Darpa wants the XG to stay cool, be smaller, and have 10 prototypes ready for testing in 15 months. The agency also has to keep up with a new generation of deadlier, longer-range sniper rifles that can hit targets up to three-quarters of a mile away. Darpa is trying to engineer guided bullets, too.
Whether the XG comes in on time, though, is hard to say. One Shot has been consistently behind schedule. The tools were supposed to have been fielded in 2009. This was later bumped to 2011. Now the military wants them by late 2013. There’s also a big gap between developing a prototype and fielding a battle-ready weapon.
In 2011, US snipers stared getting the XM2010 rifle, capable of hitting a target from a 3,937-foot distance — about three quarters of a mile. The old sniper rifle, the M-24, had a range of 2,625 feet.
Sniper teams currently have to figure out a lot of their ballistic data with calculators. The data includes range, temperature and atmospheric pressure, to keep it short. More importantly, the speed of crosswind — the wind moving perpendicular to the firing line — has to be factored as well. Snipers have to use their intuition and training to guess the wind speed, or use time-consuming anemometers, which lose accuracy with wind speeds above a few miles per hour.
Range finders are used to measure distance, but these can be imprecise. Many contemporary laser range finders emit a beam that can’t be seen by the spotter, which makes it difficult to tell whether the beam is focused on the right spot. The lasers have to be carried separately, adding weight. Current scopes often have stadiametric range finders built into their reticules, but even these lose accuracy at long distances.
But to get it to work in the field, Cubic is going to have to fix some problems with the XG’s predecessors. When tested, earlier iterations improved the odds of hitting a target at one kilometer by a factor of four, their batteries lasted a paltry 20 minutes and wouldn’t measure range correctly when relying solely on battery power. Sunlight also had a tendency to drown out display data inside the scopes. And the laser range finders overheated after 10 to 15 minutes of continuous use.
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