January 26, 2004: The U.S. Army is sending three vehicle mounted “sniper spotter systems” (Small Tactical Arms Recognition Equipment, or STARE) to Iraq. These systems have been in development since the late 1990s, largely paid for by the ballistic missile defense program.
STARE uses off-the-shelf infrared cameras hooked up to a modified laptop computer. When a weapon (rifle, rocket launcher, tank gun) is fired in the area, one of the cameras detects it and the computer software quickly determines what kind of weapon it is and, with the help of a laser range finder, exactly where it was fired from. This information shows up in the laptop computer screen, along with a picture of the weapon firing. The trick is quickly (enough) getting this information to nearby infantry or those manning machine-guns in vehicles so they can fire back. Actually, the location information in Iraq would enable American troops to quickly go after the sniper, and know for sure exactly where the shot came from. STARE can also be mounted on a tripod for stationary use. Systems like this have been advocated for several decades, but the technology and engineering never came together in a system that the troops could actually use. Now it is thought that STARE is the real deal, and Iraq is the place to prove it. If STARE does work, it could be produced for as little as $100,000 per unit.