U.K. marketNew acoustic system locates snipers with accuracy

Published 25 March 2008

System detects the sound of an initial gunshot then the shockwave from the muzzle of the weapon being fired; since sound travels faster than a shockwave, the system is able to pinpoint the position of the attacker

Good news for soldiers and law enforcement: A lightweight electronic device able to detect the precise location of snipers may soon undergo trials with U.K. military forces. Developed at Waltham, Massachusetts-based Foster Miller, a subsidiary of Qinetiq, the so-called EARS system is based on a tiny acoustic sensor that is able to identify the distance and direction of a sniper fire within a fraction of a second. According to a company spokesman the portable, low-power system does this by detecting the sound of an initial gunshot then the shockwave from the muzzle of the weapon being fired. It then runs this data through an onboard processor and, because it knows how much faster sound travels than a shockwave, is able to pinpoint the position of the attacker. In addition, the system is not confused by surrounding noises and is able to accurately locate snipers in a 360° view, even while mounted on a vehicle travelling at 50mph.

Donald Steinman, director of transition programs for Qinetiq North America, added that the size, weight, and power profile of the EARS device sets it apart from competing radar, infrared and acoustic systems. “Ears represents a completely different approach,’ he said. ‘It’s about the size of a deck of cards, weighs just over 6oz and total power consumption is less than 1W. Competing systems can weigh a couple of hundred pounds, and use 25W to 50W.” The device is designed to be mounted on vehicles or worn by individual soldiers, and information gathered can be relayed to troops in a number of different ways, said the company’s U.K. spokesman. While a swift audio cue might be more appropriate for a ground soldier, more complicated visual information could be displayed on vehicle-mounted systems. “It could be routed to a PDA positioned on the vehicle’s dashboard that may also be your route finding map system, but as soon as a shot rings out it will flash red and give you a 360° target like a dartboard, shade in one of the segments and give you a distance ranging. It can also handle multiple attacks — if you’ve got one coming in from 10 o’clock and one at two o’clock it will give you segmented targets.”

Qinetiq confirmed that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been studying the product but was unable to confirm further details. The MoD declined to comment. Meanwhile, Steinman confirmed that the system is already being used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The man-mounted version is fully operational in Iraq, while the vehicle system is currently deployed in Afghanistan with U.S. special forces,” he said. He added that the deployment comes at a time when the United States is increasingly concerned about the high level of sniper and ambush attacks on its troops. The Pentagon recently requested an additional $1 billion to buy a range of systems to combat the threat posed by snipers.

Following its success on the battlefield EARS was recently selected by the U.S. army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center as a component of its flagship future soldier project, Future Force Warrior.