February 11, 2015: Strategy page
In 2014 there were further advances in sniper detection systems. The latest one (Serenity) incorporates acoustic and heat sensors as well as cameras (actually vidcams that are used in real time) and a RWS (Remote Weapons System) turret that is linked to the sensors and uses special software to quickly locate the source of the fire (rifle, machine-gun, mortar, rocket) and point the vidcams and RWS weapon (usually a 12.7mm machine-gun) at the source of the fire, enabling the human operator to immediately open fire before the enemy (especially a sniper) gets away. The software also captures video and other data for every instance that the system is alerted by what seems to be an attack. This all such events, whether they led to return fire or not, can be studied and analyzed. Serenity was developed by a U.S. Army research organization (AMRDEC) and was able to work with over a decade of similar work in this area. Part of Serenity, the acoustic detection (called Firefly) is sometimes used separately.
Acoustic gunfire (sniper) detectors have been in the field for over a decade, and have gotten better each year. By 2010 over 60,000 sniper detectors had been shipped to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were increasingly useful and generated a continuous flow of user suggestions for improvements. These were addressed and that resulted in new and improved models appearing every year.
The first sniper detection systems simply provided directional information about where the snipers are. The troops always wanted detectors that were faster and more accurate and after several generations of these systems showing after that first heavy use in 2004 you end up with something like Serenity. A really important improvement was manufacturers tweaking these systems to decrease the number of false alarms. Also important was improved user interface and increased accuracy. There were other reasons for all this progress, including major advances in computing power, sensor quality and software development. By 2010 the latest sniper detectors could provide nearly instant, easy to comprehend and accurate location info on the sniper.
One of the first, and most useful, sniper detection system was Boomerang, which was it was developed in a few months, in response to a 2004 U.S. Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector. Testing delayed it from entering service immediately. Boomerang was mounted on vehicles, was in wide use by 2o06 and cost about $5,000 each. Boomerang was effective enough to get initial 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.
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 development of new tech was SWATS (Soldier Worn Acoustic Targeting Systems). In 2011 U.S. Army infantry in Afghanistan began receiving SWATS sniper detectors. About 1,500 a month were delivered and there were never enough of them once the usefulness of the system became known. 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 cost about $2,000 each. SWATS was also be mounted on vehicles, and worked when the vehicle is moving at speeds of 80 kilometers an hour or more.
At the same time German firm Rheinmetall introduced a similar vehicle-mounted acoustic sniper detection system called ASLS (Acoustic Shooter Locating System). The Germans had been working on this for over a decade and were following the American firms that had, because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taken the lead in this effort.
As the capability and reliability of these devices has improved, the troops came to depend on sniper detectors and these detectors saved hundreds of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan because with a sniper detector troops could quickly turn on the enemy shooter and deliver accurate fire of their own. This made it difficult, if not impossible, for the sniper to get off a second shot and made the sniper more vulnerable to getting shot. Moreover Arab and Afghan snipers were not always good enough to always get a hit with their first shot and the nervousness created by the knowledge that the American troops would quickly fire where the sniper was because of sniper detectors made it even more likely that the first shot would miss. It got to the point where trying to get off a second shot was suicidal and Taliban and Iraqi snipers were trained to only take a first shot if they were certain of a hit and be ready to immediately duck and move after that first shot.
The new Serenity system is meant for base protection or mounting on vehicles. Parts of the Serenity system were sent to Afghanistan in 2012 for field testing.