The Marines Go For LPVO’s

USMC M38 DMR, Variant of the M27 IAR Service Rifle

Low Powered Variable Optics, commonly abbreviated as LPVO’s, have been making their presence felt strongly in the modern firearms and technology field for years now, and the Marines are onboard.

The Corps’ information request laid out some of the details the Corps is seeking in its new optic, which include up to eight times magnification and the ability to engage targets between 600–900 meters. –Marine Corps Times

The solistication is for up to 30,000 units, enough to widely equip the ground combat force’s M4s, M4A1s, and M27s across the fleet. LPVO’s have seen a drastic leap in durability, clarity, and their use in Special Operations has been a well documented success. Low and mid power scopes on service rifles are not a new development, but the standardization is.

The Marines are clearly looking into the future, beyond even their current weapon’s limitations, to maximize the capability of each rifleman, fireteam, and squad to be tasked into a variety of roles and excel. Detailed observant overwatch? Can do. Precision support? Got it. A raid/building entry? Got that too.

Several companies already offer LPVO optics that might fit the Marine Corps needs. Trijicon just debuted the VCOG in a 1-8x format. EOTech is launching a 1-8x VUDU. Nightforce offers the ATACR, a high power version is already in service on the Corps’ Mk13 Mod 7, and their lighter NX8 might work for the service rifles just fine. Sig Sauer could adjust their lineup and add a “Tango 8” to compliment the two Tango 6 optics that Army and SOCOM recently scooped up for their M110A1 and UGRI M4s. This list is just the obvious front runners, as long the company can make the optic the Marines require it could be produced by any number of high quality manufacturers.

Reading through the list of features is the typical dry government contract that covers the minutia we generally don’t think about. Everything is spelled out. For reference when reading, anything marked with a (T) is the minimum the Marine Corps is looking for and anything with an (O) is their goal. If a manufacturer cannot hit all the (T)arget criteria they will not be considered and being able to hit more of the (O)ptimal criteria is best.

