EVERY SOLDIER A MARKSMAN
By Bob Morrison
Optical rifle sights were used by sharpshooters as far back as the American Civil War and by the early years of World War Two the Zielfernrohr 41 telescopic sight offering 1.5x magnification was issued to some German infantry section marksmen for their 7.92mm Kar98k service rifles, but it was not until the turn of the 1980s that issue of such devices to every infantryman in the squad became common practice. The Austrian 5.56mm Steyr AUG with its Swarovski 1.5x telescopic sight, a weapon copied under licence by Australia in the early eighties as the AUSteyr, is generally accepted as being the first standard issue and widely deployed infantry rifle to be produced with an integral optical sight.
In the early 1970s the British Army issued some troops operating in urban areas of Northern Ireland with the fixed focus 4x magnification L2A1 SUIT (Sight Unit Infantry Trilux) optical sight for the issue 7.62mm SLR (Self Loading Rifle) version of the FN FAL to enable better target identification, especially in low or variable light conditions. When the SLR successor, the 5.56mm SA80A1, was introduced in the mid-1980s a development of the SUIT in the form of the 4x magnification SUSAT (Sight Unit Small Arms Trilux) was introduced for frontline infantry, though iron sights were also provided for the weapon for second line troops and for use in theatres with jungle, arctic or marine environment where an optical sight can pose limitations.
The SA80A1 with SUSAT first saw operational service in the 1991 Gulf War where although the rifle itself did not exactly emerge with glowing reports its sight certainly performed well. In subsequent international infantry competitions, with the 1992 NECIC (Northern European Command Infantry Competition) being particularly memorable when the shooting skills of 45 Commando’s Recce Troop rescued the competition after a team injury slowed them down on the 15km cross-country march, the SUSAT consistently proved the British Forces maxim: Every Soldier A Marksman.
Roughly around the same time that Britain was introducing the SA80A1 assault rifle with SUSAT optical sight Canada was introducing the 5.56mm Diemaco C7, a Canadian licence produced variant of the Colt M16A1. The Elcan (Ernst Leitz Canada) C79 optical sight with 3.4x magnification was issued as standard on the C7 rifle, which Britain would later purchase for its Special Forces and other elite units such as Pathfinders, and Canada also fitted the C79 sight to its C9 (Minimi) light machineguns.
When the US Army decided to fit an optical sight to their M240 variant of the 7.76mm FN MAG it was a Picatinny rail compatible version of the Elcan C79, designated M145, that they opted for. As the M145 was rail-mounted it differed from the C79 in that its ballistic compensation was in the reticule rather than the mount.
This US version of the Elcan optical sight was also used for a time on the 5.56mm M249 Squad Automatic weapon version of the FN Minimi, though it is now more usual to see the ACOG fitted instead. The ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) is a 4x magnification (other magnifications also available) reflex sight manufactured by Trijicon specifically for the M4 carbine and M16 rifle families but it is currently also in widespread use across a wide variety of European manufactured weapons and a quantity ordered as an Urgent Operational Requirement has been fielded by some UK troops in Afghanistan since late 2007.
For the last forty years the Colt M16 and derivatives have been the standard assault rifle of US forces, though since the late nineties it is the M4 carbine variant which has been the primary weapon of most US infantry formations deploying operationally. The United States was very slow in catching up with its Canadian and European partners on the provision of optical sights for its troops but today it is highly unusual to see iron sight long-barrelled weapons deployed operationally i