May 11, 2022
By James Tarr, Handguns Editor
The U.S. Army recently announced that it has chosen an optic for its Next Generation Squad Weapon system. The choices for the Next Generation Squad Weapon-Fire Control (NGSW-FC) had been down to offerings from L3Harris and Vortex Optics, and on January 7 it was announced the Vortex unit won the selection process.
The Army/Marine Corps still hasn’t decided on exactly what the Next Generation Squad Weapon will be (it has yet to choose between three final choices), but this optic is garnering a lot of attention. The Vortex Optics subsidiary, Sheltered Wings, will be building as many as 250,000 of the optics systems over the next ten years, for a starting price of about $2.7 billion—in case you’re wondering, that works out to $10,800 per unit, although that price doesn’t just include the optic but likely a support/repair/maintenance support structure.
The military is planning to replace the M4/M16 and M249 with a brand-new rifle chambered in a 6.8mm cartridge—the Next Generation Squad Weapon. This optic is intended to go atop it.
The optic is designed to replace the Army’s CCO (Close Combat Optic, a red dot, usually some variation of Aimpoint Comp), RCO (Rifle Combat Optic, the 4X ACOG), and the DVO (Direct View Optic, a 1-6X LPVO, SIG Sauer’s TANGO6T).
The NGSW-FC includes a variable magnification optic, backup etched reticle, laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator, atmospheric sensor suite, compass, wireless, visible and infrared aiming lasers, and a digital display overlay. It is intended to increase the first round hit potential and combines a traditional glass optic with a laser range finder and ballistic computer. Let’s break all that down:
At its core the NGSW-FC is a 1-8X30 LPVO (low power variable optic) with an integrated mount and flip-open lens covers. It has a glass objective lens—and in fact it utilizes all US made lenses, almost completely US-made components, and the entire scope is built in the US (undoubtedly a requirement of the military contract). Forward of the rear lens is a throw lever to adjust magnification. The throw lever is somewhat extended and has 135-degrees of travel between 1X and 8X. The scope has traditional turrets. The front of the scope tube is threaded to accommodate products like honeycomb-type “killflash” accessories. Even with no power being supplied to the unit, it is fully functional as a 1-8X DVO with an etched reticle. The optic can be run like that, with the upper boxy laser range finger removed. The on-board computer projects what we’ll call a see-through display into the first focal plane optic, through which you can still see the etched reticle of the scope.
The machined aluminum body of the core 1-8X scope contains electronics and the power supply, two CR123A batteries which load in from the left. All of the controls are on the left side of the scope—a small keypad forward of the turrets, and a rotary knob as the left side turret that controls the display. If you don’t want to use the keypad, there is a port underneath the front of the scope where you can plug in a controller or remote. The projected display is inside the scope, there are no external displays.
It is a full-function display and somewhat customizable, capable of listing drop, wind holds, and a complete visible menu of functions for a better/faster user interface.
There is a digital compass inside the unit, and when combined with the laser range finder, and a full-function display, you can use what Vortex is calling an “augmented reality mode” where soldiers can tag a waypoint, target, friendlies, etc.—known as target reference points. And they can send those target reference points wirelessly to other members of their squad. The scope becomes part of a full network of interfacing smart systems—scopes, visors, phones, whatever.
“It’s not only an optic, it’s part of your comm system,” Mark Boardman, Director of Marketing, said.
The user has the choice of red, yellow, or orange illumination in the scope, as well as the size and shape of their reticle. When you’re at 1X, the scope knows this, and automatically switches to a red dot-type reticle. From 2X-8X you get a ranging reticle, as seen in the accompanying photo—although that photo is just a computer render, Vortex is not allowed to share photos of the actual reticle, or most of the specs (such as weight, length, etc.).
There are environmental sensors in the scope that detect and display temperature, altitude, inclination/declination, as well as a compass—everything you’d need (minus a wind sensor) to make an accurate shot at distance. The scope isn’t just giving you the data, it is compensating for it automatically, doing it automatically—press a button, and the scope ranges to target, does all the calculations, and pops up an illuminated digital aimpoint in your field of view. All you have to do is pull the trigger. The time required from pressing the button to having the scope present you an aimpoint is tenths of a second.
The rectangular box atop the LPVO is a laser rangefinder, and it is powered through the scope’s power supply. The rangefinder is removable, which means it is upgradeable if a better design is introduced in the future.
The laser rangefinder also has two aiming lasers, one visible, and one IR, eliminating the need for a separate IR laser for use with night vision. Battery life is measured in weeks. Vortex invented much of the technology found in this scope. This project has been in the works for over five years.
If and when Vortex is producing these optics for the military at an acceptable pace, they then plan to start making a version for the commercial market. They provided no timetable on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least a few years.
This optic truly is the future, and I only see one drawback—while the military still has not selected which of the three contenders will be the next NGSW rifle, looking at the specs of the guns, it seems likely that with the FC optic atop it, these rifles will weigh ten pounds unloaded, before you add the weight of ammo and a suppressor. Which means they are likely to be a decent choice for use as a DMR or SAW, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see elite troops (who have a choice) often sticking with shorter and far lighter M4 variants topped with simple red dots for urban and CQB work far into the future. Visit VortexOptics.com for more information.
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About the Author:
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.