  • Interoperability.  The Squad Common Optic device should be interoperable with and cause no degradation in function to currently fielded host weapons. Squad Common Optic should be compatible with current visual augmentation systems, weapons accessories, lasers, and clip-on night vision devices using a MIL-STD-1913 rail interface as listed below: [Thermals, PEQs, GL Sights, Range Finders]
  • Major Components. Each Squad Common Optic should include the following major components:
    • Day Scope
    • Lens Covers
    • Reticle
    • Elevation Turrets/Caps
    • Windage Turrets/Caps
    • Operator’s Manual (hard and digital copy)
    • Quick Reference Guide
    • Required Tools
    • Scope Mount
    • Reticle Battery
    • Magnification Change Device 
    • Soft Protective Carrying Case
    • Lens Cleaning Kit with Bush and Lens Cloth
  • Weight. The Squad Common Optic should be less than or equal to 2.1 pounds (T), 1.4 pounds (O).  Weight is characterized as including the optic, mount, turret caps, and battery.
  • Size. The Squad Common Optic length should be less than or equal to 10.5 inches (T), 10 inches (O).  Length excludes the lens covers. Length is measured at the maximum extended range of adjustment.  
  • The Squad Common Optic should be able to positively identify and acquire targets at 600m (T), 900m (O).  Positive identification refers to the range at which a potential target can be positively identified by facial, clothing, weapon and vehicle features, or an activity.
  • Magnification Range. The Squad Common Optic should have no point of aim shift when adjusting through the entire magnification ranges. The Squad Common Optic should have a magnification range of 1X +0.05X to ≥8X magnification range.  
  • Adjustable diopter: The diopter should be adjustable from +2 to –2 diopters.
  • Diopter Locking Mechanism. A locking mechanism should be provided on the diopter setting to prevent inadvertent movement (O).
  • Adjustment Range. For all configurations, at least 15 Milliradian (mrad) (T), and 30 mrad (O) in Elevation and at least 12 mrad in Windage adjustment should be required. There should be hard stops at both ends of Windage and Elevation adjustment and no dead clicks. A dead click is defined as a tactile adjustment click that does not move the reticle.
  • Adjustment Increments. Each Squad Common Optic configuration should have adjustment increments less than or equal to 0.1 mrad Elevation and Windage (E/W). Adjustment increments on both E/W should be consistent in movement, tactile, and have no dead clicks and require no settling rounds. Settling rounds are defined as host weapon live fire that causes the reticle to move initially but stabilize after the live fire event.
  • Adjustment Accuracy. For Squad Common Optic, a less than or equal to 2% adjustment accuracy is required across the full travel in Windage and Elevation (T) and a less than or equal to 1% adjustment accuracy is required across the full travel in Windage and Elevation (O).
  • Windage/Elevation Caps. For Squad Common Optic, the Windage and Elevation turret adjustments should be covered with a threaded cap.
  • Field of View. At minimum magnification, possess a minimum field of view of 18 degrees (T), 20 degrees (O). At maximum magnification, possess a minimum field of view of 2.5 degrees (T), 3 degrees (O).
  • Eye Relief. All Squad Common Optic configurations at any magnification should have an eye relief of at least 3.1 inches (T), 3.7 inches (O).
  • Exit Pupil. All Squad Common Optic configurations at any magnification should have an exit pupil range of no less than 2.5mm to no more than 13mm. 
  • Resolution. The resolution for the Squad Common Optic should be 10 arc-seconds or less. The 30% contrast resolution for the Squad Common Optic should be 15 arc-seconds or less. 
  • Focus/Parallax Adjustment. The Squad Common Optic should have a fixed focus set at 150 meters ± 50 meters and be parallax free at the focus range.
  • Focal Plane. Configurations should be first focal plane and/or second focal plane. 
  • Reticles. 
    • All Squad Common Optic reticle configurations should offer Mil-Reticle patterns vice a Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) style of reticle pattern.
    • All Squad Common Optic reticle configurations should offer an illuminated central aiming point no greater than 1.5 minute of angle (MOA) (T) or 0.5 MOA (O) that is visible during daylight conditions. 
    • All Squad Common Optic configurations should offer a variety of reticles (i.e., crosshair, German, duplex, Christmas tree, others). 
    • All reticles should be level with a cant of ± 1 degree (T) or no discernable cant (O) when installed in its MIL-STD-1913 compatible mount. 
    • Reticle should be usable in the event of degraded capability or no power situation. 
  • Future Reticles
    • Reticle. The vendor should allow for future reticle designs and operational needs to be included in the Squad Common Optic: Mil Dot, Milliradian Line, Ballistic, Velocity, and Grid hybrids. Graduated grid should provide a method that supports the ability to use Windage hold offs and Elevation holds and holdovers accurately. There should also be coarse and fine methods to quickly range targets. A method to allow for rapid engagement of moving targets should be provided on the main horizontal.
    • Configuration. There should be no changes to the Squad Common Optic design when changing to a new reticle other than the reticle itself.
  • Reticle Illumination. The reticle illumination should be accomplished using side mounted rotary knobs. The Squad Common Optic should have multiple intensity settings, two night vision goggle compatible settings, and tactile illumination off positions after each on position. Reticle settings should be able to be locked in place to provide for inadvertent power cycling in the field. Reticle should be powered by a single commercially available battery for at least 96 hours at highest illumination setting. The Squad Common Optic should allow for battery changes without removal from the weapon and without specialized tools.
  • Scope Mount. All scope mounts should be MIL-STD-1913 compatible. Various scope mount heights should be available. Any dissimilar metals should not interact and cause corrosion or damage when subjected to saltwater and other adverse environmental conditions.
  • Magnification Change Capability. The Squad Common Optic should incorporate an attachable (T) or integrated (O) field-adjustable magnification change capability that will allow quick magnification changes from minimum to maximum magnification without passing between the eyepiece and rail interface, hitting the host weapon, or interfering with the function of the host weapon.
  • Backup Iron Sights. The Squad Common Optic shall not require the removal of the host weapon’s front and rear iron sights. The front and rear iron sights shall be immediately useable upon removal of the Squad Common Optic.
  • Lens Accessories and Protection. All Squad Common Optic configurations should be delivered with detachable protective front and rear lens covers or caps. The Squad Common Optic should feature lenses made of durable scratch resistant hydrophobic material and non-reflective lens coatings (T). All Squad Common Optic configurations should provide lenses with sufficient abrasion resistance that they do not require lens covers (O).
  • Surfaces. External surfaces (except for light-transmitting elements) should be finished in a flat neutral non-black color that is non-reflective and corrosion resistant. All the exposed optics should have corrosion and scratch resistant coatings, which permit operation in salt sprays and blowing sand. All markings, coatings, finishes, and exposed O-rings should be resistant to paints solvents, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear contaminants, and Super Tropical Bleach (STB) decontaminant.
  • Signature Reduction and Counter Detection. The Squad Common Optic should be a dull, non-reflective, neutral, non-black color. The Squad Common Optic should not have an audible or visible signature.
  • Workmanship. All optics should be free of foreign matter such as dirt, fingerprints, dust, loose material, and moisture. All moving parts should move freely and not bind, creep, or stick.
  • Markings. 
    • All Squad Common Optics should be etched or engraved with visually distinct markings to include the serial and model number to be easily read. 
    • The serial and model number should be sequential, unique, and easily visible when mounted to the weapon (T). 
    • All Squad Common Optics should have point of impact adjustment markings and witness marks on the scope body and scope mount for scope alignment.
    • The Squad Common Optic serial number and manufacture date must comply with MIL-STD-130_.
      • Point of impact (POI) adjustment markings should be on the scope body near the Windage and Elevation adjustments. 
      • The witness marks should allow the operator to quickly and easily align and level the scope and scope mount to within ± 1 degree. 
    • Labels should incorporate a Unique Identification (UID) code. The UID should contain both the 2D barcode and human readable serial number together. UID construct #2 will be required. 
    • The Squad Common Optic should not have any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) proprietary markings

