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EOTech M553 HOLOgraphic Weapon Sight

Written by Eugene Nielsen

After extensive testing of various optical sights, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has standardized on the EOTech HOLOgraphic Weapon Sight (HWS) as its 1x weapon optic for CQB/MOUT. Modeled on the EOTech’s battle proven HWS, the M553 incorporates a number of additional features that were required by the SOPMOD Block 2 program. The M553 has been adopted by USSOCOM as the SU-231/PEQ. The M533 is available commercially to law enforcement.

EOTech, now part of L-3 Communications, introduced the world’s first holographic sight into the commercial market in 1996. In 1999, EOTech introduced its first military and law enforcement model. The EOTech HWS was truly a revolutionary breakthrough in the design of small arms sights.

The EOTech HWS line presently consists of five models—the M511, M512, M551, M552, and the new M553. The HWS has been standardized by numerous law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, FBI SWAT, and ATFE.

Using patented, state-of-the-art holographic optics technology that’s similar to that employed in the heads-up displays in advanced fighter aircraft, the HWS was designed to provide the operator with greatly improved shooting performance by achieving a more rapid reticle-to-target acquisition.

Holography provides a number of key advantages for a small arms sight, especially a sight designed for CQB. The use of holography allows a reticle image to be created in any light pattern, geometric shape or size. The reticle can be produced in either two-dimensional or three-dimensional form. With holography, a parallax free reticle image is created that’s projected out to the target plane, allowing the operator to focus on the target. The reticle image is of uniform brightness and distortion free.

With a holographic reticle, all of the information needed to reconstruct the reticle pattern is recorded everywhere in the display window. The entire reticle pattern is visible on the target if the operator can see through any portion of the window.

The sight remains fully operational with point of aim/impact maintained when the sight is obstructed by mud, rain or snow, or even if the window were to be shattered. If you can see the target through any portion of the window, you can obtain a reticle-to-target lock-on.

During a recent training session, the front window of an operator’s HWS took a direct hit from a Simunition training round. Although the round smashed the front window of the HWS, the operator had no idea that he had been hit because he continued to see the holographic reticle clearly. The operator continued to accurately engage all targets without any change in the point of impact.

There are other unique capabilities of the HWS, as well. A holographic reticle not only allows for unlimited eye relief, it also allows off-axis aiming. A proper cheek weld isn’t essential for accurate aiming.

The EOTech HWS has been designed to provide reliable operation under the harshest operational conditions. The electronics are state of the art. A microprocessor provides an automatic battery check when the unit is turned on, brightness control scrolling and programmable shut-down features.

All EOTech HWS models are ruggedly constructed to meet the rigors of military combat. The HWS is constructed of hardened and corrosion-resistant components. The electronics are fully encapsulated in a shock-absorbing resin cavity. The HWS is waterproof and fog-proof.

The EOTech M553 HWS is powered by two 3-volt CR-123 lithium batteries. The use of CR-123 batteries allows cross-application with weapon lights and other electronic gear. The M553 is the only HWS model to use 123 lithium batteries. The M552 HWS uses “AA” 1.5-volt batteries, while the 551, uses alkaline “N” batteries, as does the M511 M512, and M551 HWS.

The use of lithium batteries extends battery life and allows for operation in extreme arctic temperatures. Alkaline batteries perform poorly at colder temperatures. Alkaline batteries must be above 40 deg F for best results. Lithium batteries perform well across a much wider temperature range, including temperatures below freezing.

The CR-123 batteries provide the M553 with the maximum battery life of any of the HWS models. Battery life for the M553 at nominal setting 12 is 1,100 continuous hours. For purposes of comparison, the battery life of the M552 and M512 is 650 hours at nominal setting with “AA” alkaline batteries (1,100 hours with lithium). The M551 and M511 provide 200 hours of battery life at nominal setting with “N” batteries. Battery life for all batteries is reduced at correspondingly higher settings and increased at lower settings. Operational temperatures will also affect battery life.

Batteries can quickly be replaced in the field without tools. The battery cap release lever has been improved on recent production HWS models to allow easier release when gloves are worn. The battery cap on the M553 is tethered to avoid loss in the field, unlike the other HWS models.

