Electronic Weapons: Little Cameras Defeat Snipers


June 4, 2013: In Syria the rebels are improvising, and adopting many of the techniques used by American troops, and using the Internet and cheap wi-fi or cable connected vidcams in combat. The vidcams are placed in areas that have to be watched for enemy activity but where it’s dangerous to have people there doing the watching. Snipers are a major danger, as these army sharpshooters know how to hide themselves and watch for any rebel fighters who appear, even if for only a few seconds. The cameras, costing less than $100 each, are placed where they are less likely to be seen and what the vidcams see can be monitored from a safe location nearby. Night vision cameras are available as well. For the vidcams you can’t run a power and video signal cable to, there are battery operated models. It is often dangerous to changes the batteries on these. But that’s a lot less risky than having eyeballs directly watching the scene all the time. The Syrian Army has adopted these vidcam techniques as well because more and more of the rebels have developed into competent snipers. The cameras are targets, of course, but they are hard to spot and hard to hit.

It’s become more common in the last half century for troops in combat to quickly adopt useful civilian equipment for military uses. This has been made easier with the arrival of the Internet in the late 1990s. Companies, especially those selling high-tech items, were among the first to put their product catalogs on the web. This allowed the troops to find tech they could quickly adapt to the battlefield. For both sides in Syria these vidcams have been much in demand, as well as other consumer electronics (like walkie-talkies and night vision devices).

Over the last decade, in Iraq and Afghanistan, American troops soon found that civilian surveillance gear was well suited for the combat zone. Security companies were quick to adopt wireless (wi-fi) technology to their security equipment, as there were often locations where it was too expensive to run wire (for power and sending the camera images). This sort of situation occurred often in the combat zone and commercial infrared (heat sensing nighttime) vidcams remain very popular with the troops and irregulars. American troops found these cameras extremely useful for new, or temporary, bases. Even troops conducting raids or large scale patrols could use the wireless cameras to watch blind spots, or simply make up for a shortage of personnel.

Some of the manufacturers acted on feedback from military customers (who, at times, became major purchasers) and modified some of their cameras and wi-fi gear. For example, there were portable receivers with small screens. These can be worn on the arm. The biggest hassle with this equipment was the need to change the batteries. Operating the camera and transmitting the data took a lot of power. In some cases day cameras were hooked up to a small solar panel to make the batteries last longer. Another problem was that the wi-fi system usually employed was line-of-sight, usually up to 1,000 meters. This often made it a chore to place a camera to cover a blind spot. Even with the battery and sighting problems, these cameras became a common, although rarely reported on, feature of the battlefield.

In Syria everyone is using commercial gear off-the-shelf and had to be concerned about the enemy eavesdropping on signals from wi-fi cameras. Even with that, it’s a lot better than lookouts dealing with snipers.





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