What is a Military Rifle Scope?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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A military rifle scope is a sighting device attached to a military rifle for the purpose of enhancing the user’s ability to hit the target. There are two types of rifle scope suitable for military use in combat operations: the telescopic sight and the reflex sight. In appearance and function similar to a hand-help telescope, such sights, until late in the 20th century, were almost exclusively used only by snipers, because of the many disadvantages they posed to the infantry soldier. A third type of rifle scope, the laser sight, is impractical for military use.

Until late in the 20th century, military personnel equipped with shoulder weapons would aim them using iron sights, establishing a line of sight down a rifle barrel to a target and using iron devices mounted at both ends of the barrel as reference points. For a number of reasons, military rifle scopes were issued only to snipers. For instance, telescopic sights are delicate in construction and include delicate internal optics, as well as lenses than can break, or be obscured with mud or other contaminants. Although usually relatively light, rifle scopes add to a shoulder weapon’s bulk, potentially compromising a soldier’s maneuverability.


Telescopic sights also are vulnerable to such environmental considerations as heat, moisture and excess cold. The “fog of battle” itself is another obstacle to infantry use of rifle scopes — visibility becomes very poor in many combat situations. These drawbacks, combined with the high cost of telescopic rifle scopes — typically $1,500 - $2,000 US Dollars (USD) — were persuasive in convincing most countries not to equip their infantries with rifle scopes.

The incorporation of a military rifle scope into an infantryman’s standard gear probably started in the Israeli military in the late 1980s, and was intended to improve infantry hit ratios, especially in conditions of reduced lighting. A popular legend during the Vietnam War was that it took a million shots fired by American forces to produce a single hit on an enemy target; although likely untrue, there’s no doubt that the ratio of misses to hits in most firefights is very high.

By the first decade of the 21st century, the changing conditions of the typical battlefield, with personnel wearing protective armor and higher-powered weapons allowing troops to engage over larger distances, necessitated enhancing troops targeting abilities. In response, many militaries, including the traditional powers, began equipping their infantry forces with rifle scopes. These scopes typically are more rugged than their civilian counterparts and employ mechanical devices such as shrouds and covers to protect the lenses and reduce outside glare.

A military rifle scope is easily mounted to, or removed from, a rifle, and both telescopic and reflex scopes employ a reticule, or system of “cross-hairs,” to pinpoint the target. The reticule on a military rifle scope typically includes special markings to aid the shooter in estimating the range to the target. A telescopic military rifle scope, like a telescope, uses a series of lenses and mirrors to enlarge a target’s image. A reflex scope’s main feature is the superimposition of a dot, usually red, on the target; some reflex scopes are telescopic, others aren’t. The red dot doesn’t actually show up on the target itself, as is the case with a laser sight; it’s superimposed on the image of the target the soldier sees in the scope.

Soldiers issued military rifle scopes must be trained in their use if they’re going to be effective. While the scopes dramatically increase the range at which troops can reliably hit a target, there are still many drawbacks, significant among which is the bulkiness they add to the infantryman’s basic weapon.


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