U.S. troops getting wearable gunshot detectors

A shoulder-mounted unit with four acoustic sensors and a chest display that attaches to body armor can show the direction and distance of sniper fire in a fraction of a second.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
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The gunshot detector is a lightweight unit that can quickly provide distance and direction of incoming fire. http://www.army.mil

U.S. troops in Afghanistan will begin receiving wearable gunshot detector systems this month, allowing them to quickly grasp the approximate distance and direction of enemy fire.

The Individual Gunshot Detector (IGD) by Qinetiq consists of a shoulder-mounted unit with four acoustic sensors and a chest display that attaches to body armor.

Weighing less than 2 pounds, the IGD picks up supersonic waves produced by the blast and whiz of rounds and indicates where they're coming from in a fraction of a second.

An earpiece that was developed for the system provides audio warnings such as "Shot, 400 meters, 3 o'clock." It tracks the shooter and continues to provide audio updates.

Vehicle-mounted gunfire detectors have been used for some time in the field. The IGD should allow dismounted troops to quickly respond to an attack.

The Army is sending more than 13,000 IGDs to Afghanistan for strategic use among platoons, squads, and other units. The Marine Corps has also ordered the detector.

The system is already in use in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Qinetiq, which calls it the Shoulder-Worn Acoustic Targeting System (SWATS). It earned a mention in Guinness World Records last year as the first wearable sniper detector, the company says.

The environment has some effect on the system. For instance, it may not perform as well in urban settings where gunfire can echo off buildings.

The Army is also planning to incorporate IGDs into its Land Warrior system, which provides battle info via a GPS-map eyepiece display, and the Nett Warrior system, which connects soldiers.

"If you get shot at, not only do I know where that came from, but others know where it came from because I can network that capability," Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, Program Executive Officer Soldier, was quoted as saying in an Army report.