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Countersnipering

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There was a ghost haunting Fallujah in January 2006, and the U.S. Marines chasing it had several explanations for who he was. One lance corporal claimed that the phantom--a sniper who had killed two of his buddies from Echo Co., 2d Battalion, 6th Marines--was a Chechnyan on jihad, another said he was a former Iraqi Olympic sharpshooter, while the company commander, Capt. David Pinion, thought it was an Iraqi who received training in Syria. While the sniper, who turned out to be an Iraqi, did not affect operations and was eventually killed by another Marine unit outside the city, the psychological effect he had was real and a tactical advantage.

 

Snipers have been the scourge of infantry in many wars, and Iraq and Afghanistan are no different. As a result, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and industry are working on ways of finding and killing them that range from pinpointing the location of a shot to detecting a sniper before he fires.

 

One system in use is Boomerang from BBN Technology. Developed by Darpa, Boomerang was first sent to theater in small numbers in 2005, but by February, more than 5,000 units were in the field out of an order BBN received for 8,000.

 

Boomerang is a vehicle-mounted acoustic sensor array that "listens" for the shockwave of a bullet and transmits the location of a shooter to the vehicle crew in less than a second. The system provides an oral alert--e.g., "shot 2 o'clock, 200 meters"--while displaying an image of the clock positions on a small, ruggedized LED screen inside the vehicle. The screen also gives the vehicle's azimuth, range and elevation to the shooter, says Mark Sherman, vice president and general manager of the program at BBN.

 

Sherman says that the system was designed for easy integration with platforms like remote weapon stations. "We're working with Crows (common remotely operated weapon station) and with FBCB2 (Force XXI Battlefield Combat Brigade and Below, a communication system that tracks friendly forces). The idea is to treat Boomerang as a sensor feed into situational-awareness platforms to give information about a shooter's location."

 

Detection data come after a shot has been fired. To get "left of the boom," though, Darpa is working on C-Sniper, a vehicle-mounted system that detects a shooter before he fires. The biggest problem in developing the system, says Deepak Varsheya, program manager, is removing "clutter" from the area so targets can be identified. Clutter includes distractions like the sun glinting on metal, someone holding a pipe, or anything mistaken for a weapon that might produce false positives.

 

Since different objects have different signatures, Darpa uses an optical augmentation system. "What that means is we transmit an optical signal and if it hits a target of interest, it retros back. We process the signal and from that we can isolate clutter," Varsheya says. The system is also capable of identifying multiple targets simultaneously and prioritizing them by threat level. While Darpa says the capability is still in the initial phase of research and development, it expects to complete this part in September, followed by a design and prototyping phase.

 

Snipers aren't the only threats Darpa is addressing. The agency is working on a multifaceted system called Crosshairs that detects rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) as well as snipers. Karen Wood, program manager, says it has several parts: radar; the Boomerang sensor; an overhead weapon system; and the Iron Curtain active protection system from Artis that detects and defeats RPG attacks.

 

"The radar detects and tracks the RPG," she says, and turns on an optical sensor that gives a profile of the projectile. Once identified, it shoots a cutting charge to go through the warhead and dud it. Finally, there's the control and display portion of Crosshairs, which gives occupants of the vehicle monitor and control capabilities. "You can mix and match," she says, "so if you don't have an overhead weapon station, you could still have the other pieces. We're trying to make this flexible and modular."

 

While Crosshairs is in development, Wood says, the Office of the Secretary of Defense was mandated by Congress to look at available multiple systems and do comparison studies by June.

 

Several Israeli companies use systems that identify gunshot signatures by electro-optical (EO) means. These include Rafael's Spotlite M, the Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) system from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)/Elta and Transient Event Detection (TED) systems developed by Optigo Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of IAI.

 

IAI/Elta's SWIR system works with unattended ground sensors based on the EL/L-8293 TED. This is a persistent day/night, multiwave infrared (IR) EO surveillance system that uses thermal imaging to detect snipers over a wide field of view. The devices automatically locate gunshots by calculating their azimuth and elevation in relation to the sensors. They can be configured as lightweight man-portable or vehicle-mounted devices.

 

Spotlite M tracks simultaneous, multiple-fire sources day and night at long range and with high detection probabilities. The system is equipped with a forward-looking IR (Flir) system, charge-coupled display with continuous zoom, laser rangefinder, GPS and commander's control system. Data can be transmitted to multiple shooters or "subscribers," as Rafael calls them. The system analyzes the fire source or sources it detects, verifies it is enemy fire and transfers the information to a support unit, which engages the target.

 

The system can also mark targets with a laser. An enhanced Spotlite Mk2 version pinpoints enemy sources of fire within seconds. The Spotlite Mk2 consists of a dual seeker and thermal sensor with a large field of view (48 X 24 deg.) that covers a range of several hundred meters. The system uses a Flir camera, CCD camera with continuous zoom, laser rangefinder and marker, and GPS. It has a portable control console and relays target images and visual and audible cueing signals to a supporting sniper team.

 

To form a network with the system, each sniper in a unit is equipped with an eyepiece and earphones that connect him to Spotlite data. The thermal imager monitors an area, locates sources of fire, processes their locations and directs other sensors to take close-up "snapshots" of the shooters. Live images and snapshots of the target's location are distributed to networked snipers or other combat elements for a fast response. Spotlite operates day or night, supporting warfighters down to the company level. It also supports reconnaissance units and special operations forces by spotting targets and permitting rapid closure of the "sensor-to-shooter" cycle.

 

Sherman says BBN is working on wearable systems for the U.S. military called "Boomerang Warrior," which will be operationally evaluated this summer. Boomerang Warrior will be on a shoulder pad with embedded electronics and microphone, and record the direction in which a soldier moves for up to a minute, so his position is retained. This will provide coordinates to identify the location of gunfire. There is also an earpiece that audibly warns the soldier of the direction of a gunshot to his position (e.g., 2 o'clock), the number of meters to the shooter and his elevation.

 

A similar system called Swats (Soldier-Wearable Acoustic Targeting System), part of Qinetiq's Ears Gunshot Localization System, is already in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. In late 2008, the U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force placed a $9.9-million order for the 6.4-oz. soldier-wearable device, which can be used in a moving vehicle. Swats is designed to pinpoint the direction of a gunshot in 0.1 sec., audibly alerting the wearer and giving the direction and distance of a shooter through visual and digital cues.

 

The system connects to a soldier's power pack with an electric cord. Soldiers don't like gear with cords because they can get tangled on objects, says Jay Chang of the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (Ardec). Ardec is working on alternative designs. But a hanging cord might be worth the trouble if it's connected to a device that pinpoints a lethal threat in the crowded streets of Mosul or the rocky landscape of Afghanistan.

 

www.aviationweek.com

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