May 5, 2012: France is equipping 70 of its 13 ton, 4x4 VAB wheeled armored vehicles with a sniper (or gunfire) detection system. The French made detector is called SLATE (Système de Localisation Acoustique de Tireur Embusqué) and it, like similar systems, quickly detects where the sound of a gunshot is coming from. SLATE is linked to the remote (from inside the vehicle) weapons turrets (armed with a 12.7mm machine-gun or 40mm automatic grenade launcher). SLATE has an operator option that will automatically turn the turret and the operator's gun sight (a video camera with zoom) to where the gunshot came from. The operator can then decide whether to open fire. This makes life much more difficult for snipers.
One of the first, and most useful, of these gunfire detection systems was developed in a few months in 2004, in response to a U.S. Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector. Testing delayed it from entering immediately, but by 2005, the system was being used in Iraq. This is another example of how wartime urgency speeds the development of new technology.
Acoustic gunfire (sniper) detectors 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 heavily used and increasingly popular. 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. This technology was originally developed for the police market. 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.
Some of these systems are light enough (183 gm/6.4 ounces) to be worn. The most popular wearable system (SWATS) comes in two pieces. One is the sensor, which 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 sound weapon fired) direction of fire in a tenth of a second. SWATS has been very popular with troops and costs 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.
As the capability and reliability of these devices has improved, the troops have come to depend on sniper detectors. Without these devices there would be many more 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 even more likely once American infantry return fire.
Snipers have been forced to adjust their tactics in response to systems like SWATS and SLATE. To survive a sniper must "shoot and scoot", which greatly reduces the usefulness of snipers. In many cases Islamic terrorists choosing to try some sniping, without thinking it through, is killed shortly after they take their first shot at sniper-detector equipped troops. This sort of thing is usually witnessed by other Islamic terrorists, which makes sniping less popular. This is particularly true as more accurate and reliable gunfire detectors are introduced.