TrackingPoint, the embattled manufacturer of precision-guided firearms, announced a novel marketing stunt this week. The company is offering 10 of its AR-15 and sniper-style rifles, equipped with targeting technology originally developed for aircraft, free to Americans willing to bring them to the Middle East for the fight against the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. Preferably it would be a U.S. agency toting TrackingPoint guns into battle, but the company indicates it is open to hearing from for-profit and freelance commandos as well.
“When I saw those Christians being murdered on the beach, I knew these guns could make a difference over there,” TrackingPoint founder John McHale tells The Trace. Spokesperson Kimberly Chung adds that the promotion “could prove that these guns are tremendously effective in combat situations.”
TrackingPoint could use the good press. After making its weapons available to the public in 2013, the company astonished observers with the ability of its firearms to turn untrained shooters into crack shots. It also drew tens of millions of dollars worth of investment. But in the intervening years, the firm was wracked by upheaval in the boardroom and the intense engineering demands of its products. In May, TrackingPoint abruptly ceased production, fired dozens of staff members, and shuffled its executive team.
The company reopened this September with McHale returning to the role of CEO. In some ways TrackingPoint has been hamstrung by the success of its signature product: the Army tested its high-tech rifles and found them to have “90 to 100 percent first shot success rate,” says McHale. But when he took a meeting at the Pentagon, he says, he didn’t get the chance to go after a big ticket contract. Instead, McHale says he was informed that the military was restricting the export of TrackingPoint’s technologies to other countries. As a result, the company is reliant on finding domestic civilian buyers for its weapons, which run from just under $10,000 up to nearly $30,000.
TrackingPoint hopes that other government agencies or military organizations can help get around the restrictions and show how their products perform in a war zone. “There are many organizations in the U.S. that are covertly involved in the wars in the Middle East and can bring weapons into theater,” claims McHale. He speculates that security contractors like Academi (better known under its original name, Blackwater Security), “mercenaries, or individual citizens who decide to go fight,” could be potential customers. But getting in touch with those parties is tricky, “given that they’re covert,” says McHale. Hence the PR stunt.