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DARPA Testing Laser to Detect Sniper Fire in Iraq

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 -- The Pentagon is planning to deploy an experimental laser in Iraq to create a "virtual microphone" capable of detecting and homing in on sniper fire, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported this week.

Development of that and other "exotic technologies" is being accelerated by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to try out against discreet but deadly problems facing US forces in Iraq, like roadside bombs and sniping, the article said.

"One of the problems we're having is that people in Iraq can almost do anything they want, and get away with it. We don't have a good way to respond," Anthony Tether, director of DARPA, said in a press conference. "So what we're trying to do is come up with technology that will at least make people hesitate."

DARPA plans to send the laser to Iraq in three or four months. It is being developed in Torrance, Calif., by Mission Research Corp., a defense contractor, to pick up the sound of gunshots much the way radar detects moving objects. Beams from a ground-based laser form a "virtual microphone" in the atmosphere by sensing the movement of particles as they are compressed by the shockwave caused by a bullet. The laser was originally developed to detect ground vehicles hiding behind hills.

DARPA said the laser, which will have a range in the tens of kilometers, will probably be set up near Baghdad. It will first be tested with live gunfire at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The agency will also test techniques in Iraq that use acoustics and electromagnetics to detect sniper fire. It is also working on ways to detect improvised roadside bombs before they explode by sensing electronic transmissions from cellphones or pagers that often are hooked up to the bombs so they can be detonated from a distance.

Other DARPA projects that would be of use in Iraq are radars capable of detecting people moving on foot, tiny unmanned air vehicles or robotic vehicles that could escort convoys.

In March, the agency is holding a "grand challenge" with a million dollar prize going to the inventor who comes up an "autonomous vehicle" capable of driving itself from Barstow, Calif., to Las Vegas in 10 hours. Entrants have submitted designs from modified Humvees to self-propelled balls, Tether said.

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Oct 2003
DARPAdefenseIraqMission ResearchNews & Featuresvirtual microphonelasers

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