It’s quite a list but there are a few takeaways.

  1. The Marine Corps wants a durable 1-8x optic that is on the lighter and shorter end of available offerings today. Only a few sights are close to the current request.
  2. Second or First Focal plane will both be considered.
  3. Daylight visible illumination is a requirement, battery life must be 96 hours at maximum setting from a commercially available battery, likely a AA or CR123.
  4. They require the mounting solution designed so that there is a 1 degree or less cant once mounted on receiver’s MIL-STD-1913 picatinny rail. The mount will be available in different heights but the Marine should be able to quickly mount and level the scope to that 1 degree or less cant.
  5. The reticle is requested as a Milliradian (MRAD/Mil) pattern before including a bullet drop compensator (BDC) element like they have on the RCO ACOGs (TA31s) and SDO ACOG (TA11). It should also include leads for moving targets and be upgradeable on demand by the Corps to include Horus style “christmas tree” options without changing the rest of the optic.
  6. Controls should be capped to protect them from inadvertent adjustment, like the current ACOGs, with .1 Mil adjustment clicks and plenty of windage and elevation movement.
  7. The optic will be a neutral non-black color, likely coyote, to minimize its observable signatures.

The solicitation differs from the previous one in that it lists 30,000 units as the high end for procurement and not 186,000 which would be fleetwide adoption. The focus for the new optic will be first on the infantry and supporting ground combat elements, as makes sense.

The Marines are looking to start fielding the optic by 2021. I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up.

Keith Finch
Keith is the former Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. He got told there was a mountain of other things that needed doing, so he does those now and writes here when he can. A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. Teaching since 2009, he covers local concealed carry courses, intermediate and advanced rifle courses, handgun, red dot handgun, bullpups, AKs, and home defense courses for civilians, military client requests, and law enforcement client requests.