Weapons: Flying Sniper Rifle

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January 29, 2022: An Israeli arms firm, Smart Shooter, has developed SMASH Dragon, an armed hexacopter that carries a stabilized gun platform that can be armed with a 5.56mm assault rifle or a 7.62mm sniper rifle. SMASH Dragon uses the same SMASH 2000 computerized rifle scope Smart Shooter introduced in 2018, but with addition of a new digital camera with zoom that enables the operator to search for and identify targets at longer ranges day or night, or set the system to automatically scan for certain types of targets. Armed with the 7.62mm rifle, SMASH Dragon can hit stationary targets over 300 meters distant with the first shot. Against moving quadcopters or fixed wing UAVs that range is closer to 200 meters. The hexacopter (six rotor motors instead of four on a quadcopter) can carry a payload of up to 10 kg (22 pounds). The rifles are equipped with larger magazines to reduce the frequency of landing the hexacopter to reload. Both the weapons system and hexacopter are battery operated, which limits flight time to under 60 minutes before a recharge is needed. There is also SMASH Hopper, a 15 kg (33 pound) version that can be mounted on vehicles or stationary platforms.

What made SMASH Dragon/Hopper possible was the SMASH 2000 sniper scope, which, with a software modification, turned sniper rifles into weapons that could take down a moving quadcopter or fire balloons with one shot. The fire balloons were a Hamas innovation in which a number of helium balloons were equipped with an incendiary device that went off when the balloon hit the ground. Launched in large numbers (dozens at once) when the wind was right, balloons crossed into southern Israel and set fires. Quadcopters or larger UAVs equipped with explosives and programmed with the GPS location of a target were more dangerous. All these airborne threats were small and difficult to take down, until SMASH 2000 came along. Sharpshooters and snipers had proven somewhat useful but not very efficient. Few expert shooters could reliably bring down these small targets.

In early 2019 Israel found that a locally made device, SMASH 2000 could do the job once its software had been modified to handle fire kites, fire balloons and, it turned out, quadcopters. Initially SMASH 2000 could only guarantee a quadcopter hit if the small UAV was within 150 meters but that range has since been extended to over 200 meters.

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) had already adopted the SMASH 2000 computerized sniper scope in 2018 and renamed it Dagger. When asked, the firm that developed SMASH quickly modified the Dagger software to go after moving fire kites and fire balloons. It worked and troops with the new software could use Dagger to take down a kite or balloon several hundred meters distant with one shot. When bought in large quantities SMASH 2000 gear for a rifle cost under $10,000 and the price is falling as more are purchased. Israel issues Dagger gear to sharpshooters (troops recognized as more accurate shooters) and snipers (those trained to operate independently and covertly as a sharpshooter). In 2020 U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) adopted Dagger. The U.S. is considering incorporating less expensive SHASH 2000 tech in its next-generation assault rifle to turn all troops into sharpshooters.

Currently, SMASH 2000 is cost-effective if only one or two men in a Special Forces team (of twelve) have one. For SOCOM snipers, hitting the target with the first shot is even more important. SMASH 2000 enables troops to do that with more certainty and less stress for the shooter.

For Israel SMASH 2000/Dagger solved an immediate problem. Since early 2018 thousands of kites and helium balloons have been launched towards Israel. Each one is equipped with a lightweight incendiary device that goes off (most of the time) when it lands on the Israeli side of the border. The kites and balloons are more of a nuisance than a threat but have started over a thousand fires. Most of these are small brush fires that do not spread, but several have destroyed crops or trees and required firefighters to put out. Eventually, some of the floaters carried small explosives. Israel has used airstrikes to destroy over a thousand of these kites and balloons on the ground at launching, storage or manufacturing sites, as well as several hundred in the air using UAVs operated by civilians who had developed similar skills for UAV “battles”. Israel has also adapted some radars and other sensors to detect these slow, low altitude objects and that made the special Dagger scope even more effective against the fire kite/balloon attack efforts. Because of all these countermeasures, the use of kites and balloons has declined but not disappeared.

