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The US Army Is Now Field-Testing Smart Rifles

Is the American infantry's dream of data-driven one-man armies finally coming into focus?

by Brian Anderson
Jan 16 2014, 5:35pm
Image: Derek Mead/VICE

*UPDATE, 2:00 PM EST: Oren Schauble, marketing director for TrackingPoint, tells me that while the US military does currently have a few unique TrackingPoint scopes under evaluation for assessment, "that's the end of it." The military hasn't acquired full PGF systems, contrary to news reports, nor have any contracts been drawn up, according to Schauble. 

Say what you will about a long-range robo rifle like TrackingPoint Solution's flagship Precision-Guided Firearm. But there's no getting around the fact that smart weapons technology is here, and has completely changed the game for hunters and sport shooters willing to shell out $27,000 on PGFs. Now, the US military wants in.  

The Army picked up a number of PGFs at this week's SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Defense Tech reports. It's unclear exactly how many of the smart rifles, which allow for single-shot accuracy at up to 1,000 yards, the Army got its hands on. But TrackingPoint marketing rep Oren Schauble confirmed the acquisition, telling Defense Tech that the Army "purchased several units for testing and evaluation processes."

I've reached out to Schauble for comment, and will update this post should I hear back.* 

It should come as no surprise, though, to hear that the Army threw down on a rumored six PGFs. Last we checked, in July 2013, the US Department of Defense and various law enforcement agencies (both domestic and foreign) were already knocking on TrackingPoint's door. And Defense Tech reports that "over 30 government and law enforcement agencies" have tapped the Texas-based applied tech start-up for PGF demos since last year's SHOT Show, the biggest firearms trade show in America.

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Why? The DoD is no stranger to the very mechanisms that make smart weaponry like the PGF go. The PGF is based on jet fighter "lock-and-launch" automation, a technology drawn up and perfected in no small part by military-industrial R&D programs in the US. So in a certain sense the Army's PGF purchase finds the technology coming full circle—and perhaps at an ideal moment for the US Armed Force's future-forward plan to kit out an individual soldier as a fully-packaged army of one, not as a mere spoke in a massive ground force. 

Take the Army's advanced Land Warrior program, which was rebooted in 2008 after being canceled in 2007, and since folded into the military's Future Force Warrior program. With a couple PGFs now in its hands for field-testing and experimentation, the American defense apparatus' dream of looping data-driven soldiers into networked battlefields might finally be coming into focus. You can't help but wonder how TrackingPoint's new line of semi-automatic precision-guided rifles might fully crystallize that dream. 

But then there's all the red tape. Government-level weapons procurement processes operate at a snail's pace in the US. As we've reported, "it can take months, years even, to get a product cleared just for initial small-scale testing, to say nothing of large-scale testing and, if the weapon check outs, approval and roll out." Which is to say, don't expect long-range robo rifles to see action anytime soon in the hands of America's infantry.