Electronic Weapons: Smarter And Faster Gunfire Detection

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June 21, 2022: Israel recently introduced Othello-P, a new GDS (gunfire detection system) that can be vehicle-mounted or used from a stationary position on the ground. Othello-P uses acoustic and infrared optical acoustic sensors along with new software to instantly locate where the gunfire or an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) is coming from. One Othello-P system provides 180-degree surveillance while two Othello-Ps provide complete (360-degree) surveillance. Othello-P detects the flash, blast and shock wave of a projectile day or night no matter where the shooter is, including higher elevations or even from aircraft. Rifle fire can be detected up to 400 meters distant while RPG rockets can be detected up to 2,000 meters away. Not only are nearby troops instantly alerted, via the new Israeli battlefield communication network, but also headquarters for operations in the area who can quickly call in air or artillery strikes. Othello-P can also be mounted on unmanned vehicles, which Israel had been using for over a decade and current models can be used in urban or open terrain. These vehicles already use visual and audible sensors to detect threats.

Gunfire detection systems have been around for over three decades. The first practical system was developed because a French scientist applied techniques used by ships and submarines to detect submarines to gunshot detection systems. Details of this breakthrough spread through the scientific community and in 1992 a California based seismologist (earthquake detection specialist) working for the United States Geological Survey developed a gunshot detection system he believed could accurately detect the location of gunfire in urban areas. He did this as a public service because nearby Menlo Park had a major problem with gun crime and the police were looking for a practical solution to detecting the location of such incidents quickly. The proposed system was installed, tested and it worked. These systems have gotten cheaper and more effective since then and are widely used in cities with a lot of illegal gun use. Police were able to show up at the scene of gunfire quickly and that, combined with growing use of surveillance cameras, reduced gunfire incidents by identifying and prosecuting many of the shooters. There is still illegal use of firearms, but a lot less of it compared to cities without the gunfire detection systems.

As Israel recently demonstrated, the greatest advances in gunfire detection technology have come from the military. One of the first, and most useful, of these military 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 service 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 two decades and have gotten better each year. Over 60,000 sniper detectors were 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. New generations of these systems show up every few years. Since 2004 the usefulness of these anti-sniper systems steadily increased as manufacturers reduced 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. A decade ago, it was possible to instantly pinpoint the location of a sniper and quickly inform troops of that location.

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 first decade of use as the technology matured.

Some of these early systems were 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 of the weapon fired) direction of fire in a tenth of a second. SWATS was very popular with troops and costs about $2,000 each. SWATS could also be mounted on vehicles and still work when the vehicle wass moving at speeds of 80 kilometers an hour.

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 Islamic terrorist gunman. That first shot from an Islamic terrorist gunman 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 the French SLATE (Système de Localisation Acoustique de Tireur Embusqué). 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, were killed shortly after they taking 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 were introduced.

The France SLATE system is vehicle mounted and 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.

 


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