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DARPA’s One-Shot Sniper System Moves Forward

At the same time that the U.S. military is moving forward with enhancements to its sniper capabilities, parallel technology development efforts are looking out to further enhance the capabilities of tomorrow’s battlefield snipers.

An example of the future technology path came with a Sept. 29, 2010 “Phase 2 Enhanced” contract award to Lockheed Martin Corporation Mission Systems and Sensors (MS2). The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) award continued forward momentum on DARPA’s One-Shot program to “develop a field-testable prototype, observation, measurement, and ballistic calculation system, [that will] enable snipers to hit targets with the first round, under crosswind conditions, up to the maximum effective range of the weapon…The system developed should provide day and night direct observation of the target, measure all relevant physical phenomena that influence a ballistic trajectory, and rapidly calculate and display both the aim point offset and expected crosswind variability (confidence metric) in the shooter’s riflescope. The system must exploit novel technologies to operate over a range of visibilities, atmospheric turbulence, scintillation, and environmental conditions.”

The new “Phase 2E” effort, which is a follow on to the previous developments of One-Shot system under program Phases 1 and 2 (option 1), will encompass enhancements to the technologies developed previously in the prototype system.

As described in DARPA’s spring 2010 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)-10-67, work under the previous phases included development of a brassboard system that consisted of a down range crosswind measurement unit and dedicated riflescope. As part of the early brassboard concept, the measurement unit required an external spotting scope to acquire and point the laser on the target.

“The brassboard system demonstrated the capability to measure the average down range crosswind profile, the range to the target, spotter scope position, target heading, air temperature, pressure and humidity,” it read. “These measurements were used to calculate the ballistic solution for a 0.308 bullet. The ballistic solution with azimuth/elevation coordinates and range were used to calculate the aim point offset and displayed as a red cross (+) in the dedicated riflescope. The aim point offset was adjusted for the rifle scope crosshair zero and magnification settings. The displayed red cross, which was updated with varying crosswind conditions, was the new aim point to adjust the gun position and hit the target.”

It added that, after testing by “trained snipers and designated marksmen under varying environmental conditions up to 1100 meters and 5-8 m/s average crosswinds,” the brassboard system “significantly improved the first round hit probability, required fewer rounds, and less time to get the first hit vs. users without the One-Shot system.”

However, while the brassboard was able to successfully demonstrate system performance and capability, it was deemed “inadequate” in the areas of size, weight, and power (SWAP). Additional noted deficiencies included an engagement range “too short to meet the requirement of recently upgraded sniper weapons,” inability to use the system with any user selected standard riflescope, and other technical issues.

The goal of the Phase 2E “Base” effort is to develop and demonstrate “novel technologies that result in the delivery of 15 field testable and hardened prototype systems” 12 months after contract award. Those prototype systems will consist of an Integrated Spotter Scope (ISS), Spotter Scope Display Assembly (SDA) and Riflescope Display Assembly (RDA) that meet SWAP objectives.

According to the BAA, “The system developed should provide the capability to profile downrange crosswind and range to target in near real time, replacing the current spotter scope and complementing the riflescope used by sniper teams. The new capability will enable the sniper teams to engage targets at longer ranges, improving the probability of a first round hit, decreasing the rounds needed to get the first hit, and reducing the time needed to obtain the first hit than is currently possible.”

A potential follow-on to the current effort, designated Phase 2E (Spiral 1), would allow DARPA to exercise an option “to deliver additional ISS, SDA and RDA systems with improved SWAP and performance to the Users.” This option would cover “up to 100 additional systems.”

Additional, a Phase 2E (Spiral 2) effort may follow either Phase 2E (Base) or Phase 2E (Spiral 1) to “continue development of the technologies as required to support operationally identified deficiencies in the Base or Spiral 1 design.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-12363">

    You know, I would like to see a competition between a machine using the One-Shot, and a human sniper. Kind of like a Watson versus human in the Jeopardy game? Interesting stuff.