Infantry: A Chip On The Shoulder That Kills Snipers


December 3, 2010: The U.S. Army has ordered another 13,500 SWATS (Soldier Worn Acoustic Targeting Systems) sniper detectors. These 183 g (6.4 ounce) devices come in two pieces. One is the sensor, that is worn on the shoulder, while the controller, with small LCD display, is worn in front, where it can be quickly glanced at. SWATS calculates (from the of the sound weapon fired) direction of fire in a tenth of a second. SWATS has been very popular with troops, and costs about $5,000 each. SWATS can also be mounted on vehicles, and work when the vehicle is moving at speeds of 80 kilometers an hour or more.

Acoustic gunfire (sniper) detectors, which have been in the field for a decade, have had increasing success. Over 50,000 sniper detectors have been shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been increasingly useful. Sniper detection systems provide directional information about where the snipers are. Several generations of these systems have showed up over the last decade. The usefulness of these anti-sniper systems has increased as the manufacturers have decreased the number of false alarms, and improved the user interface. There are other reasons for all this progress, including major advances in computing power, sensor quality and software development. One of the latest, and most useful, improvements is providing nearly instant, and easy to comprehend, location info on the sniper.

British, American, French and Israeli manufacturers have produced most of these systems, which are also sold to police organizations. The systems have varied greatly in capabilities, and price. Some of the first ones cost over $200,000, but prices have been dropping rapidly over the last five years, as the technology matured.

Some systems were equipped with a camera, that can give troops inside an armored vehicle, or in a distant location, a picture, or video, of where the shot came from. One U.S. firm, iRobot, which makes the most widely used combat robot, the PackBot, developed a similar system. Called REDOWL (for Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost with Lasers), it mounted a 2.6 kg/5.5 pound package on a PackBot that contains an infrared (heat sensing) video camera, laser rangefinder and acoustic gunfire detector. When the device is turned on, the camera and laser will point to any gunshot in the area. This makes it a lot easier for nearby troops to take out the sniper. REDOWL can also be mounted on vehicles, or anywhere, for that matter. In tests, REDOWL has been right 94 percent of the time. More recent systems are even more accurate, and more resistant to ambient noise.

Some developers suggested equipping REDOWL with a machine-gun in place of the laser. But the U.S. Army wasn't ready for an armed robot that will identify and fire on targets all by itself. A similar system, Pilar, had an advantage over REDOWL with its longer range. Pilar could find snipers who are as far as a thousand meters out, about twice the range of the iRobot system. But systems like Pilar cost $65,000 each and were considered too expensive for wide use. Israel has produced a similar system, SADS (Small Arms Detection System), that also has a thousand meter range.

Then there is the U.S. Boomerang system. Developed in a few months, in response to a Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector, it entered service within two years. Boomerang is mounted on vehicles, has been around for five years, and costs about $5,000 each. Boomerang has been effective enough to get orders for over 10,000 units, and lots of use from the troops who have it.





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