Anti-Sniper Systems Finding Their Range
BBN’s Boomerang is a vehicle-mounted anti-sniper system that uses sound localization to quickly target enemy snipers and direct return fire. It was deployed in Iraq last year, and over 100 have been built. Now a small Alabama firm called Radiance Technologies introduces WeaponWatch, which uses infrared detection to instantly tell you both the location of the shooter and the weapon used. At the same time, Israeli firm Elbit Systems is introducing something called the Sharpshooter Control System, and RAFAEL has introduced the Boomerang-like SADS.
Put these innovations together, and life may be about to get a lot harder for enemy snipers. Sniping has always been the most personal kind of war – but new technologies are starting to extend the “information position” capabilities of Western snipers and squads in ways that tip the balance sharply against their opposition – and make 21st century sniping much more of a team endeavor.
WeaponWatch picks up on the infrared signature of every weapon the moment it is fired, instantly identifying it from a database of thousands of weapons muzzle flashes and relaying its position on screen. It has already proven itself in combat. The older, fragile, 400 pound version of this system was tested in Iraq, on top of a building where there was a high concentration of insurgent gunfire. Within a few days, WIRED reports that American troops were able to use WeaponWatch to return fire more rapidly, resulting in a noticeable drop in enemy attacks.
The US government has invested nearly $15 million over five years in developing this infrared technology. That investment is paying off. The current version of WeaponWatch is far more durable, integrating the sensor and processor components in a sealed and cooled enclosure measuring just 20″ x 9″ x 6″ and weighing less than 20 pounds. It can be mounted and employed on moving vehicles, aerostats, UAVs, helicopters, or watercraft. Besides the 4 test models in use in Iraq, another 20 have been ordered.
No anti-sniper system is perfect, of course, and any system can be fooled or exploited once enemies get a good enough sense of what it can and can’t do. The potential of combination of acoustic Boomerang and infrared WeaponWatch sensors, however, may give American forces the multi-modal capability they need.
Now the only question left is response.
The Marines recently tested a program that links the WeaponWatch infrared detector to an automatic weapon. It would allow the combatant controlling that weapon to get a shot off almost immediately after the enemy fired. The issue, of course, is positive target identification – and enemies who might happily learn to do things like take a potshot to draw an automated response, with the homeowner’s child in front of them in the window.
C-Sniper: In the Crosshairs
The next step, which is a fully integrated and mobile system, is being funded by DARPA as “C-Sniper,” and also by the Air force Research Laboratory as the BOSS system. DARPA says C-Sniper:
“The objectives of the C-Sniper program are to develop a system and supporting technologies for the detection and neutralization of enemy snipers before they can engage US Forces… The C-Sniper system will operate day and night from a moving vehicle and provide the operator with sufficient information to make an engagement decision within an appropriate time of possible detection. Once detection is made, the C-Sniper system will provide the data and control to point and track the on-board weapon system on the selected target. The decision to engage with the target will be left to the operator… DARPA envisions that the completed C-Sniper will be integrated into DARPA’s Crosshairs system.”
Who’s the BOSS?
DARPA isn’t as specific as the AFRL with its Battlefield Optical Surveillance System (BOSS), which would use eye-safe lasers to pick up reflections from snipers’ scopes and then cue a response, possibly in conjunction with the Boomerang acoustic location system. BOSS could be used before acoustic locator systems have a chance to kick in, as a preventative option, or as a a form of “second-step” verification that narrows, tracks, and communicates exact sniper locations post-shot for either counter-sniping or geo-targeted weapons. See WIRED Danger Room article.
US Army ARDEC GDS
One approach is to keep a human in the loop. The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center has developed and released a pair of its own gunfire detection systems: the M1 FS-GDS (fixed site) and M2 VM-GDS (vehicle-mounted). M2 VM-GDS with RWS on the Stryker Vehicle also known as the Auto Gun Mount.
Like the Boomerang, the GDS is a gunshot detection and localization device that collects the acoustic waves of a gunshot in a complete 360-degree area of coverage. It passively “senses” the bullet shock wave and/or the muzzle blast from the bullet exiting the gun tube to provide relative azimuth, elevation and range for 5.56 – 12.7 mm weapon firings out to 1000 meters. In addition to stand-alone application of the fixed site GDS, it has also been integrated with other optical sensors like the PIVOT, and with remote weapons systems (RWS). The M2 VM-GDS would cue and provide the detected gunshot data with relative azimuth, elevation, and range to the Stryker vehicle commander via the M151 Kongsberg RWS Fire Control Unit. The vehicle commander would then automatically slew the RWS to the target location while remaining inside the vehicle, using the Kongsberg system’s on-board day and night cameras to identify the target and situation before firing.
