Would you believe it is possible to hit a small target moving slowly through jagged terrain at 1200 yards with a bit of wind and no marksmanship training or experience? Sound like futuristic technology? It’s here.
TrackingPoint, a high tech weapons start up company based in Austin, Texas is the manufacturer of the first Precision Guided Firearm (PGF). A PGF is a comprehensive weapon system that incorporates the same target tracking and fire control found in advanced fighter jets.
The product is getting lots of attention because, as the company claims, TrackingPoint PGF ensures never-before-seen precision at extreme distances and high target velocities. They accomplish this through several component technologies, which are able to connect tracking optics with a guided trigger and allow the shooter to designate an exact target impact point.
According to TrackingPoint, this technology ‘amplifies human ability’ while eliminating many sources of error, like poor aim, trigger jerk and shot-setup miscalculation. But the patented Linux-based technology system goes much further. The company’s computerized scopes include gyroscopes and accelerometers, as well as sensors that gather information about temperature, pressure, wind and other conditions.
Tracking Point’s ballistic solution can account for coriolis effect, magnus, spin drift, drag profile, muzzle velocity and more. Data from these sensors goes into an algorithm used to fine-tune shots after the shooter has locked the laser scope. The company’s highest-end model can lock on targets moving up to 10 miles per hour and is accurate up to 1,200 yards.
So does this new technology give anyone the benefit of 18 months training in sniper school? Well, perhaps only the people who can afford it. Bolt-action systems cost between $12,995 and $27,500 and are available in a .338 Lapua Magnum, 300 Winchester Magnum and 308 Winchester. Semi-automatic systems cost between $9,995 and $14,995 and are available in 300 Blackout, 7.62 NATO and 5.56 NATO. The price tag has no adverse affect sales; as stated on the company website, “Due to overwhelming demand, TrackingPoint systems are available for purchase through application only.”
TrackingPoint was founded in February 2011 by John McHale, now chairman of the board. The first PGF prototype was created just 13 months later in March 2011, and the company officially launched a publicly available product in January 2013. TrackingPoint rolled out the AR Series semi-automatic smart rifle in January 2014. The company currently holds 26 patents and is applying for additional ones. Over the next 18 months, the TrackingPoint plans to spend additional funds on R&D to push longer distances at lower price points.
The company, which counts retired Adm. Eric Olson of the U.S. Special Operations Command and retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Peter Petronzio on its board, aims to provide the same precision weapons to ground soldiers that U.S. Air Force fighter pilots have.
In addition to enabling soldiers to shoot around corners and minimize collateral damage through laser locks, the streaming technology synthesizes video in the field. This means commanders can have a complete and real-time view of a battle.
The U.S. Army has purchased several TrackingPoint fire control systems to begin exploring purported key target acquisition and aiming technologies. The Army has integrated the system onto the XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle for military testing.
While the company looks forward to expanding business with military and law enforcement, 95% of their current customer base utilize the weaponry for hunting says Oren Schauble, Director of Marketing. Hunters are the company’s main customers, including professional athletes, businessmen and aging baby boomers who enjoy hunting but sometimes have shaky hands.
Given all the buzz about new technology surrounding a firearm and considering the current political climate, the company has faced some criticism.
Elliot Fineman, the CEO of the anti-gun National Gun Victims Action Council, is calling on the PGFs made by TrackingPoint to be banned. “There are three groups who will buy these rifles — insurrectionists, terrorists and hate groups,” Fineman said in a statement. “Given the sniper rifle’s deadly accuracy, no one is safe — this cannot be allowed.”
“We sell these products only to responsible gun owners. We do background checks, and it’s a high price point product,” explained John Lupher in a statement released by TrackingPoint. “There’s no question that this is extending the long-range capability of this platform, but it’s not really introducing anything new to the marketplace in terms of the gun. But we take it very seriously that we want this product to be used responsibly, and we focus the company on safety of the firearm and responsible use.”
Larry Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president and general counsel says, “TrackingPoint’s innovative product has application for long range target shooting competitions and for the hunting market where it could improve the ability of hunters to have successful hunts and to harvest game more humanely by reducing wounding and miss shots.” Keane explained that the likelihood of the PGF’s misuse was far-fetched, saying, “The system is exceedingly expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and beyond the financial means of all but the most well-heeled target shooter and hunters. That a product might be misused by someone is not a reason to ban its lawful use by law abiding citizens. If it were, you would ban knifes, cars, rope, baseball bats, and an infinite number of other ordinary useful products,” Keane said.
Moral objections to firearms aside, it is pretty easy to dismiss the idea that a person bent on murder would use a $20,000 bolt-action hunting rifle for that crime. There are simply too many superior alternatives, all of which would be easier and cheaper to acquire—not to mention more effective to the task at hand, since firing a 20 lb bolt-action rifle from an unsupported position one round at a time is prohibitively difficult. Even with the addition of the AR-15 platform to the arsenal, the gun and scope are still meant for distance shots. Weapons experts agree, this is not the weapon of choice for those intent on mass murder in a mall or movie theater.
The weapon has some “scary implications from a security perspective,” said Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst for Wedbush Securities. “There are a handful of snipers who can hit a target at 1,000 yards. But now, anybody can do it,” he said. “You can put some tremendous capability in the hands of just about anybody, even an untrained shooter.”
Though when questioned about the ramifications of this technology hitting the public market, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security did not express any concerns that TrackingPoint’s weapon is more of a threat than existing firearm systems.
TrackingPoint’s Chief Executive Officer, Jason Schauble, is a former Marine captain who was wounded in Iraq. His right hand is partially paralyzed after he was shot with an AK-47 during combat. He wears black KIA bracelets commemorating dead friends. He admitted that TrackingPoint’s technology is controversial. “But we’re in a unique position because we don’t have massive distribution,” he said. “You can’t buy one of these at a Wal-Mart or a Cabelas—we sell directly. If you’re buying this, you’ve at least talked to us.” Schauble also noted the price of the TrackingPoint PGF, the vetting and background checking performed as part of the sales process, as well as the need for custom ammunition. “We know who’s in our community,” he noted. “And we know what the red flags are.””
In addressing the possibility of the weapon falling into the wrong hands, the gun’s scope is password protected–without entering the password, you take the precision shooting capability out of the picture. The company appears to consider safety and appropriate use of their products a high priority. TrackingPoint patented a technology that will also disable the trigger of ‘smart’ guns near schools, federal facilities and other ‘gun free zones.’ The company has spent considerable money and effort to add extra layers of protection for the public.
Schauble goes further, revealing his real aim and passion for this product, “From a patriotic standpoint and as a veteran, I would love every soldier to be better armed today, and this technology could get them there.”