and are in­tended to elim­i­nate the need for front and rear sight align­ment and al­low the op­er­a­tor to shoot with both eyes open. Nei­ther de­vice has any mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, but a sep­a­rate mag­ni­fier de­signed to mount on the re­ceiver of the weapon be­hind the sight it­self is avail­able. The ACOG (Ad­vanced Com­bat Op­ti­cal Gun sight) is a more tra­di­tional de­vice, and is avail­able in 2X, 3X, or 4X mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and uti­lizes ei­ther a fiber-op­tic or tri­tium to il­lu­mi­nate the ret­i­cle in low light.

I worked with and ob­served my tac­ti­cal ri­fle stu­dents with their var­i­ous Aim­points, Eotechs and ACOGS, and

“… op­ti­cal sights al­lowed faster tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and en­gage­ment in the close-quar­ters en­coun­ters …”

it quickly be­came ob­vi­ous to me that all three al­lowed faster tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and en­gage­ment than iron sights. Even in the 115-de­greeplus tem­per­a­tures of sum­mer­time in Phoenix, Arizona, the bat­tery func­tion of the Aim­point and Eotech was unim­paired.

How­ever, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, I noted that the Eotech seemed to fade out in bright light, of­ten to the point where it was so faint that it was vir­tu­ally worth­less. Ap­par­ently, the prob­lem was fairly wide­spread, be­cause both mil­i­tary and civil­ian shoot­ers were com­plain­ing about it, but to their credit, the folks at Eotech jumped right on it and cor­rected it.

Yet, dur­ing a week-long train­ing ses­sion with the SWAT team of a large west­ern city, I noted that the bat­tery life of the Aim­points and Eotech were no­tice­ably re­duced in the rainy, 40-de­gree weather we ex­pe­ri­enced, and sev­eral units failed be­cause of elec­tri­cal short­ing caused by in­ter­nal con­den­sa­tion. How­ever, I am told that there are newly de­signed bat­ter­ies avail­able that main­tain ser­vice life at nor­mal lev­els.

As op­ti­cal bat­tle sights con­tin­ued to gain in pop­u­lar­ity, it was only nat­u­ral that they would even­tu­ally ap­pear on hand­guns, and the man­u­fac­tur­ers have re­sponded ac­cord­ingly. Var­i­ous red-dot type op­ti­cal sights are now com­mon­place on many hand­guns and once again the claim is that tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and en­gage­ment is faster than with iron sights, es­pe­cially in low light.

While I con­cur that on shoul­der weapons, op­ti­cal bat­tle sights are, with­out ques­tion, su­pe­rior to iron sights in both nor­mal and low light, I am not yet con­vinced that they are bet­ter on hand­guns. Use of the hand­gun in a tac­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion than with ri­fles, shot­guns and sub­ma­chine guns, and I have yet to see any­one pass the ex­tremely dif­fi­cult ASAA (Amer­i­can Small Arms Academy) Hand­gun Mas­ter Course uti­liz­ing an op­ti­cally sighted gun. How­ever, 83 have passed it uti­liz­ing hand­guns with con­ven­tional sights. In low light, I’ve found that tri­tium 3-dot hor­i­zon­tal pat­tern sights al­low me to quickly en­gage and hit any tar­get I can de­tect and iden­tify as be­ing hos­tile and I don’t be­lieve it can be done any faster with an op­ti­cal sight.

I am of­ten asked which of the three types of sight I pre­fer for a shoul­der weapon, and on this sub­ject, I can an­swer with au­thor­ity. While both the Aim­point and Eotech are un­ques­tion­ably ex­cel­lent units and al­low fast, ac­cu­rate shoot­ing at ranges un­der 50 me­ters, I find their re­spec­tive ret­i­cles (dot) to be too coarse for fast, ef­fi­cient work against small or par­tially ob­scured tar­gets or tar­gets at longer ranges.

The ACOG, on the other hand, is avail­able with a wider va­ri­ety of ret­i­cles, in­clud­ing the stan­dard crosshair type. I like the TAO-1 ret­i­cle, which al­lows the ACOG to


be just as fast up-close as ei­ther an Aim­point or Eotech, but also al­lows bet­ter pre­ci­sion on small or ob­scured tar­gets and tar­gets at longer range. I also feel the ACOG is more rugged. On the sub­ject of mount­ing one on a hand­gun, how­ever, I re­main un­con­vinced that an op­ti­cal sight is su­pe­rior.

Here to Stay

Still, there is lit­tle ques­tion that the op­ti­cal bat­tle sight is here to stay, and it ap­pears that it is, in­deed, the wave of the fu­ture, at least on shoul­der weapons and ap­par­ently even the mil­i­tary is con­vinced of it. In 2017, the U.S. Marine Corps an­nounced that it would con­cen­trate on train­ing ex­clu­sively with op­ti­cal sights and would forego any fur­ther train­ing with tra­di­tional iron sights. The U.S. Army has not yet com­mented, but it ap­pears that they, too, will fol­low suit. All of the mil­i­tary and po­lice Spec Ops teams utilize some form of op­ti­cal bat­tle sight on their weapons and swear by them, so it would ap­pear that the ver­dict is in.

As for me, I like the ACOG, mounted in the car­ry­ing han­dle of my Ston­er­plat­form ri­fles to al­low the use of the ri­fle’s con­ven­tional iron sights as a backup. A proper cheek weld is just as easy to ob­tain as if the sight were mounted lower on the weapon’s re­ceiver. Those who have tried the idea have all con­curred. If noth­ing else, the fact that the op­ti­cal bat­tle sight elim­i­nates the need for con­ven­tional sight align­ment for vir­tu­ally any ri­fle, shot­gun or sub­ma­chine gun more than vin­di­cates its ex­is­tence.

More­over, in the low light con­di­tions typ­i­cal of most tac­ti­cal en­coun­ters, it’s by far the best game in town and likely will be for many years to come. I’m a strong pro­po­nent of KISS (Keep It Sim­ple, Stupid) when lives are on the line, but it’s clear that the op­ti­cal bat­tle sight is a huge im­prove­ment and is well-wor­thy of its ev­er­in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

One piece of ad­vice, though, from one who has “been there and seen the ele­phant” many times: Don’t limit your train­ing to us­ing only an op­ti­cal bat­tle sight—train with the con­ven­tional iron sights as well. In the real world where Mur­phy’s Law ex­ists and is of­ten fa­tal, it’s the smart thing to do. TW

Last year, the Marine Corps re­vealed it would con­cen­trate on train­ing with op­ti­cal sights. The Army’s de­ci­sion is forth­com­ing. Mil­i­tary and po­lice Spec Ops teams utilize some form of op­ti­cal bat­tle sight on their weapons, said the au­thor. Above, an Air Force Staff Sergeant gets in some train­ing time. ( USAF photo)

Many hand­gun­ners have also adopted the op­ti­cal sight, find­ing it to pro­vide in­creased en­gage­ment speed, par­tic­u­larly on mul­ti­ple tar­gets.

A dec­o­rated Viet­nam vet­eran who is also Air­borne, Air As­sault and Ranger qual­i­fied, Chuck Tay­lor says he agrees that on shoul­der weapons op­ti­cal bat­tle sights are su­pe­rior to iron sights in nor­mal and low- light con­di­tions.

Top Right: Of­fered in many ver­sions, the Eotech is typ­i­cally mounted low on the re­ceiver to al­low a fast cheek weld as the weapon is pre­sented to the shoul­der.

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