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Acoustic gunshot locators get UK military field trials

Bullet-crack backtrack attack-smack

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The UK Ministry of Defence has turned to famed techsploration firm BBN - which among other things gave the world the "@" symbol in email - to provide a shoulder-mounted gunshot detector able to backtrack bullets in flight and locate enemy gunmen firing at British troops.

The BBN Boomerang Warrior-X. credit: Raytheon

Most users will probably not remain this calm in field use.

We learn this courtesy of US-centred arms mammoth Raytheon, which bought up BBN a year ago. Raytheon say that the UK's defence research labs have tested several different shot-spotter systems and found BBN's "Boomerang Warrior-X" to be the best. Apparently the tests are "related to urgent operational requirements".

The Boomerang Warrior-X features a shoulder-mounted module weighing less than 11 ounces (312g) which will run for a day on 2 AA batteries. It works like most such systems by detecting the sonic boom of a passing bullet (bullets do not whistle by, but crack or snap*) and the muzzle blast of the gun that fired it. Together the two sound signatures, provided that the system has got the right pair, can be used to calculate a range and bearing to the gun muzzle in less than a second. This is often a lot faster than troops under fire can locate the enemy who is shooting at them.

There are various other acoustic shot-detectors out there and US forces have thousands in the field already. Thus far they have won mixed reviews: the tech usually works fine given a single unambiguous gunshot to work with, but tends to have problems if several guns are firing - especially if muzzle blasts are also echoing from nearby buildings or terrain features.

BBN's Warrior-X is quite recent, however, and the company claims a low false-alerts proportion of 2 per cent. The selection of the system by the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratories is certainly something of an endorsement - but it doesn't necessarily mean that the problems of acoustic shot-spotters have been fixed well enough to make them useful.

The next stage in the UK's progress will see the Warrior-X trialled "in theatre conditions".

"Sending Boomerang Warrior-X to the field will provide UK troops with the very best protection available," says Boomerang exec Mark Sherman, hopefully. ®

*With the exception of subsonic rounds. These are rare in serious gunfights, however.

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