U.S. Military Begins Testing ‘Smart’ Rifles


LAS VEGAS — The U.S. military has begun testing several so-called smart rifles made by the applied technology start-up TrackingPoint Inc., company officials said.

The Army is rumored to have acquired six of the precision-guided firearms, which cost as much as $27,000 apiece. Oren Schauble, a marketing official with the Austin, Texas-based company, confirmed the military bought a handful of them in recent months for evaluation. A spokeswoman for the service didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

“The military has purchased several units for testing and evaluation purposes,” Schauble said during an interview with Military.com Tuesday here at the annual SHOT Show, the country’s largest gun show with some 60,000 attendees. (Military.com is covering the event all week at the blog, Kit Up.)

It’s not hard to see why more than 30 government and law enforcement agencies have requested demonstrations of the potentially game-changing technology since the company debuted the rifle at last year’s show.

With only a few minutes of instruction on the weapon, this correspondent was able to hit a target almost 1,000 yards away on the first shot. Of the 70 or so reporters and other novice shooters who tested the weapon on Monday at a range in Boulder City, Nev., only one or two missed the target, which was located about 980 yards away, according to Schauble.

“That is a better day than usual,” he said. “I would say we’re at about 70 percent first-shot success probability at 1,000 yards … with inexperienced shooters.”

By comparison, military snipers and sharpshooters have a first-shot success rate of between 20 percent and 30 percent, said Schauble, a relative of the firm’s Chief Executive Officer Jason Schauble. They usually reach about 70 percent on subsequent shots, he said.

“That’s the big value proposition,” he said. “There’s a huge gap between first shot and second shot.”

The military testing seeks to determine how typical troops perform using the weapon compared to expert marksman using traditional rifles, Schauble said. The Army has long been excited about the promise of precision-guided, shoulder-fired weapons. Last year, it tested the XM25 air-burst weapon in Afghanistan.

But it’s unclear what kind of reception the smart rifle will receive in the sniper community. When asked whether the product has encountered resistance from military marksmen, Schauble¬†said, “This is not necessarily for them. This is for guys who don’t have that training who need to perform in greater capabilities. This is more for your average soldier.”

While the company built the rifle for the commercial market, it quickly realized the potential applications for the military and defense sector, especially as battlefields become more networked, Schauble said.

“Rifles can communicate with each other,” he said. “We can enable a more information-driven combat in the sense that you can tag targets. You can pass off those targets to someone else with a scope. There’s a whole layer of communication that comes with having a rifle that can designate and track targets.”

The system includes a Linux-powered computer in the scope with sensors that collect imagery and ballistic data such as atmospheric conditions, cant, inclination, even the slight shift of the Earth’s rotation known as the Coriolis effect. Because the computer is wireless-enabled, information can be streamed to a laptop, smart phone or tablet computer for spotting or to share intelligence.

“The only way to guarantee accuracy is to control all the variables,” said Scott Calvin, a company representative who demonstrated the rifle at the range. The only variable the system doesn’t account for is wind speed and direction, which must be entered manually, he said.

The rifle operates far differently than its traditional counterparts, though the process is quite simple.

After looking through the scope, a shooter pushes a red button near the trigger to tag a target — similar to the way a Facebook user tags a friend in a photograph. A reticle then appears based on the bullet’s expected trajectory determined by the computer. The shooter then arms the scope by squeezing the trigger back, lines up the reticle with the painted target and releases the trigger to fire a round.

The rifle may take the art out of marksmanship, but its apparent accuracy is virtually guaranteed to continue to draw interest — not just from customers in the U.S., but around the world. The company has already sold about 500 of the rifles, mostly to wealthy safari hunters and elderly hunters, Schauble said.

Officials from the Agriculture Department stopped by the company’s booth at the show to look at the products for possible use in a program to better control the rising population of feral pigs.

The guns range in cost, from about $10,000 for scope-and-trigger kits installed on semi-automatic Daniel Defense rifles accurate to about 750 yards, to between $22,000 and $27,000 for those installed on bolt-action Surgeon rifles accurate to about 1,250 yards, according to Schauble. The kits can also be installed on other types of firearms, he said.

TrackingPoint was launched about a year ago by John McHale, a founder of multiple technology start-ups, and has about 75 employees, more than half of which are engineers, Schauble said. “We’re gun nerds. We’re video-game nerds. We’re engineering nerds,” he said. “Imagine where we’ll be in three to five years.”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

28 Comments on "U.S. Military Begins Testing ‘Smart’ Rifles"

  1. High accuracy at 1 km? The future is probably a rocket, not a rifle. Think of something like an arrow. A soldier could probably carry several for a pound, instead of lugging a huge rifle.

  2. Amazing stuff. Depending on terrain, opponent and such this would be incredible what an infantry BN could hold.

  3. This is very significant, its like taking the sighting system from an Abrams tank and putting it on a rifle.

  4. Citizen of the world | January 15, 2014 at 9:29 pm |

    Think of what it will do in an enemy’s hands. They no longer will be at a disadvantage due to lack of sniper training.

    How can you provide security for the President when any moron can shoot him from 1,000 yards away?

  5. nothing new…. even more advance is phenomenon “Laser atmospheric bending” already in use at i guess south korean airports …. when pointing an object the device can calculate minor curve in laser beam due to wind. when that get into rifles. that will be impressive.

  6. The bullet sized smart missile is not far off. Its pretty much inevitable. Very high shoot to kill ratios will result. Most types of cover will not be effective.

  7. I am sure they will up security of these devices along with some form of input security on the units also. But as said all ready. You may not need as much training, hence better for the less civilized!