To conserve battery power, the HWS has an auto shutdown at eight hours, programmable to four hours. The reticle retains constant brightness throughout the operational life of the batteries. If the battery is low, the reticle blinks for a few seconds at start-up. Another indication is when the reticle blinks during firing on high-recoil guns.

As the result of input from military SOF operators, the switches on all current production EOTech 550 series HWS models (M551, M552, M553) now extend roughly 1/8-inch from the rear of the housing. First introduced in 2004 on the M552, the redesigned switches provide tactile operational control even when heavy gloves are employed. The controls on the M511, M512 and earlier production M550 series are flush to the rear of the housing of the HWS.

The mount of the new M553 differs from other EOTech HWS models. As dictated by USSOCOM requirements, the M553 has a dual, quick-release A.R.M.S.® Throw Lever® mount designed specifically for the MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) mounting rail.

The use of the patented A.R.M.S. Throw Levers offers several advantages. They permit the M553 to be quickly detached or reattached, and its design provides reliable operation even under the most adverse environmental conditions. Unlike threaded or ratchet mount designs, A.R.M.S. Throw Levers cannot not freeze or absorb mud, dirt or sand.

EOTech advises that certain commercial variants of the MIL-STD-1913 rail may not be compatible with the M553 mounting assembly. The M553 bases are only adaptable to rails that properly accept the ARMS design. The other EOTech HWS models feature a proprietary mounting platform that use a single thumb screw and mount to any 1-inch Weaver / Picatinny (MIL-STD-1913) rail.

The M512, M552 and M553 can removed and reinstalled with a repeatable 1 MOA return to zero after remounting. The M511 and M551 have a 2 MOA return to zero after remounting.

A variety of mounting platforms are supported, including mounts for the HK MP5, UMP, and G36, M16/AR15, M4, AK47/MAK90 variants, SIG 550, FN P90, Steyr AUG, Beretta 70/90/ FAMAS, Daewoo K1/K2, IMI Galil, Ruger Mini-14, and Remington, Benelli, and Mossberg tactical shotguns. The HWS also interfaces with a number of MG platforms, including the FN M240, M249, and the M2/M3.

Windage and elevation adjustments are easily made via separate click adjustment dials on the side of the housing. The adjustment dials are grooved with a slotted screw head. A specialized tool isn’t necessary to make adjustments. A coin or cartridge case works well for this purpose. Each click will change the bullet impact point by 0.5 MOA (a half-inch at 100 yards). The adjustment dials are mounted flush with the machined housing to prevent accidental changes in the point of aim.

The design of the HWS allows it to be co-witnessed with iron sights or night-vision devices (NVDs). The M553 features a 7 mm (quarter-inch) raised base that provides the operator with a consistent cheek weld with all other standardized optics.

The HWS is designed to withstand MIL-SPEC drop tests and remain fully operational with no loss of zero. The HWS has been extensively tested in a recoil simulator generating 3,500 Gs of acceleration in less than 0.5 milliseconds (equivalent to the recoil that’s generated by a .454 Casull revolver) and under a variety of environmental conditions.

The HWS Heads Up Display (HUD) is constructed of a hardened, three-layer, shatterproof laminate glass that is 3/16 of an inch thick. The glass is quite durable. According to L-3 EOTech, it took several hard hits with a ball peen hammer to break a test sample. Additional protection for the HUD is provided by a roll-bar-type hood. The optical cavity is sealed and enclosed with a state-of-the art aerospace composite, providing waterproof and fog-proof operation.

The M553 is submersible to 66 feet (2 ATM) for 24 hours. For purposes of comparison, current production M550 series models are submersible in water to depths of 33 feet (1 ATM). The M51i and M512, as well as earlier production M550 series models are submersible to 10 feet.

All of the optical surfaces on the HWS are flat. They’re treated with a scratch-resistant anti-reflective coating to eliminate any additional muzzle side signature due to reflective glare. With the HWS, there isn’t any need for a glare elimination (“Killflash”) filter. With a conventional reflex sight, a glare elimination filter is necessary to eliminate glare as a result of reflective coating and the curvature of the lens. Besides adding additional cost to the sight, a glare elimination filter will reduce the effective light transmission by about 20%.

