Many have become increasingly interested with the ability to “see” at night albeit via traditional image intensifying night vision or thermal technology for various reasons … tactical, hunting, surveillance, general principle “because you can,” and so on. Each system has its advantages. Most of us realize from the first Gulf War in 1990-1991 and subsequent involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan that night vision has revolutionized the modern battlefield and is a crucial advantage exploited by our armed forces over less well-equipped opponents. As often happens with advanced military technology, it finally trickles its way down to LE and civilian users. Our focus will be on the thermal technology as represented by the Trijicon REAP-IR (IRMS 60 model).
Trijicon has entered the optics market in force over the last several years with several innovative designs and new takes on established concepts. Trijicon has evolved into a recognized industry leader in the development and manufacturing of all types of optics such as red dots, magnified optics, handgun iron sights and recently thermal. Trijicon definitely has “skin” in the optics game with numerous models in its product line-up.
Trijicon acquired prominent military contractor IR Defense—including its products, R&D and manufacturing plant—as the basis for a new Electro-Optics Division. As is the case with most of its products, Trijicon thermal optics are manufactured in the US. Currently, multiple product lines are offered in the form of rifle scopes (with several models), monocular and clip-on thermal versions. Trijicon also has a licensing agreement with BAE Systems for their OASYS thermal imaging and aiming technology. With this technology license, Trijicon positioned itself well to provide compact,
high-performance thermal imaging and aiming monoculars, weapon sights and binoculars.
The technical aspects of the Trijicon REAP IR must be discussed to ensure full appreciation. These will be applied in the hunting arena as well as in trials in the LE realm as part of both patrol and training scenarios. I have heard that thermals are not optics per se. Yes, the similarity to traditional rifle scope form is hard to miss. A better way to think of a thermal such as the Trijicon REAP-IR is as a digital camera feeding off of infrared/heat waves with a signal processor creating images for our recognition. The REAP-IR has a sensor resolution of 640×480 pixels, which is currently leading edge for thermal scopes. It has a sensor pitch of 12 microns which allows for sharper images versus the more prevalent 17-micron pitch models found on the market. 12-micron capability allows for increased magnification potential as well. The scope also has a frame rate of 60 Hz, meaning the thermal core refreshes the image you see 60 times a second; all of this is crucial for successful tracking/engagement/observation of moving targets.
The Trijicon REAP-IR features multiple reticle save locations. This capability allows a user to transfer the REAP-IR between different weapon platforms by associating certain reticle locations with a specific weapon that has been sighted in accordingly. The REAP-IR also has 5 different reticle patterns to choose from to suit users’ needs.
A Stadiametric Range Finder allows for fast and accurate ranging of targets. Users can quickly determine the distances to target by setting ranging units and target size. The ranging “reticle” is then adjusted to the target being viewed, and the distance is displayed on the Range Read-Out Display.
Trijicon has equipped the REAP-IR with an Edge Detect Mode. This feature was pioneered in military thermals after getting feedback from operators. The two CR123 Lithium batteries provide approximately 4 hours of run time. Edge Detect helps to limit user eye fatigue and allow the user to stay behind the thermal optic longer. This is done by reducing the brightness of the overall display to reduce night blindness when coming off the scope, while still outlining objects producing a heat signature to better grab the user’s attention. Less light emitting from the back of the thermal also helps to prevent inadvertently revealing a shooter’s position.
Other enhancing REAP-IR features are White Hot/Black Hot Polarity control and Digital Focus Control (DFC) ensuring zero is maintained during magnification increases of 4.5x optical and 8x digital. DFC will auto-sharpen images to enhance clarity and detail. The Polarity control offers users three levels, each of white hot/black hot for adaptation to specific situations. Trijicon thermal scopes are built to MIL-STD-810G standards translating into being capable of withstanding temperature extremes, rain, humidity, sand, dust, vibrations and shock standards based on specific testing.
All features such as sighting-in, Polarity adjustments, magnification adjustments, reticle choice, etc., are chosen via thumbstick toggle control on the right side of the REAP-IR. Users familiar with higher end digital camera interface methods will find REAP-IR controls familiar. The screens that appear and are toggled through are very similar to modern DSLR cameras. Initial reference to the well-prepared user manual will guide you to the screen required. After a few tries, the grouping of features is easily figured out. For example, the “Easy Zero Method” makes sighting-in easier than for a traditional optic. Once the correct screen is found, follow the onscreen prompts. When in effect, fire a round from a stable position. Inspect where the round impacted and toggle adjustments into the optic via MOA readout to then place reticle where the round landed versus the aiming point. Firing another round or two for confirmation is always recommended.
