Army weapons officials are searching for a new optic that will let soldiers quickly adjust for close-quarter and long-range targets as a replacement for the current Rifle Combat Optic on the M4A1 carbine.
The service is currently evaluating optics from seven vendors competing for the Direct View Optic (DVO) effort, a variable-power optic that will feature power settings from 1X to 6X compared to the 4X, fixed-power M150 Rifle Combat Optic (RCO).
Currently, units are fielded with a mix of RCOs for targets out to roughly 500 meters and the non-magnifying M68 Close Combat Optic (CCO) for targets out to 300 meters.
The Army began fielding the RCO in 2007 and 2008. Weapons officials say that the new Direct View Optic could be ready for fielding by late 2020.
"We have an 11- or 12-year-old legacy optic that has served the Army very well, but ... based on state of industry and what we have seen over the years, we know that there is more capability out there," said Maj. Dan Varley, who works in the Soldier Lethality Branch of the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate at Fort Benning, Georgia.
"So really, getting the opportunity to assess whether we can find increased capability in a similar package size, weight and potentially cost is really what we are looking to assess here," he said.
The new optic is not meant to be used with the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon, a new 6.8mm system intended to replace the M4A1 and M249 squad automatic weapon in close-combat units. The NGSW will feature an advanced fire control system with a rangefinder, ballistic calculator and other high-tech features, officials say.
The Direct View Optic's greater power will give soldiers increased capability for determining friend or foe at longer ranges, said Lt. Col. Peter Stambersky, who runs Product Manager Individual Weapons.
But giving soldiers a long-range optic that they can also use for close-range targets will increase their performance significantly, he said.
"I expect that the biggest effect we will see in the advantage of the DVO over the current RCO will be in close-quarters engagements," Stambersky said, adding that the Army has plans to replace the Close Combat Optic with the Direct View Optic at this time.
The new optic will most likely allow soldiers to dial up or down in power depending on the target, Varley said.
"When you look at ... what is out there from industry, it's pretty intuitive to be able to dial back and forth ... on that magnification to make quick adjustments," he explained.
The Army released the solicitation for the new optic July 3 and closed it Aug. 5, weapons officials said.
The plan is to down-select from seven vendors to four by the end of September and then have soldiers begin evaluating them, Stambersky said.
"We want to do our evaluation in the fall and winter and be able to award a production contract by Spring 2020," he said.
From there, the new optic would have to undergo additional safety testing to ensure it's ready for fielding, a process that could take six months, Stambersky said, adding that the Army does not currently have a completed fielding plan.
"At this time, we have not determined what units or organizations or soldiers this would go to," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.