Electronic Weapons: German Sniper Detectors


August 3, 2011: German firm Rheinmetall has developed a new vehicle-mounted acoustic sniper detection system. Called ASLS (Acoustic Shooter Locating System), this is continuation of over a decade of effort by Rheinmetall, and other firms, to perfect this kind of technology. American firms, for obvious reasons, have been taking the lead in this effort.

One of the first, and most useful, of these systems was Boomerang. Back in 2004, it was developed in a few months, in response to a U.S. Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector. Testing delayed it from entering immediately. Boomerang was mounted on vehicles, has been around for five years now, and costs about $5,000 each. Boomerang was effective enough to get orders for over 10,000 units, and lots of use from the troops who had it. There were two major upgrades, prolonging the service life of the system.

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 increasingly useful. 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. 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.

An example of the constant new tech is SWATS (Soldier Worn Acoustic Targeting Systems). Earlier this year U.S. Army infantry in Afghanistan have begun receiving SWATS sniper detectors. About 1,500 a month will be delivered through the end of the year. These 183 g (6.4 ounce) devices come 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 cost 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. Last year, 4,500 American troops were shot (most were wounded) by gunfire in Afghanistan. Without sniper detectors, there would be more such 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 when American infantry return fire. SWATS is more accurate and reliable than earlier gunfire detectors, as are most of the new models being introduced.






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