WAVE OF THE FUTURE
DESPITE SOME DETRACTORS, OPTICAL BATTLE SIGHTS ARE HUGE ADVANCEMENTS IN WARFARE
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
“DON’T LIMIT YOUR TRAINING TO USING ONLY AN OPTICAL BATTLE SIGHT … IN THE REAL WORLD WHERE MURPHY’S LAW EXISTS AND IS OFTEN FATAL, IT’S THE SMART THING TO DO.”
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.