Sniper Detection Device Hits Afghan Battlefield to Help Find These Shooters

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

Thousands of high-tech devices that attach to a servicemember’s uniform and can locate a hidden shooter are being given to combat troops in Afghanistan to help stop a major source of casualties.

Then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus first requested the devices eight years ago when casualties in Iraq from gunmen and snipers were mounting, but they are showing up for widespread use only now.

In Afghanistan, enemy shooters have killed or wounded more than 4,500 U.S. troops in 2010 alone, Pentagon data show. Many shooters fire from mountainous terrain or in villages where it can be hard to locate the source of the gunfire.

“It will greatly increase our ability to go and destroy the enemy,” Army Lt. Col. Chris Schneider, who manages the program, said.

The $2,000 device is the size of an iPod and contains technology that detects shock waves from a gun blast. The device locates the distance and direction of the blast. Within one second, the device gives a visual display of the shooter’s location from as far as 400 yards.

Vehicle-mounted detectors have been used for years in war zones, and police in U.S. cities have used the technology mounted to towers in high-crime zones. The Army tried out mobile versions but determined they needed more testing, Schneider said.

In 2008, the Army received $50 million from Congress to buy 37,660 of the devices.

In 2009, a joint defense subcommittee report chided the military for its “slow pace” in issuing the Soldier Wearable Acoustic Targeting System. Schneider said the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force gave 2,000 sensors last year to units most in need.

“There was no single person or organization that slowed the process down,” he said.

Schneider said the latest version is superior because it provides fewer false readings, though it sometimes fails to identify the source of gunfire.

The Army will receive as many as 1,500 detectors a month, starting this month. Enough of the latest version of the system will be shipped to equip every combat unit in Afghanistan. There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Experts say the technology will be critical to the new kind of warfare faced by U.S. troops.

“This is a good example of a technology that wouldn’t have been needed a generation ago,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. “In a fluid combat situation, there’s always a danger of shooting in the wrong direction and hitting a non-combatant.”


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