  8. Battery included?

  9. In case this is unclear, this a smart rifle (actually a smart sight), not a smart bullet. The shooter marks the target with the plain old crosshair by pulling the trigger. A new smart red crosshair is painted in the scope. The shooter adjusts the rifle until the new crosshair lands on the target, and then the computer fires the bullet.

  10. Hasn’t anyone noticed that the CEO of this company was until recently a heavy hitter in political contributions to various anti-gun democrats? Obama, Hillary, Kerry. Seems rather strange does it not? Unless you want to make it appear that long range shooting is a danger to everyone since it’s now as simple as a video game. There’s already news articles on how precision rifles need to be banned because of this device.

  11. Having computers and GPS systems installed in your rifle is a BAD BAD idea for combat. Against bearded idiots in the sand box this may not be the case. In a real war computer may fail and w/o training you cannot shoot accurately at any range your combat ineffective. GPS can be hacked giving the enemy your position and with ECM and EMP technology they can fry your computers and your have a dead scope. This is pure tec crap train your men to use a rifle not let then play with computers its not a good idea.

  12. thehotfinger | January 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

    Don't like this one bit. The parties that benefit most from the technology are the type of rabble rousing third-world riffraff who currently lack the resources or expertise to excel at traditional marksmanship. Snipers and marksmen are a tremendously important force multiplier on the modern battlefield. This innovation has the potential to nullify one of our greatest advantages by handing it over to the enemy.

  13. While many will not like this tech (for various valid reasons) it WILL develop and become common on the battlefield. It can no more be held back than when machine guns replaced single shot bolt guns. Tactics and tech will be required to address the problem. The modern battlefield is a lethal place.

  14. I have never been in the military and I know a little bit about guns, rifles and ballistics. Lance and Escalation make the main point I see is that simply put computers are weapons and can fail. I also think making it easier to make a long range shot a very dangerous little piece of technology to be available to the general public. Even though most prominent elected officials that give public speeches I believe are fairly well protected already against threats like snipers when giving a public speech. That being said, this piece of technology does not give first shot hit guarantee, and after the first shot, unless trained as a military sniper you give up your position and therefore you may make one shot and that would be it, and you would be taken out. I think the more sophisticated type of long range rifle tech that is more impressive than this video game scope and trigger, are the new .338 rifles with top secret buffer and concealment technology. Firing a large caliber weapon throws you off target, having the ability to not only conceal the shot but having a buffer system capable of keeping the shooter on target with practically no recoil or back blast is much more impressive to me than a scope that tells you where to point.

  15. The story is yet another piece of evidence for what the world has come to expect: The US military is always looking for "smart weapons" BECAUSE US soldiers are among the dumbest in the world. Why? It's because the soldiers come from the general population and Americans are among the dumbest in the world. Why again? It's because the corporate owners of America want them to be dumb.

    Any more questions?

  16. Quite frankly, I will wait until they learn how to get the windage correct. Until then I will trust in my trained sniper.

  17. $27,000 apiece?….Are these people insane?????

  18. These aren't really smart rifles so much as they are smart scopes. Burris sells one (the Eliminator II) that's got a built in rangefinder and bullet drop compensator and it doesn't cost $27,000. It's only $1000 at Midway and it works up to 1000 yards. Damn I love the free market.

  19. The problem is not, at my opinion, military or technical, but politics.
    I suscribe to the bads points wrote : weight, cost, risk of failure jam or hacking, need of energy… I won't even express my feelings about those who prefers this kind of soporific, illusing and anoying confort we can see everywhere here, in car, in home etc…
    But the main danger is to disable the knowledge (marksmanship) from the value.
    I will explain, sorry for my bad english.
    Snipers are on every armies, volunteers and high trained personnel. We can think so they suscribe to the spirit of their army, theirs goals : protect their countries, their peoples and then their families, their codes.
    That's why the country and the army invest the time, the cost and this sensitive knowledge to this men to do their job too.
    With this device, you move the cardinal point, the core.
    It's no more the man but the tool.
    So you don't agree with the order, I mean an order who could be considered obviously like a treason, scratch the first of the second amendement on the constitution for example ?
    No problem.
    "Leave the rifle -at best…- and next one".
    Human skill no longer has. You don't need a specialized man who have, whith its knowledge a kind of lever to slow down a process in case of overheat. A well paid, a man forced by blackmail or the first dumb near, can do the same than our soldier.
    That's the same drift than in industrie. Skilled worker don't need anymore. Button pusher only. You don't agree with the wage ? Bye, next button pusher.

    When I read above that the CEO was the same who support anti-gun movement, I don't like that…

  20. puresalt A1A | January 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm |

    Looks like the 50cal right off Halo… lol… same concept too….

  21. Brenda Brown | January 17, 2014 at 5:50 pm |

    Hello Schools now the kids can stand outside and shoot them inside.

  22. So what happens to the internal wi-fi computer if the grid goes down or an EMP fries tech? Is this just a metal club?

  23. cocoa marsh | January 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm |

    in 25 years, hand-held particle beam weapons will be as accurate as a laser, with the ability to punch a hole in the side of a tank. The tech is no longer theoretical, the issue of power remains.
    Ain't war grand?

  24. Talking Man | January 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm |

    for $20K I could stab your enemy to death. Save some tax payer money and hire bounty hunters instead.

  25. But the only question that's of any importance is… will it blend?!

  26. Chris Murphey | February 27, 2014 at 2:53 am |

    I wonder if the sighting/guidance system works as well for fast moving targets. A tee-shirt clad terrorist running full out is a lot different from paper targets that haven't moved an inch in their lives.

  27. also, a point i dont see being made, What if the enemy drops an emp on the area. now, without the tecnology, your inexperienced sniper with a tecnoligacally advance gun is just an inexperienced sniper with a sniper.

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