Which is fine for vehicles, but sniping is often done by dismounted soldiers, and often from different locations. How can one help sniper teams in those situations to perform as an integrated team?
Sniper Coordination System
Enter Elbit systems’ subsidiary Ortek with SCS, a Sniper Coordination System that offers commanders unprecedented control and coordination of sniper (or counter-sniper) teams.
Utilizing a lightweight image splitter attached to the rifle sight, the SCS enables data and image transfer and communications with up to four sharpshooters simultaneously. The commander can see which target each sniper is aiming at, and convey orders to each sniper – silently if necessary. A built in messaging capability allows the commander to send a red or green light into the scope to signal the sniper, and send/receive SMS-like messages as well.
The SCS system includes a next generation add-on for standard Sniper day/night sight which combines battlefield imaging and C3 capabilities, but is adaptable to any type of day or night sight. Images may be received on a wide range of devices such as a heads up display, tactical computer or IPAC. They may also be recorded digitally for up to 30 hours, enabling subsequent data analyses of engagements.
Pair that up with Boomerang/GDS and WeaponWatch technology, and truly interesting and lethal tactical possibilities open up for 21st century infantry.
Anti-Sniper Infrared Targeting System (ASITS)
At the moment, very little is known about this effort, involving M2 Technologies Inc. in Framingham, MA. The system has come out of Small Business Innovative Research grants, and is headed for field trials.
QinetiQ produces the SWATS (Soldier-Wearable Acoustic Targeting Systems) is part of QinetiQ’s Ears Gunshot Localization System product family.
Nov 25/08: Qinetiq announces a $9.95 million US Army order, to be deployed to US Army troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan during 2008. This is the US Army’s 1st large-scale deployment of soldier-wearable gunshot and sniper detection solutions. The last increment of that order comes in October 2009.
Updates & Additional Anti-Sniper Coverage
- Defense Review (July 31/06) – Anti-Sniper/ Sniper Detection/ Gunfire Detection Systems at a Glance
- Defense Update – SPOTLITE – Electro-Optical Small-Arms Fire Detection System. By RAFAEL. The system comprises a FLIR, CCD with continuous zoom, a Laser Range Finder, a GPS, a commander control system and multiple “subscribers”, located with the unit’s snipers. SPOTLITE analyzes the fire sources detected, verifying that each source is actually enemy fire. When verified, data is transferred to the supported unit, which can engage them with fire support, snipers or indirect fire. Spotlite is currently operational.
- Defense Update – Counter-Sniper Systems at the 2006 Eurosatory Exhibition
- Spain’s Indra Sistemas (Oct 6/09) – Indra dotará al Ejército español con un sistema de detección de amenazas por sonido por 2,3 M euro
- StrategyPage (Aug 22/09) – Sniper detectors arrive. Covers Boomerang, the French Pilar/Pivot system, and iRobot’s REDOWL.
- Defense News (Jan 19/09) – In Israel, Anti-Sniper Gear Spots Rockets. “The heart of the Color Red system is the Believer search mechanism, developed around 2000 by Rafael and Israel’s Ministry of Defense to locate the sources of Palestinian sniper fire that plagued a southern suburb of Jerusalem during the second intifada, or uprising.”
- DID (Jan 26/07) – ScanEagle + ShotSpotter = Sniper Spotter. The USAF is about to pair the ScanEagle UAV with SniperSpotter acoustic location technology. Both systems are already deployed to Iraq independently, and ShotSpotter has some impressive references from inside the USA as well.
- DID (Sept 2/05) – Sniping at US Forces Beginning to Boomerang. Describes BBN’s “Boomerang” acoustic shot location system, which can be mounted on a Hummer. Updated.
- Marine Corps Times (July 4/05) – Building a Better Sniper Locator. Google HTML version of a PDF file. Describes the evaluations the Marine Corps undertook with various sniper locator systems.
- Special Operations Technology (Oct 23/03) – Vigilance is Not Enough: Harnessing sensors and high-speed computers for detecting and countering sniper fire. Describes early program efforts underway at the time in various US services.