thermal image through a rifle scope at night

What is Thermal Rifle Scope Technology?

The thermal rifle scope technology was invented for the US Military. Night Vision scopes have been around since World War II but they were real big and bulky type systems. They had a separate “IR” light source spotlight that was required to make them work. This was the very early pioneering days of night vision. The first real night vision rifle scopes similar to today’s units were successfully fielded in the Vietnam war.  These scopes known as “starlight scopes” were self contained, of reasonable size and required only ambient light to operate. This type of light intensification night vision that amplifies available light was the standard for many years and is a proven performer. However, starlight night vision has always had several major flaws inherent in its design that have limited its effectiveness. Enter the thermal rifle scope.

Thermal technology does not rely on visible light whatsoever.  Starlight night vision needs some ambient light to operate so if it is really dark it does not work. In addition, if lghts are in the scene then the starlight scope will bloom out and possibly get damaged. Thermal rifle scopes solve all these problems. Thermal technology is completely passive and does not emit any light or energy and only images what is out there.  Thermal does not react to visible light so it cannot be effected by changes in light level or blinded by bright light.

Rifle scopes are the most serious of tools for Military and Law Enforcement Professionals. The work that is done with these scopes requires that they work all the time and in all conditions. Having a variance in light blind you from your target is completely unacceptable. With the thermal rifle scope you can see 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.  The thermal scope can even be used in broad daylight since it is completely unaffected by the light of the sun.

You can see everything with thermal. It is not just a “hot spot” detector. You can see the trees and the rocks, the buildings and the streets and of course you can see the people and the animals with a thermal rifle scope. Targeting is a whole new experience with a thermal rifle scope. Everything living sticks out like a sore thumb with thermal imaging. Some users find the experience surreal at first like their own real life video game.

Today there are several variations of the thermal rifle  scope available to the Military, Law Enforcement and Civilian communities. All the scopes operate in essentially the same way but some are restricted due to contract issues to Military or Law Enforcement customers only. All the thermal rifle scopes attach to your standard rail interface and have an internal reticle that can be adjusted to sight in windage and elevation.

Military thermal rifle scopes like the TWS (Thermal Weapon Sight) are big complicated sights that are best suited to military guys with heavy training. These scopes are impressive but have to be tuned just right to operate correctly. If they arent setup right you might as well have a flashlight and a BB gun. The BAE TWS is one of the most popular with them having sold thousands to the Army. Another great Military Thermal Rifle Scope is the AN/PAS-24 IWNS-T X27 sight. While technically this is a clip on thermal rifle scope it also has an internal reticle that can be activated to make is a stand alone thermal rifle scope in its own right.

TWS Heavy Thermal Weapon Sight

The BAE Thermal Weapon Sight part of the US Army TWS program.

AN/PAS-24 IWNS-T Clip On Thermal Weapon Sight

The AN/PAS-24 is the US Marines Clip On thermal scope. Can also be used as a rifle scope.

Law Enforcement scopes are generally easier to use and provide great thermal capabilities to your sniper and SWAT teams. Thermal rifle scopes for law enforcement include the original LE scope the Specter IR from Elcan. This was the first commercial scope made for the law enforcement market.  While not a super high resolution scope it is a very durable and capable performer. Another great sight for Law Enforcement is the X26 thermal weapon sight. This scope offers several levels of resolution (up to industry leading 640×480) and has many advanced features in terms of reticule selection and usability. The X26 also offers several lens options to match the scope to the application. Another thermal rifle scope worthy of note in this category is the X28.  While the X28 is again primarily a “clip on thermal weapon sight” like the X27, it also has the internal reticule so that it can be used as a standalone sight. The X28 is a very compact weapon sight and is really very light on the gun. It is our favorite.


The Elcan Specter IR Law Enforcement Rifle Scope.

x26 infrared rifle scope on the M4

X26 XLR mounted to an M4.

x28 mounted on m4 standalone thermal scope

The X28 can be used as a thermal rifle scope.

The commercial thermal rifle scope market is the fastest growing segment of the thermal sight industry. In particular fighting the wild hog infestation has fueled the need for civilian thermal rifle scopes. The most popular thermal rifle scopes for hog hunting are the L3 Renegade 320X and the Elcan Specter IR.  These scopes are the stars of many YouTube hog hunting videos and can be found on the used market from folks like SPI CORP for very reasonable prices. These are hardcore Law Enforcement scopes that you can own. Another really popular option for commercial applications is the T14 thermal scope.  The T14 is a compact multipurpose thermal rifle scope kit. The T14 setup can be used as a handheld thermal, head mounted thermal and as a thermal rifle scope.  This is a unique capability that only the T14 has. SPI Corp usually has a limited stock of these systems as they are somewhat hard to get a hold of.

Renegade 320 thermal scope

T14 thermal on the gun

The T14 multi use thermal rifle scope

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