Electronic Weapons: Hard Times For Snipers


March 4, 2011:  The U.S. Army infantry in Afghanistan have begun receiving SWATS (Soldier Worn Acoustic Targeting Systems) sniper detectors. About 1,500 a month will be delivered through the end of the year. These 183 g (6.4 ounce) devices come in two pieces. One is the sensor, that is worn on the shoulder, while the cell phone size 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 cost about $2,000 each. SWATS can also be mounted on vehicles, and still work when the vehicle is moving at speeds of 80 kilometers an hour or more.

Devices like SWATS have been around for several years now, and troops find the sniper detectors are a big help. Last year, 4,500 American troops were shot (most were wounded) by gunfire in Afghanistan. Without sniper detectors, there would be more such casualties. That's because, with a sniper detector, troops can quickly turn on the enemy shooter and deliver accurate fire of their own. American infantry are much more accurate shooters than your average Taliban gunman. That first shot from the Taliban usually misses, which is less likely when American infantry return fire. SWATS is more accurate and reliable than earlier gunfire detectors.

One of the first, and most useful, American systems was Boomerang. Back in 2004, it was developed in a few months, in response to a Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector. Testing delayed it entering service within two years. Boomerang was mounted on vehicles, was been around for five years, and cost about $5,000 each. Boomerang was effective enough to get orders for over 10,000 units, and lots of use from the troops who had it. There were two major upgrades, prolonging the service life of the system.

Acoustic gunfire (sniper) detectors, which have been in the field for over a decade, and have gotten better each year. Over 60,000 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.




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