Over the last ten years or so, the use of low powered variable optics (LPVOs) on M4 carbines has become the standard set-up for most U.S. Special Operations forces and military units. LPVOs allow the user to have both near and far aiming capabilities via a turn of a ring, or in the case of the military issued, SU-230 (Elcan Specter DR 1X4 optic), a flick of a lever. To go from one power for CQB distances to four, six and even eight and ten power for long range or powering in for small targets or hard shots.
With the military’s success with the LPVOs this begs the question, what about LPVO equipped carbines for law enforcement? Not just for special tactics teams such as SWAT and SRT, but also with the average patrolman? After all, it would seem a no brainer that if using LPVOs has helped soldiers to increase hit capabilities on threats, police could also benefit from LPVO equipped rifles and carbines.
While many SWAT/SRT teams do run optics, unfortunately for the average patrolman, many department leaders are reluctant to equip carbines with any optics at all. Cost aside, some of the stated reasons are that iron sights are just easier to use, require no batteries, and zeroed irons work “good enough” with the idea that any officer can pick up the carbine and have an acceptable enough zero, out to a reasonable distance.
While all this is true, sometimes the reason why departments choose not to explore using optics is based less on practical arguments, and more on false assumptions leading to personal bias not based on fact.
A good example I have heard numerous times over the years, “Officers will now think they are snipers”, is one excuse heads of different departments have actually stated as to why no optics have been considered for the average patrolman. I am sorry, but this is just plain ignorant thinking, why limit an officer’s capability based on false assumption or personal opinion.
The fact is, LPVOs have proven themselves in combat over the years in all sorts on environments. From mountain ranges to urban areas, LPVOs increase the capability of the shooter to hit targets at all ranges. So why would you not want to outfit those who are usually first one the scene, with the tools that offer the best chances of with dealing with threats?
While magnified optics does offer the capability to hit at extended ranges, the focus or intended application, should instead be on shorter ranges. How magnification can be used to enhance the officer’s capability for pinpoint accuracy, say 100 yards and under. Under 100 yards? Irons and red dots work fine why bother? True, irons and red dot work fine for man-size targets at 100 yards and a little farther. But this is often based on the targets being full man-sized ones, typically measured by 39 inches long from hips to head and 19 inch wide at the shoulders.
In training when one is not under life and death pressure, hitting a man-sized target under 100 yards with a carbine is not that difficult of a task. But what if the threat is moving, presenting a side angle, or perhaps using cover and exposing only a limited percentage of exposure? Then the difficulty level goes up greatly, to the point where irons and even red dots can become totally insufficient for the required accuracy needed to make good hits.
It’s exactly these issues that drove the military towards the increased use of magnified optics on carbines, starting back in in the early 2000s with the war on terror and leading up today where the U.S. Marines have just adopted the variable power, Trijicon VCOG, in 1X8 for their combat troops.
Carbine equipped law enforcement officers, are not immune to stress and are regularly presented extremely difficult scenarios in which they have to make shots.
A prime example of a need for powered optics is the 1997 North Hollywood Bank Robbery. Due to the threats moving, using cover and wearing full body armor, responding officers were totally infective at taking on the assailants with issued sidearms and shotguns. Which of course became a driving force for carbines becoming a now-standard patrolman’s tool. But just imagine if not only had they had carbines at the time, but also optics with magnification.
There is a good chance the fight would have been over a lot sooner if the responding officers could have had the ability to take precise aim (head shots). A more recent example, the October 2017 shootout between a Washington State, Pasco County Deputy, and an armed assailant. Body cam footage shows the deputy armed with a carbine equipped with an Aimpoint red dot.
After being shot at, he returns fire from a distance well inside of 100 yards and missing all shots (16-17rds). Of course, having a variable powered optic does not guarantee hits, but if the deputy did have the capability to dial in with magnification, perhaps he could have been able to score some hits on the threat.
PROS AND CONS
Of course, as previously mentioned LPVOs offer magnification, which can aid tremendously with difficult shots i.e. moving threats, limited exposure, etc., but can also help with identification and observation. In urban environment or responding to a threat at a dwelling being able to better observe through windows and doorways is obviously helpful.
The main advantage LPVOs offer is the ability to be set at different magnifications on the fly, most prevalent magnification range now is 1X6, but 188 and even 1X10s are now being employed in the military. Plus, with modern etched reticles even if the battery dies in a LPVO the reticle will still be present, just not illuminated.
One Con that could be used as against LPVOs is that it takes more training to become proficient. That may be true if a department decides to train on the use out to extended distances say 200-400 yards. But if the training is just limited to using magnification for better aiming at shorter distances—along with the use of simple reticles—LPVOs are really, no more complicated than learning how to use a red dot on a carbine and learning the different dot holds depending on the range to the threat.
Additionally, once a LPVO is zeroed any officer could grab the carbine and use it at 100 yards and under, and the zero it will be close enough that it would work, just as with red dots and holographic sites. As far as best magnification range for patrol use? 1X6 LPVOs offer a great range of magnification in that they can be true one power. Allowing to be used for CQB with no hindrance with any sort of optical distortion. Then when dialed up, offer a magnification level that is not overkill or to the point where departments would have to unjustly worry about everyone being “snipers” now.
According to the FBI, 48 Police Officers were killed by felonious acts in 2019. Out of the 48, nine occurred in “tactical” situations. That means a large majority of the deaths were just your average patrolman and not a Special Tactics or SWAT member.
The point being, wouldn’t it make sense to outfit those who are most likely to be first on the scene, with the best tools available for winning the fight if it comes to it?