The REAP-IR was mounted on a SIG SAUER 716G2 DMR .308Win. A SIG SAUER 7.62 suppressor rounded out the potent package. The author’s thought was to limit the need for ear pros once taken afield. One nuance with the sight-in procedure was placing duct tape on the target to provide an aiming point when viewing through the REAP-IR thermal—on paper target only provided no real center reference. The “Easy Sight” mode got the REAP-IR zeroed within five rounds. The theoretical eye relief is 27mm with the REAP-IR calculated to see the entire eyepiece field of view. Functional eye relief is longer than that since you do not really need to see the entire eyepiece FOV to see the screen well. I bring this up as an important nuance, especially with weapons chambered in cartridges in the .30 caliber or up power range.
Once the platform for the Trijicon REAP-IR was chosen, sighted-in field use got seriously underway. Immediately, several night forays were set up in pursuit of predators and general usage to get a sense of what the Trijicon REAP-IR (IRMS 60) offers. The compact 7.5-inch long, 32-ounce REAP-IR delivered surprisingly detailed imaging performance out to 300 yards plus. There was no issue identifying deer, coyotes, raccoons and foxes. The polarity contrast of heat actually made detection easier in certain areas than if merely using binoculars during the day. The amount of heat signature of vegetation was surprising in thicker/denser areas. However, the ability to adjust settings with the REAP-IR maintained the ability to observe effectively. The preferred method was to keep the REAP-IR at a low magnification setting for observation purposes and then increase magnification as needed for shot placement.
One huge advantage of a thermal is its ability to be used during the day. Image intensifying night vision optics are not so flexible. The Trijicon REAP-IR has a temperature sensitivity listed as less than 50mK which converts to .09 degree Fahrenheit! This sensitivity allows for the REAP-IR to be used in a tracking mode either for tracks or blood trails, even during the day. The DLOC mounting bracket with the REAP-IR allows for it to be easily removed from the rifle and used as a hand-held unit with reinstall maintaining zero.
Besides the hands-on field hunting experience with the Trijicon REAP-IR, various Federal and local contacts were utilized to gain their insights into the best use practices of thermal optics related to law enforcement. Several “ride alongs” proved educational. There was no doubt the Trijicon REAP-IR was a performance enhancement over white light. Thermal optics allows officers the ability to see their surroundings in a brand new way; pun intended. The technological advantage is similar to what our military experiences. The night can no longer shield suspects. Officers using thermal optics have a range of abilities not available with flashlights or even image intensifying night vision optics.
Weapon-mounted sights are not necessarily the thermal optics forte in the LE realm due to the uncompromising need to positively identify a target before engaging. What the REAP-IR offers is unsurpassed surveillance capability and huge assistance in fugitive searches both day and night in urban or rural settings. Dark or camouflaged clothing worn by a suspect can make it very difficult for officers to use light or night vision technology to distinguish him from his surroundings. With a thermal imager, officers have the ability to see the suspect’s body heat, which makes it very difficult for the suspect to conceal his position, whether he is hiding inside of a structure or outdoors. Imagine rolling up to a situation and being able to quickly and discretely assess potential problems in terms of individuals hiding or even animals that may be encountered. This scenario can be expanded to include a suspect on the run and/or cornered.
One large open space approximately 800 yards long showed the Trijicon REAP-IR’s potential with no issues detecting heat signatures at extended ranges for animals or human passersby. Larger objects such as vehicles show up even further out. For a law enforcement officer or security minded civilian, this could translate into detecting objects at a distance; then, closing the gap and being able to determine what the object is …warm engine block, a dog—or a fleeing suspect.
Another capability tailor-made for thermal optics is search and rescue. The Trijicon REAP-IR in a hand-held capacity can help officers search large areas in short order. Officers may be able to search hundreds of yards in any direction quickly thanks to people’s inability to hide body heat. The Trijicon REAP-IR eases search efforts in large fields, parks, near roadways and wooded areas. Searches near bodies of water also offer opportunities to use a thermal imager. As long as the victim is not completely submerged, body heat should be detected by the thermal imager. You can scan a large area in seconds and detect life-based emitting heat sources.
The Trijicon REAP-IR is an awesome piece of equipment. Some will point at the price tag and snort; totally understandable. However, cutting edge, top tier gear that allows you to experience another sense beyond our God-given five will never be had on the cheap. The image clarity and detail are impressive. With the Trijicon REAP-IR, nothing can hide day or night.