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Monday, February 20, 2017

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Gunfire Locators

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our sixteenth installment let's take a look the most common Gunfire Locators used in the War in Afghanistan. Gunfire Locators detect and convey the location of gunfire or other weapon fire using acoustic, optical, or other types of sensors, as well as a combination of the previously mentioned sensors. The military uses these systems to identify the source and, in some cases, the direction of gunfire and/or the type of weapon fired. These systems can be useful when under ambush, or when taking sniper fire from an unknown location. Also, some military vehicles are loud, and soldiers in the interior of the vehicle may not be able to hear gunshots that are coming from further away; these systems can alert them to the fact that they are being shot at, allowing them to react appropriately. 


Part I: The United States

Photo: Corporal Andy Reddy RLC/MOD
Boomerang is a gunfire locator developed by DARPA and BBN Technologies primarily for use against snipers. Boomerang is mounted on mobile vehicles such as the Humvee, Stryker, and MRAP combat vehicles. There were plans to integrate it into the Land Warrior system.

Boomerang grew out of a program conceived by the U.S. Department of Defense in late 2003, months after the traditional combat phase of the Iraq War had ended on 1 May, at a time when it was clear that U.S. troops were increasingly at risk from a growing and aggressive insurgency. Often, troops in noisy Humvees did not know they were being shot at until someone was hit. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approached DARPA and asked for near-term solutions that could be applied to the conflict in Iraq. Rumsfeld was looking for something that did not have to be a perfect solution, but was at least better than nothing.

The U.S. Army and Special Operations Command began using a limited number of French-made PILAR anti-sniper systems in 2003. DARPA developed an American system. Karen Wood, a program manager at DARPA, said BBN's previous work was the most impressive that was examined. BBN had previously developed a less sophisticated counter sniper system named "Bullet Ears" under DARPA sponsorship in 1997.

The new requirements included:
  • Shooter localization to plus or minus 15 degree accuracy, and within one second of the shot
  • Reliability for shot miss distances of one to 30 meters
  • Ability to detect and localize fire from AK-47s and other small arms at ranges from 50 to 150 meters
  • Reliable performance in urban environments with low buildings
  • Operable when mounted on a vehicle moving up to 60 miles per hour on either rough terrain or highways
  • Ability to withstand sand, pebbles, rain, and light foliage impacts
  • Ability to deliver alert information in both a voice announcement and on an LED display
  • Microphone array and electronics box must be replaceable in the field

The first prototype was developed in 65 days. Challenges that it faced were filtering out noise from the vehicle on which it is mounted (such as loud engines and static sounds from the radio), ignoring sounds similar to that of a gunshot (such as fireworks or a car back-firing), factoring in bullet ricochets, and ignoring outgoing fire from friendly troops. Small quantities of Boomerang were battle tested in Iraq and further improvements led to 2nd and 3rd generation versions called the Boomerang II and Boomerang III. In June 2008 a $73.8 million firm fixed price contract was awarded by the U.S. Army to BBN for 8,131 Boomerang Systems, spares and training services.

In 2005 Boomerang won both the DARPA "Significant Technical Achievement Award" and the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) "Technology Influencer of the Year Award."

Boomerang does not claim to be able to detect shots fired from firearms with sound suppressors.

The Boomerang unit attaches on a mast to the rear of a vehicle and uses an array of seven small microphone sensors. The sensors detect and measure both the muzzle blast and the supersonic shock wave from a supersonic bullet traveling through the air (and so is ineffective against sub-sonic ammunition). Each microphone detects the sound at slightly different times. Boomerang then uses sophisticated algorithms to compute the direction a bullet is coming from, distance above the ground and range to the shooter in less than one second. Users receive simultaneous visual and auditory information on the point of fire from an LED 12-hour clock image display panel and speaker mounted inside the vehicle. For example, if someone is firing from the rear, the system announces "Shot, 6 o'clock", an LED illuminates at the 6 o'clock position, and the computer tells the user the shooter's range, elevation and azimuth.

Boomerang works in extreme weather, in open field and in urban environments, whether static or moving. BBN states that false shot detections are less than one per thousand hours of system operation at vehicle speeds under 50 miles per hour.

Individual Gunshot Detector

The Individual Gunshot Detector is similar in principle to the Boomerang System. It is worn on the shoulder of the individual soldier, and provides the soldier with the approximate direction and distance from which they are taking enemy fire. 

The Individual Gunshot Detector, or IGD - made by QinetiQ North America - consists of four small acoustic sensors worn by the individual Soldier and a small display screen attached to body armor that shows the distance and direction of incoming fire. 

The small sensor, about the size of a deck of cards, detects the supersonic sound waves generated by enemy gunfire and instantaneously alerts Soldiers to the location and distance toward the hostile fire

The entire IGD system, procured by PEO Soldier and the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, weighs less than two pounds.

Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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