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Troops Still Waiting on Tech That Sniffs Out Snipers

Jun 22, 2010 – 6:44 PM
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Sharon Weinberger

Sharon Weinberger Contributor

(June 22) -- Military bureaucracy strikes again: Most U.S. troops are still waiting on a device that can rapidly pinpoint the source of gunfire seven years after Army leaders first called for putting the technology in the field.

Called the Soldier Wearable Acoustic Targeting System (SWATS), the iPod-sized device uses acoustic sensors to detect the direction of gunshots. Though the technology is potentially lifesaving, it is still largely winding its way through the Pentagon's Byzantine procurement process, USA Today reports.

According to USA Today's timeline, the need for such technology was identified in 2003, but it took about six years to get the $50 million needed to buy the devices into the budget. Then it took another year for the Army to actually place the
Though the Army has started equipping units in Afghanistan with SWATS, it doesn't expect to deliver all the devices to soldiers in the field for another two years.
US Army soldiers run back to their vehicles through smoke from an Iraqi Army position after a US Apache launched Hellfire missile destroyed a floor where a Iraqi militia sniper was firing from north of the wall in Sadr City May 12, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Robert Nickelsberg, Getty Images for The New York Times
U.S. troops have been waiting seven years for a device that can rapidly pinpoint the source of gunfire. Here, U.S. troops run back to their vehicles after a missile strike on an Iraqi sniper in a building north of the wall in Sadr City in Baghdad in May 2008.

While roadside bombs remain the leading killer of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, the military has reported a sharp rise in the number of deaths from small-arms fire.

Many of the delays in the SWATS rollout appear to be caused simply by normal military procurement procedures, which require a series of approvals and formal documentation. However, the Army has defended its handling of the process, noting the various steps are needed to ensure that the appropriate equipments gets to the field.

"There's a lot of evaluation that has to be done," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings told USA Today. "Are you providing soldiers with the right technology? Do you give every soldier one, or does every unit get so many? If you're providing more than is required on the battlefield or if it's not the right technology, you waste taxpayers' money."

SWATS isn't the only gunshot-detection device the troops want. Among the documents obtained by USA Today was an urgent request from the Army in 2009 for additional countersniper equipment, including the Boomerang, a gunshot-detection system that is installed on vehicles.

So far more than 5,000 Boomerang systems are in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to BBN Technologies, the Raytheon subsidiary that makes the device.
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