The peril of cutting edge or trailing edge.


I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the subject.

Today, I got offer a Surefire 720V in trade for something I was selling, and it got me thinking about the subject again.

The U.S. military spends ridiculous amounts of money to develop and fly the latest and greatest in fighter aircraft. Having the very best takes so very much time, effect, and most of all the money.

Same applies to any hobby or craft. There will always be something newer. Some time back, Surefire designed a new weapon light with all the cool features and that was the M720V.

This thing had all the coolest new features. Bright light, and dim light. IR light. Multiple switches and remote switch options. Metal construction, tempered lens. It was to be the pinnacle of weapon lights.

It also cost $800ish.

Oh man did I want one. But now way was I going to spend that much money to have the latest and greatest. I drooled over all the pictures of the cool guys running around with theses.

Good thing I didn’t get one, turns out they are huge, heavy, and better lights came out shortly afterwards at more reasonable prices. It seemed like a year after they came out I saw a bunch for sale used and nobody wanted them even at drastically reduced prices.

There is always something newer coming out. If you try and chase the very newest stuff you are going to pay the premium for it, be it cost, time, etc. And sometimes that newest tech ends up not being that great (Magpul Masada anyone?).

Look at the Leupold CQBSS, an excellent piece of gear. An early adopter would have had to pay around four thousand dollars for one. Now, we have plenty of excellent 1-8X options that are lighter, smaller, and cheaper.

Sometimes it is worth waiting to see if something really is an improvement. This can also help you avoid the extra cost of being an early adopter.

We don’t want to go to the other extreme either. We don’t want to be Luddites to progress. I’ve met individuals who still believe that optics are not reliable enough for a fighting weapon. There are people who think that only equipment the military uses can be trusted.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hughes)

A basic M4 is a good gun, but we can do better.

For each of us, the sweet spot of what to get and use will vary. Some people are more adventurous and would like to try new stuff, or have more cash to spend on the latest. Others will be more conservative and wait till things are proven and cheaper. Just don’t blow all your money on the latest gimmick or be that old fogey that just keeping whining that cartridge guns are fad.


  1. I think we already chatted about the scopes-on-military-rifles issues awhile back. I stick by my opinion on the situation – that the Trijicon changes the equation for optics on military weapons. The Trijicon scope family is built like a brick shithouse, simplicity exemplified, and expensive. Unertl scopes also had their place on military sniping rifles – because the Unertls had no internal adjustments, they were simplified and could be made very reliable indeed. They also cost a pretty hefty chunk of change to get the reliability they offered.

    Contrast this tank-like construction and mission-specificity to modern consumer optics, where we have all manner of unreliable consumer-grade optical sights out there, some more expensive than others, but almost none of which can you drop out of a moving HMMV onto a dirt/rock road in Dirka-Dirka-Dirkastan, swing the vehicle around, jump out, get your weapon and find that the thing is actually still zero’d (a friend from gunsmithing school had this happen to him) – and you can see why old fogies who have had consumer-grade optics fail on them again and again and again would make such pronouncements. They’re not necessarily “luddites” so much as they have some wisdom. Remember, wisdom comes in two stages: Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted – and wisdom comes from interpreting experience in the larger timeframe. Ergo, wisdom ultimately comes from bad experience.

    Now, run a Trijicon by these old duffers and show them the glass quality and the reliability – and they sit up and listen with rapt attention – right up until you tell them the price. Then their enthusiasm melts like a snowman on the back of a horse in a rodeo parade in August.

    I’d also add this: I rail against electronics in cars and on things like ag equipment. I positively hate electronics on ag equipment. Why? Because the connectors are invariably POS least-cost crap that breaks, allows in water, dust, etc. Now look at mil-spec electrical/electronic connectors: built like a tank, moisture/fungus proof, usually made from metal (not plastics) and built for the ages. OK, now I’m on board with electronics on mobile equipment – because someone took the money and time to address the most quotidian issues thoroughly. You can’t find such connectors in the consumer-grade connector market – which is why I despise electronics on farm equipment. Electronics on consumer-sector equipment are always breaking, and just when you need the machine to get a crop in.

    So, let’s go back to your above example: was that Surefire light over-built? Sure was. It looks over-built. Tempered glass? You bet your ass it was over-built. I admit to getting a some tingles just looking at a picture of the thing. Did it meet the mission profile, ie, “this damn thing had better work when we need it to work?” I’m guessing ‘yes’. And it came with a price tag to match.

    The old engineer’s saying comes into play here: “You can have almost anything you want – correct, quickly or cheaply – pick any two criteria.”

    • IIRC, Hognose had a story about sledding down a staircase on his duty rifle in Afghanistan. If memory serves, the ACOG held zero.

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