By GySgt Will Falcon, USMC (res.)
October 16, 2007
One of the primary challenges of MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) / Urban Warfare Operations (a.k.a. Urban Combat Ops) is how to use the urban surroundings so that the physical environment becomes an advantage rather than a handicap to our soldiers. Accomplishing this goal will provide both defensive and offensive benefits. Consequently, the last several years have seen significant interest in the development of weapon sighting systems which can allow soldiers to return well-aimed lethal fire from a protected position behind cover. In today’s urban combat environment, using these new tools to think and fight "outside the box" can be one of the keys to success, especially since this technique of fighting cannot presently be matched by the enemy.
A question which must be asked in evaluating any of these sighting systems is whether it is worth it to…
invest the money and training time required to provide any given soldier with the equipment and skills sufficient to make a significant difference in the outcome of the fight. If the advantage provided is only slight, then it is clearly better to focus our resources on more productive equipment and training. On the other hand, if the benefit provided by such sighting systems is outcome determinative in some fights, then it is clearly worth the investment.
The cost-benefit analysis of whether a piece of equipment and a training system is "worth it" is five-part question: 1) how much lethality does it add, 2) how many casualties will it prevent, 3) what is the cost in money and training effort, 4) does it cause any problems in weapon functionality, 5) will it cause injuries to the soldier?
In assessing the value of avoiding casualties, it is important to keep in mind that in addition to the obvious reasons for avoiding casualties, there is a chain reaction effect which occurs during a fight when one member of the team is wounded. The result can be that a highly mobile team can suddenly be brought to a standstill by the need to protect, treat, and evacuate a wounded soldier. The dynamics of the fight can instantly change from one of domination to one of defense. Especially in the MOUT environment, it may only be a matter of minutes before a swarm of enemy combatant reinforcements arrive on the scene. If a piece of equipment and a system of training can help avoid this potentially disastrous outcome, then it certainly has value.
The two main types of shoot-around-corner sighting systems are the high-tech systems which integrate a video camera with a weapon, and the low-tech systems which integrate a mirror device with the weapon’s red dot sighting system. The purpose of this article is to examine the latter of these two alternatives, and more specifically, to look at the Tactical Mirror Sight/BUIS ("TMS") made by ShieldShot, Ltd.
The questions to ask specifically about mirror-based sighting systems are: 1) whether they are sufficiently user-friendly that they can truly function in the role they are designed to serve, 2) whether they are sufficiently compact, lightweight, and quick to deploy or stow that they are not detrimental to the overall usability of the weapon, 3) whether they are durable enough to take the abuse they are going to suffer, and 4) all things considered, can they really play a role in a highly dynamic combat situation in which rapid and agile movement is critical to mission success.
Many individuals have an initial bias against mirror sighting devices because they do not allow for the same speed of movement or the same speed of target acquisition as is provided by conventional aiming. However, the reality of MOUT is that situations are going to be encountered in which our troops are taking on such heavy fire that they cannot move freely and they cannot aim accurately (or at all) in a conventional manner. It is this situation of heavy incoming fire in which a mirror aiming device really finds its niche. In that situation, the enemy already knows your general position, and there is nothing that telegraphs your exact position to the enemy as well as continually popping your head out around a corner. In the visually complex scenario of a firefight, a stationary weapon is a far less obvious target than the moving head and shoulders of a soldier.
If suppressive fire is available from other members of the team, then this obviously advances the usefulness of the mirror aiming device. If a team member is not available, then you lay down your own suppressive fire as you move your weapon around the corner to take aim through the mirror device. The user can then watch for enemy movement and take a center of mass shot at the enemy rather than simply burning ammunition by "spray and pray." By allowing the soldier to remain protected behind cover while aiming, the soldier is allowed the time to take a reasonably well aimed shot even in a heavy firefight. The bottom line is that while mirror aiming devices are slower than conventional aiming, once a team is taking enemy fire and the team’s position is clearly known to the enemy, a mirror-sighting system will provide significant survivability and lethality to the user.
The ShieldShot Tactical Mirror Sight/BUIS (TMS) is a dual purpose device which provides both the ability to aim and shoot accurately around corners, as well as alternatively serving as a fully adjustable BUIS (back-up iron sight) in the event of failure of the weapon’s red dot optic. When the device is not in use for aiming, it is stowed in a flipped-down position just like any other BUIS. When it is needed for aiming, it is flipped up and rotated to either a left-hand or right-hand detent stop position. It requires about two inches of rail space on a mil standard 1913 Picatinny rail (such as on an M4) behind an unmagnified red dot optic, such as an Aimpoint M68 CCO, an EOTech sight, or an unmagnified Trijicon reflex sight.
