Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anti-Sniper Technology: Failure of Forethought

Interesting article on anti-sniper technology. Some of it has merit, but some is really missing any thought of how simple it would be to defeat the technology. I'm a bit surprised that security lessons are simply ignored with some of these proposals.

First comes the after-shot technology.
While countering snipers has not received the funding and attention of the IED threat, several programs are in various stages of development that researchers hope will make U.S. sniper teams more deadly, and allow other troops to both locate enemy gunmen, and possibly find them before they squeeze the trigger.

The Boomerang shooter detection system, built by BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass., reached Iraq in early 2004 and has been installed on tactical and armored vehicles. After a shot is fired, a computer generated voice tells soldiers the direction and distance of the bullet’s point of origin.

A third generation Boomerang system is in the late stages of development, and will be lighter, easier to install, compatible with IED jammers and have fewer components, said company spokeswoman Joyce Kuzmin. There will also be improvements to performance, but she could not provide further details.

BBN is among a handful of companies offering sensors that instantly locate the origin of a gunshot. Two Israeli firms, Elbit Systems and Rafael Armament Development Authority are marketing similar systems. Radiance Technologies of Huntsville, Ala., is selling the WeaponWatch system that detects where the bullet came from and the type of weapon fired, including larger weapons such as mortars and shoulder-fired missiles.

Law enforcement agencies are currently using such technologies. By placing sensors in high crime neighborhoods, for example, they can locate the point of origin for a gunshot and dispatch a cruiser there within seconds.

Cambridge Mass? That sounds odd. Isn't that the pathetic little communist enclave that can't even let Boy Scouts support the present troops? Imagine if they found they have a company that is trying to save military lives is in their community. Probably be a mob scene.

Of course, the technology isn't fool proof, but if you have sufficient saturation in an area finding the sniper wouldn't be impossible, just difficult. You'd also end up culling the stupid and ineffective snipers. I don't see that this would be very effective in anything but a fairly secured urban environment. Random gunshots would play havoc with the system.

Then there is the "scope detection" technology which is a bit pathetic from my point of view:
DARPA’s C-Sniper program will attempt to locate shooters’ guns in a “cluttered” urban environment from either stationary or moving vehicles, according to an agency announcement seeking proposals. The objective is to eventually integrate the system into another DARPA program, called Crosshairs, which is attempting to “detect enemy bullets, rocket propelled grenades and mortars fired at our vehicles and to prevent them from striking…” the announcement said.

Crosshairs’ goal is to locate the point of origin of incoming projectiles within .01 of a second and to employ non-lethal countermeasures such as rubber bullets or lasers, the DARPA website said.

If researchers can successfully integrate these two systems, it will create a protective bubble around soldiers who are sitting in or standing near their vehicles, Varshneya said.

Detecting scopes amid the clutter found in urban environments will be a key challenge, he added. Such esoteric technologies as optical augmentation, polarization retention and time and spatial discrimination may provide the answers, Varshneya suggested. He did not offer publicly what sensor could pick up a regular gun sight in an urban environment that is presumably populated with thousands of metal objects.

Not that insurgents or their sympathizers couldn't simply add cheap or broke scopes or weapon like material to the environment and then alter them periodically to confuse the technology. I don't see this as being viable. It would have a very painful period of testing and would likely be a very expensive failure. It would be interesting to understand better how the propose to make this spoof proof, but I doubt that the details of such technology will be released. Well, unless the NYT gets a hold of it, then everyone will know.

At least they have a quote from someone a bit smarter regarding where the money would better be invested.
Tucker, who embedded with a Marine sniper unit to research his book, said the best way to take out sniper cells is not through high-concept, expensive technologies, but rather by using old-fashioned human intelligence. He also observed and advised Iraqi special forces in Fallujah during the winter of 2004 to 2005. The Iraqis used their contacts and knowledge of the local landscape to locate and eliminate nine sniper cells in a two-month period. They accomplished this without U.S. forces sharing information with them.

“They worked it strictly from a human intelligence angle from the get go, and that’s how they took down the cells,” Tucker said.

The article also goes into new technology for scopes. Sounds amazing in some cases.
Varshneya said DARPA is also looking for further improvements for scopes. The strategic technology office would like to create a universal scope that will incorporate visible, infrared and night vision technologies. Such a system may employ flexible membranes or adaptable polymers to change lenses, he suggested. Sharpshooters must currently carry all three scopes and their batteries with them in the field. A universal scope would reduce their load by eight pounds, he said.

The “crosswind sensor system for snipers” program seeks a weapon mounted laser correction system that will allow users to correct for wind direction and speeds downrange. A small wind gust between a shooter and a target can send a bullet off course by more than one meter, Varshneya, said.

“If the program is successful, the shot will not miss due to crosswinds,” he added.

Cross wind tech sounds amazing. I'd really love to know how they manage to figure that out.

The same magazine also has an article on the use of "robots" for fighting. I have to say I really dislike that tactic. I suppose I can understand the desire to replace the human for the most hazardous of situations, but a robot will never be able to replace the human in future war, especially considering that warfare is more likely to become more heavily a fourth and fifth generation style combat where you have to work with the population not just against the insurgent. Robots don't have the ability to interact with populations. Hard for them to smile and talk with a citizen in a war zone.

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