Raytheon [RTN] has taken its sniper detection system Boomerang to the air, testing it on UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, as it evolves the technology from systems used by vehicles and ground troops.
The company now awaits a government decision on production that could come by the end of the year, a company official said.
The acoustic passive detection system for hostile fire--Boomerang--“detects the first shot within a second,” said Roy Azevedo, head of Raytheon’s Advanced Concepts and Technology business. “Operators are given oral and visual cues and information in real time even to range, azimuth and elevation from where that shot was fired.”
The system detects the shockwave from everything from small arms fire to triple A--anti-aircraft artillery fire.
Raytheon BBN and the government have invested in the air technology for about six years, he said, and flown it on Black Hawk and Chinook.
“We have a U.S. government customer that has bought systems and performed developmental testing, just completed at the end of June,” he said. “Our assessment of those tests was that we met or exceeded customer expectations and now await the customer’s assessment. We’re optimistic (the assessment will be) at least as good as ours, with a production decision by the end of the year.”
At least 10,000 Boomerang systems have been sold and are on domestic and international vehicles and soldiers.
The technology was technologically matured and demonstrated as feasible through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programs about a decade ago. Raytheon BBN took that technology and brought it to an application. This first application was ground-mounted on a vehicle.
The technology then moved to a smaller soldier-worn system, with a mini-display. It worked the same way, detected a shot and where it came from.
“The system is quite successful because it has a very low false alarm rate and very quick response time,” Azevedo said. In hostile situations sometimes soldiers don’t know they are being shot at. Early detection allows troops to not only know they’re being shot at, but to know where from and then have the option to take action.
Moving the Boomerang system to the air presented an interesting problem in trying to identify a specific signal out of a very noisy background, he said. Helicopters are inherently one of the noisiest acoustically, with the sound of the blades and rotor and other system noises. The technology being developed has been optimized over the past six years with government and Raytheon investment, in signal processing to pull the shockwave--the sound of the ammunition--out of all that noise. “We foresee in future uses microphones in helicopter skin to get a 360 degree field of view.”
Some of the most dangerous helicopter missions are when they hover and hover low to the ground, in mostly hostile environments. Boomerang technology cancels the noise of everything except the signal you’re looking for, he said. With a very successful low false alarm rate as has been demonstrated on the ground and through the just completed tests.
“One of the very unique selling features is that the entire system (weighs) less than 30 pounds,” Azevedo said, and that includes everything, cables and sensors and signal processing.
For those helicopters that already have electro-optical systems for hostile fire detection, Raytheon envisions customers could integrate or fuse the two systems. At this point, Boomerang is a standalone system.
“We detect that bullet, and provide indication within less than a second of shot being fired,” Azevedo said. “We have demonstrated how it could tie into another system to automatically counter where hostile fire came from.”
Raytheon also has ventured into the commercial market, into the law enforcement arena, he said. For example, Boomerang was used during the Boston Marathon.
Another customer in the United States has bought systems to place in the perimeter of the critical infrastructure they own. That requirement was born from a power plant fire last June in San Jose. It turned out the fire was caused was a sniper firing into some transformers. Because of that, the company is now seeing interest in the system for critical infrastructure protection.