The most significant advantages of the TMS over other around-corner sighting systems are its compactness and its dual functionality. Once the TMS is mounted on the rail, it is generally left in place like any other BUIS. Flipping it up or down between the in-use position and the stowed position takes ne second, which makes it practical to use in the rapidly changing dynamics of a firefight. Likewise, popping it up into its BUIS position (and locking it into that position) takes only a second. No other mirror sighting system allows for leaving a fully adjustable BUIS on the weapon while using the mirror sight device. The BUIS which is built into the TMS is a dual aperture, windage and elevation adjustable sight.
The most difficult part of the decision-making process concerning whether mirror sighting devices are worth using at all pertains to whether soldiers can acquire an adequate skill level with a reasonable amount of training. A single-mirror device like the TMS can be built to be a much more compact device than a double-mirror or five-sided prism device. This compactness is the feature which sets the TMS apart from other similar devices, and which also allows it to have the space to incorporate a BUIS into its design. The trade-off for this compactness and dual functionality as a BUIS is that the device provides a mirror image of the target. My personal experience with this device has been that the reverse imaging is easily mastered with some dry-fire training. The user simply tracks the visual image presented in the mirror in order to make left to right or up and down aiming adjustments. Center of mass shots are very attainable with a reasonable amount of practice. It should not be surprising that this device, just like most of the equipment we use, requires some practice and training.
The training program which is most effective is to begin by drilling repetitively on moving from a muzzle-down position to a muzzle-up and eye-on-the-red-dot position (while looking through the mirror at the red dot). Each time the weapon is brought up, the stock should be pulled in tight against the soldier’s outer upper arm in order to provide aiming stability. This is the most important step which is usually missed by soldiers who are first learning to use the device. Failing to pull the stock of the weapon in tight against the upper arm is like to failing to use a cheek weld position when aiming conventionally. The soldier should train on this red-dot-acquisition drill until they can reliably bring the weapon into the shooting position with their eyes closed and have it in the correct position for seeing the red dot of their scope when they then open their eyes. This is purely a function of practice and muscle memory. Once they can do this, they should practice dry-fire target acquisition, again paying close attention to pulling the stock of the weapon in tight against the their outer upper arm each time the weapon is raised and aimed.
The TMS comes with larger mirror which can be snapped over the smaller main mirror. Most soldiers find it is helpful to use the larger snap-on mirror when they are first beginning to learn to aim and shoot with a TMS. The larger mirror affords the user a much wider field of view, which makes target acquisition quicker and easier. This larger mirror is also useful for shooting over high walls which are too high to look directly over. It is also useful for some building clearing operations, or for entering and clearing buildings in which there is a known active shooter.
A second part of the TMS system is the barrel-mounted mirror for looking (not aiming) around corners or stairwells, over walls or into attics, or inspecting under vehicles. A spring steel mounting bracket (1.5 "x1.5"x2") is clipped onto the barrel of the rifle just behind the flash suppressor. The same large mirror as described above can then be snapped onto the barrel-mounted bracket, thus providing the user with a hands-free mirror-on-a-stick. Additionally, a convex wide-angle mirror can be clipped on (as shown in the photo) for under-vehicle inspection.
Typically the bracket and mirror will be positioned at a 6 o’clock position under the barrel of the weapon. The weapon can then be rotated onto its side to the left or right for looking either direction as the soldier moves toward left or right corners. An important feature of the barrel-mounted mirror is that it is designed specifically to angle the mirror in such a way that if the user visually locates an enemy threat in the mirror, the user can easily calculate the exact physical position of the enemy by running an imaginary line at an exact 90 degree angle to the barrel of the user’s weapon. Additionally, for use with weapon-mounted NODS, the mirror bracket can be rotated to a 12 o’clock position on the barrel, allowing the soldier to rotate his weapon onto its side to look through his night vision device and then through the mirror to see around a corner or other barrier. This barrel-mounted mirror is the only way weapon-mounted NODS can be used to look around a corner without exposing the user’s head and shoulder to enemy fire.
A brief note is in order regarding the safety of using any of these types of aiming devices. Especially while shooting around a corner in a more or less "left handed" position, several of these sighting devices allow or even encourage the user to fire the weapon with their face directly in front of the shell ejection port of the weapon. This exposes the user to eye injuries from ejected shells. The TMS is designed so that the user cannot see through the mirror to aim unless their face is positioned outside of the path of ejected shell casings. When you are evaluating any of the aim-from-behind-cover devices, it is essential to evaluate this critical safety factor.
We owe it to ourselves and our troops to think outside the box in search of new tactics which can be used to dominate the enemy in the MOUT environment. Since the weapons used by most enemy forces are not suited to the use of mirror sighting systems (because of the lack of rails and red dot sights on their weapons), our adoption of this equipment and these tactics will provide a considerable advantage to our troops in urban combat.
© 2007 Will Falcon and DefenseReview.com, All Rights Reserved
Company Contact Info: