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New optics to give sight at night, through fog and dust

Jun. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Dragon Fire 12
The Marine Corps is planning to field a new, off-the-shelf thermal weapon sight, primarily for use on M16 and M4 rifles, that will allow Marines to identify and engage targets in low light, no light or obscured conditions due to fog, smoke or dust and sand. (Lance Cpl. Todd F. Michalek / Marine Corps)
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Marines will soon have a new thermal weapon sight that will allow them to reliably identify and engage targets in low light, no light or obscured conditions due to fog, smoke or dust and sand.

The service is pushing ahead with plans to procure the new Squad Thermal Sight System for use primarily on M16 and M4 rifles, and could purchase up to $60 million worth as part of a five-year contract, according to a solicitation notice published mid-May and updated June 6. The exact number of sights to be purchased remains uncertain as the yet-to-be-awarded contract is for an indefinite quantity, but they will be bought and fielded to deploying Marines.

The STS, which also must be capable as a stand-alone hand-held optic, will replace two current thermal systems that were rushed to Afghanistan and Iraq in response to urgent-needs requests. Those were the AN/PAS-27 Individual Weapon Night Sight-Thermal and the AN/PAS-30 Mini Thermal Imager.

Requirements for the STS were developed based on battlefield experience and lessons learned from those two systems, according to Marine Corps Systems Command officials at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

Original plans in 2012 called for fielding of a thermal sight to begin by the end of this fiscal year and to complete fielding of 3,682 devices by late 2016. The newest solicitation for a five-year contract may indicate intentions for a larger purchase, however. While the solicitation indicates the purchase could be for as little as $250,000 dollars, it could also amount to tens of millions of dollars.

Because the Marine Corps is looking for a commercial, or non-developmental “off the shelf” product to fulfill its STS requirement, it is likely that the service’s next thermal sight already exists on the open market, but it remains to be seen which specific sights companies will compete.

The STS must be light, easy to install, accurate, rugged and capable of single-handed operation, according to performance specifications provided to industry and published on FedBizOpps.gov.

For starters, the service is asking industry to provide an STS that preferably weighs just three-fourths of a pound, but no more than 1.3 pound. Ultimately it will be lighter than the AN/PAS-27’s 1.6 pounds.

The STS will be installed on standard military rifle rails in seconds, using a throw lever to secure it without disturbing standard day-time optics already affixed to a weapon — the service’s widely fielded Rifle Combat Optic, for example.

While the STS may have some effect on accuracy, it will be negligible, with requirements demanding that it throw a weapon’s point of impact off by less than one inch at 100 yards. It should also allow Marines to reliable identify targets out to 700 yards and not constrict the field of view offered by the standard RCO.

In terms of longevity and reliability, it should allow for at least two hours of operation on a single AA lithium or CR123A battery in cold temperatures and stand up to the impact of a fall from 48 inches, whether mounted to a rifle or not. It should also preferably stand up to the jarring of 5,000 rounds fired and still operate after being submerged in 20 meters of salt water for two hours.

To guard the location of Marines operating covertly, it should not emit any light or sound that an unaided observer could detect from 25 meters or more away.

Finally, the STS will include an infrared laser pointer to paint targets and focus unit fires.

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