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USAF to test UAV with acoustic sensor to target snipers for convoy and base protection

The US Air Force is preparing to conduct a four-month military utility assessment of an acoustic sniper-detection system integrated with an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) in convoy support and base protection roles.

The concept, under development for two years through the USAF’s respective UAV and force protection battle labs, slaves the optical sensor suite aboard a Boeing-Insitu Scan Eagle UAV to coordinates provided by a Shotspotter acoustic gunfire detection and localisation system via a datalink. The immediate area from which the weapons report originated can then be rapidly scanned to locate the source and provide more accurate counter-targeting guidance.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the project, with a sole source acquisition initiated in September.

The ground situational awareness toolkit (GSAT) system, also known as ‘Guardian Eagle’, will be tested from early March by the Air Force’s 820th Security Forces Group (SFG) and may be deployed by that organisation in Iraq depending on the outcome.

A Boeing statement issued 23 January says that “after the group concludes its evaluation of GSAT, the equipment will be matched with one of the unit’s deploying squadrons that will conduct ‘first in’ force-protection missions across the spectrum of peace and wartime military operations”.

Personnel from the 820th SFG are training to operate Scan Eagle at Boeing’s training facility at Clovis, New Mexico.

The USAF UAV battle laboratory has previously demonstrated the system in trials held in Florida in 2005, with its initial concept focussed on the convoy protection mission. This saw the Scan Eagle slaved to the position of the lead vehicle in a column so as to provide continuous overwatch of its movements, with the automatic cueing from acoustic sensors distributed along the convoy.

Separate US Marine Corps experiments were carried out in December 2004 as part of the US Joint Force’s Command-sponsored exercise Extended Awareness 1.

The USMC has been operating Scan Eagle in Iraq under rolling commercial services contracts with Boeing. Those were recently extended ahead of the USMC’s acquisition of its small tactical UAV system via the joint Tier II programme with the US Navy.

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