– New Drone Sensor Could Instantly Spot Any Shooter (Wired, Nov. 23, 2011)
Opening fire on American troops could mean an instant death sentence for insurgents, if an ambitious new Air Force plan works out. The flying branch has asked industry to develop a new heat and motion sensor capable of detecting enemy gunfire from 25,000 feet over the battlefield — and then swiftly directing a bomb or missile onto the shooter.
Installed on the Air Force’s existing fleet of Reaper drones, the gunfire-detection system would make attacking U.S. troops a highly risky proposition. The Air Force wants to link the fire-detector with other Wide Field-of-View (WFOV) sensors like the Gorgon Stare, which uses a bundle of cameras to watch over miles at a time. The sensors entered service on Reapers this year. “The goal of this effort is to provide an event (enemy and friendly weapons fire) detection system that can provide real-time notification that can be overlaid on WFOV motion imagery by sensor operators,” the Air Force solicitation reads.
Gunfire-detection systems already exist — though previous versions were acoustic instead of heat- and motion-based. Combining aerial shot-detection with full-motion video poses huge technological challenges. The sensor must be able to tell the difference between a gunshot and, say, a campfire — and between good guys and bad. “The determination of military utility of a hostile-fire sensor will be heavily dependent on its capacity to distinguish between friendly and hostile fire in order to avoid fratricide,” the solicitation cautions.
In theory, a single Reaper drone could scan a battlefield with a wide-view sensor, detect and pinpoint gunfire and swoop down to attack — all in mere seconds. Even if it works flawlessly, don’t expect the process to be entirely automated. The Air Force requires a human operator to approve all drone weapons releases.
Photo: Air Force