Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/16/black_boxes_for_guns/

Judge Dredd 'Black Box' recorder/spy kit for guns unveiled

An accident you say, sergeant? But you reloaded. Twice

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 16th November 2009 16:51 GMT

A major weapons manufacturer has exhibited a so-called "Black Box" which could be fitted to small arms - for instance rifles or submachine guns - and record details of every shot fired, potentially including location, target and even user identity.

The 'Black Box' gun-manager gadget. Credit: FN Herstal

Government spy kit invades the last bastion of freedom.

The Black Box has been developed by Belgian-headquartered company FN Herstal, a famous name in the gun world. The new gizmo goes on show tomorrow at the MILIPOL securo-expo in Paris.

The idea is that the Black Box electronics would be installed internally in a void space such as the pistol grip of an assault rifle. (It "fits in any weapon type", apparently.) The gadget would run on a non-replaceable battery lasting ten years or 100,000 shots - covering the weapon handily between major overhauls.

The initial uses of the Black Box would, according to FN, be in logistics and maintenance. The in-gun shot counter would keep track of how many rounds were being fired, updating a future soldier's digital comm/puter system - Land Warrior or some similar rig - as it went, using some form of wearable networking.

Not only would the soldier then know automatically how many shots he had fired without the need to keep count or look at his magazines and pouches, but so would his team leader - and higher commanders would be warned in advance if their people seemed likely to run out of ammo.

From the armourer's point of view, a permanent record of how many rounds a gun has had put through it would be invaluable - and even more so, the knowledge of how rapidly they had been fired. Various parts of a weapon degrade much more rapidly when a gun is being fired fast, owing to the high temperatures reached. The Black Box would also keep a record of stoppages as well as successful shots, which would help in identifying faults.

But 'Black Boxes' aren't really for maintenance - they're for the subsequent investigation

So far, so uncontroversial. But FN seem to hint at other uses to which the gizmo might be put - indeed the choice of name offers a broad hint that investigations following a shooting or a firefight might make use of the records held in weapons used. Monitoring might go further than this, with the company saying:

The FN Black Box can also communicate useful information to the chain of command during a mission. It contains the identification number of the weapon and, thus, can indirectly identify the soldier. When coupled to a GPS, it can transmit its identification and localization data to the upper level of the command through the communication equipment of the soldier.

Most current and planned digital-soldier rigs already include GPS, in some cases enhanced by the use of other navigation aids. It seems that with the addition of Black Box, commanders may know not just how many shots their troops fire and when, but where they were as they did so - perhaps in real time. The scheme is somewhat reminiscent of the idea, sometimes suggested for US police, of automatic gun cameras intended to record the target of every shot fired for use in subsequent investigations.

Fans of Judge Dredd will recall that his personal sidearm, the Lawgiver pistol, had capabilities akin to this in some versions - perhaps going as far as the tagging of every round fired with the user's DNA signature. (Though in the movie, even this level of record-keeping didn't suffice to protect an innocent Dredd from being busted by his fellow judges for a crime he hadn't committed.)

FN don't mention DNA bullet-tagging specifically, but they do say that the Black Box is intended to form just part of their planned "Armatronics™" kit, "a fully integrated system of electronic solutions mounted on or inside a weapon. Additional enhancements for increased functionality to the system are on the horizon as new technologies are explored."

The introduction of such systems might be used as much to keep tabs on cops or troops as to help them out with logistics and maintenance. And Black Box guvmint gunbutt spy modules required in every licensed weapon, doubtless remotely accessible by federal busybodies, would seem like a vaguely plausible bogeyman to disturb the sleep of many a righteous, free, gun-toting American.

Even more chillingly for those who see personal weapons as a guarantee of freedom from government oppression, FN speak of the Black Box as a "weapon manager", hinting that feds, military superiors etc. might even be able to disable a gun remotely. ®