The SMASH scope also convinced the IDF that this device could turn just about any soldier into a sharpshooter or sniper. First offered the SMASH scope in 2017, the IDF tried it out with the infantry and special operations troops and by the end of the year approved it for use. Based on that success, in early 2018 SMASH was offered to foreign militaries (and police organizations). By early 2019, the SMASH scope demonstrated its flexibility by how quickly its software could be modified to handle wind-blown targets like fire kites and balloons as well as quadcopters.

There were several major innovations in SMASH 2000 compared to the earlier computerized scopes pioneered by American firm TrackingPoint. SMASH could be mounted and used on any weapon with a standard Picatinny rail. This allows the scope software to work with the trigger of each different weapon. The scope puts a visual block around potential targets the user is aiming at. When the user has the intended target in the block, a button is pushed and that target is locked and a precise firing angle calculated, and shot automatically fired unless the user intervenes. Other computerized scopes use the same basic concept but more recent models do it more reliably and cheaper.

The most convincing test of the SMASH scope was to have new recruits use it while receiving their first rifle training. Some 70 percent of these novice shooters made accurate shots the first time they fired the SMASH equipped rifle. A few dozen shots later and they were performing like expert snipers. In the hands of snipers and experienced troops, SMASH enabled difficult (moving, obscured by smoke) targets to be hit with the first shot. The IDF was sufficiently impressed to order 2,000 SMASH systems, mainly for use by snipers. For snipers, hitting a target with the first shot is important because the second shot will often be impossible as the target was alerted by the first one and taken cover.

TrackingPoint pioneered this tech and in 2013 introduced its first computerized shooting system, the XS1. These initially cost $27,000 but the price has since come down to less than half that as the firm introduced more models and sales increased. These scopes were still expensive because they were sensor-equipped and computerized to the extent that initial tests showed that over 70 percent of first-time users could hit a target over 900 meters distant with the first shot. For a professional sniper first shot success averages about 25 percent and 70 percent on the second shot. The army tested the XS1 and found it worked but did not try to adopt the system for a lot of military sniper rifles, even though it would be a major improvement for snipers. The major obstacle was the wear and tear of battlefield use and the fact that most snipers were satisfied with their existing scopes. Snipers are trained to take good care of their rifles, scopes and the growing number of electronic gadgets they now use, but the XS1 was a major leap in terms of electronics, sensors and especially required maintenance. It was recognized that the XS1 technology was the future and just as the many new (since the 1990s) sniping accessories have become rugged and reliable enough to be standard items, so will the XS1 approach or something similar to it like SMASH. Meanwhile, the TrackingPoint tech was adopted for a small number of sniper rifles that could make good use of it as is.

In 2016 TrackingPoint introduced another version of its computerized scopes; NightDragon. This version allows for using an IR (infrared) spotlight with a range of nearly 200 meters and a scope with a sensor that makes the IR light visible to the shooter. Normally IR is not visible to human (or animal) eyes. The computerized scope tracks the target in the crosshairs and fires when the computer determines that a hit will be achieved. Targets can be moving as fast as 24 kilometers an hour. Costing $13,000 each, this is one of the few TrackingPoint scopes available for the civilian market. Most of their computerized aiming systems are only for military or police organizations. The manufacturer sells TrackingPoint equipped rifles mainly to police organizations or a few wealthy hunters who don’t like to miss. TrackingPoint now provides a growing list of computerized scopes for ranges of 350-1,300 meters. Prices range from $10,000 to $17,000.

SMASH costs much less than the cheapest TrackingPoint system and can be used on a large number of rifles and pistols. SMASH is more rugged and was quickly adapted to shoot down small UAVs at night, make videos and have 4x magnification. That version was modified to take down fire kites and balloons. There are other firms developing computer-controlled scopes and as time goes by these scopes will have more features, become cheaper and more reliable.

 


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