The M553 is equipped with L-3 EOTech’s standard A65 reticle—a 65 MOA ring with quadrant alignment ticks and a 1 MOA dot. This combination provides both rapid eye recognition and precise aiming. It also helps in estimating target leads. The reticle is instinctive to center and remains in view while sweeping the target area. Unlike most electronic sights, the reticle doesn’t cover or obscure the point of aim.

EOTech can create virtually any reticle pattern in either two or three dimensions for specialized applications, such as less lethal weapon systems, medium caliber weaponry and grenade launching platforms. Non-interfering reticles can be created to support ranging, trajectory and dual-use weapons. In addition to the standard 65 MOA reticle, for example, EOTech currently offers a single1 MOA aiming dot (D1) and a special less-lethal pattern for the Sage and FN303 on its M511 HWS.

The design of the HUD eliminates obstructions, providing the operator with the fastest possible target acquisition and unrestricted peripheral vision. The HWS provides unmatched speed of reticle to target acquisition in initial weapon presentation and in situations where the operator or target or moving rapidly. The off-axis capabilities speed and simplify reticle/target acquisition when firing from awkward positions or around barriers. The off-axis capability also allows the operator to maximize the use of cover.

With the HWS, the operator maintains a full field of vision. There are none of the blind spots, constricted vision or tunnel vision that are associated with tube sights. There are also no protruding controls, battery compartments or mounting rings to block vision. The field of view at 100 yards is 30 yards at a 4-inch eye relief.

There are 20 normal brightness settings on the HWS that are easily scrolled through using up and down arrow controls. The reticles can easily be seen against light targets in desert, tundra or snow-covered environments, as well as in extreme low-light conditions without washing out the target scene. There isn’t any visible muzzle side signature under conditions of normal use.

The brightness adjustment range is a phenomenal 110,000:1 (brightest to lowest). The military HWS models (M551, M552, and M553) are night vision compatible. They have 10 additional NV settings, in addition to the 20 normal settings, providing maximum flexibility to the operator when employed in tandem with NVDs.

It should be noted the tactical HWS models (M511 and M512) are not night vision compatible. They are an ideal choice for the agency that has a need for the best optical sight for CQB but has no need for night vision compatibility.

Conventional red dot sights don’t have sufficient night vision setting to adequately meet the variances in ambient lighting environments, NVD intensifier tube sensitivities, and sensitivities of the human eye that will be encountered in an operational environment.

The M551, M552 and M553 have a unique NV switch that allows the operator to instantly drop the reticle’s brightness to the NV setting, eliminating any halo effect or blooming of the NVD. The night vision contrast ratio is 10,000,000:1 with NV switch engaged. The operator can instantly toggle back and forth from the NV to the normal (daylight) mode.

The unlimited eye relief and off-axis capabilities of the HWS allow it to employed with head- or helmet-mounted NVDs. This cannot be done with any other optical sights. Prior to the advent of the HWS, the only way to aim shoulder weapons when head- or helmet-mounted night vision was used was with an infrared (IR) laser aimer, which can give away the operator’s position if the enemy is employing night vision surveillance.

The HWS is a passive weapon optic. The HWS doesn’t emit any light signature to give away the operator’s position. No muzzle side signature is detectable, even when NVDs are employed, including the latest, most sophisticated Gen III and Gen IV devices. The reticle pattern can only be viewed by the operator.

Although ruggedly built, all of the EOTech HWS models are quite compact and lightweight. The M553 is 4.9 inches long by 1.8 inches wide by 2.8 inches high. It weighs 12.3 ounces.

The M553 has a flat “dark earth” color MIL-SPEC hardcoat finish (non-reflective black on some small components). This color was specified by USSOCOM. The color also used on the new FN SCAR, which has also been adopted by USSOCOM. It blends in well in any environment. Other EOTech HWS models are finished in a flat black color hardcoat.

The EOTech HWS has impressive capabilities. The speed of reticle / target acquisition is among the fastest of any optical sight. Targets can easily be engaged with off-axis targeting using peripheral vision. USSOCOM definitely made the right choice when it adopted the L-3 EOTech M553 as its standard CCO (Close Combat Optic) sight. The EOTech M553 HWS has a MSRP of $640.

Eugene Nielsen provides investigative and tactical consulting services and is a former officer. He can be reached at esnielsen@usa.net.


Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2007

Rating : 8.5


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