RAZAR telescopic sight being tested by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant with an M4 carbine.

Telescopic sights are by no means a new technology; they have been around since the 1840s, with the design and development of the Chapman-James sight.

By today’s standards, most of the scopes used on rifled muskets like the 38-inch long barreled Springfield Model 1861 in the American Civil War featured rudimentary sighting and were ridiculously long, even longer than the barrels themselves. Despite this, the sights functioned impressively for their time, and were used to devastating effect in the hands of sharpshooters; Union General John Sedgwick was said to have been killed by an unnamed Confederate Sharpshooter, using a Whitworth rifle with a 4-power scope from over 900m away, during the opening skirmishes in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

By contrast, contemporary telescopic sights for military use are much shorter and more rugged, and possess modern features such as focus rings, precision dials for adjusting elevation and windage, as well as reticles designed for ballistic trajectory compensation and range-finding. Today’s soldiers must be able to rapidly respond to unconventional threats that present themselves when least expected. For example, the enemy might use innocent civilians as “human shields” to cover themselves from being fired upon in an urban area of operation. In such a scenario, designated marksmen or snipers called upon to eliminate the threat must face the challenge of zeroing in on the target of opportunity without breaking visual to make the necessary adjustments on their scopes, especially when said target lies outside of their telescopic sights’ intended range.

Sandia National Laboratories Optical Engineer Brett Bagwell, former Detachment Commander of the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group, has developed a revolutionary variable-magnification optical sight, called the Rapid Adaptive Zoom for Assault Rifles (RAZAR) after years of conceptualization, research and design at Sandia National Laboratories. RAZAR was born out of the military’s need for a “compact zoom riflescope that could rapidly toggle between magnifications” in 2006, according to a press release by said R&D contractor.

This radical, new telescopic sight incorporates a 0.75″ (19.05mm) composite lens, containing a polymer fluid enclosed in “hermetically sealed membranes”, and a piezoelectric actuator that adjusts the flex of the lenses via an ultrasonic frequency. The optical assembly is completed with a set of glass for the eyepiece and objective lenses. All the user has to do in order to adjust the scope’s magnification and focus is to press a button, which will initiate the actuator. Never again will the shooter lose sight picture and his/her target due to adjusting the settings on an optical sight.

David Wick, inventor of adaptive zoom, states that the technology “accomplishes true optical zoom (as opposed to digital zoom) by changing the focal length of two or more lenses in concert, without the mechanical motion, reducing the size and power requirements of the zoom lens”.

RAZAR is currently undergoing testing and evaluation by U.S. Army soldiers, most notably those with the Army Special Operations Command at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center. If successful, the adaptive zoom optic will make a significant difference for snipers, designated marksmen, police riflemen, and hunters with respect to the more efficient use of firearms. RAZAR is also being considered for use with medical professionals performing delicate work, and potentially even mobile phone users.