- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

A Pentagon agency is trying to battle guerrilla attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq by developing lasers to pinpoint the origin of sniper fire and of cellular phones and pagers used to trigger bombs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) describes its new electronic-detection device as a “virtual microphone,” which uses laser technology to examine air particles after a sniper shot is fired at troops.

“When a bullet goes through the air, it creates a shock wave,” said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker. “The laser can sense the movement of particles in that shock wave, enabling technicians to calculate the origin of the shot.”

Ms. Walker said the device still is being tested by a firm contracted by DARPA, with the next step being field testing at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

DARPA director Tony Tether told the Associated Press that the “virtual microphone” probably will be available for use in Iraq within four months.

“One of the problems we seem to be having is that people in Iraq can almost do anything they want and get away with it,” Mr. Tether said. “We don’t really have a good way to respond. So what we’re trying to do is come up with technology that will at least make someone hesitate.”

DARPA drew fire from Capitol Hill over the summer when Congress learned of plans by the agency’s Terrorism Information Awareness program to create an online futures market that would have let anonymous investors make money predicting assassinations and terrorist attacks.

The program, which had been scheduled to begin this month, sought to provide the Defense Department with market-based techniques for avoiding surprise and predicting future events.

DARPA had said investors who successfully predicted, for example, a missile attack by North Korea, the assassination of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat or the overthrow of the king of Jordan would profit financially.

Retired Adm. John Poindexter, who was in charge of developing the futures market, resigned after Congress effectively killed the program before it got off the ground.

In its latest efforts, sponsoring the development of the “virtual microphone,” DARPA expects nothing but support from lawmakers.

Makeshift roadside bombs are perhaps the most serious danger to troops in Iraq. But sniper fire also is a known and serious threat, particularly to units conducting foot patrols around such cities as Fallujah in the Sunni Triangle, where resistance to U.S. forces is strongest.

If it passes field tests, the “digital microphone” won’t be the first new technology put to use by troops in Iraq. The war so far has served as something of a trial ground for numerous other advanced technologies unseen in the first Gulf War in 1991.

Many of the units sent to Iraq this time brought such new tools a digitized system of communicating between brigade commanders and individual vehicles such as Humvees and tanks.

While kinks in the system still are being worked out — it tends to work sporadically depending on the maintenence of a particular vehicle and environmental conditions.

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