Israelis go for safety first

Accurate shooting with a pistol is notoriously difficult, requiring many hours of practice. Although it is universally acknowledged that there is no substitute for live-fire exercises, ammunition is expensive and practice at a shooting range is costly in both time and organisational resources. As a result, military units, police departments and security groups do not train as often as they should or would like to.

'Dry-fire' practice is a process whereby a shooter deploys his weapon without live rounds in the chamber and works on the mechanics of shooting by squeezing the trigger. A shooter can work on fast-draw techniques, movement and mechanics, but this form of training is only 'second best' and in some cases can cause damage to the firing pin.

Laser light

Recognising the problems inherent in shooting practice, a young soldier in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) - who worked as part of a team writing the IDF's marksmanship training manual - developed the idea of a high-technology device shaped like a standard ammunition cartridge but which, when struck by a firing pin, would emit a precise pulse of laser light. The result of his theoretical work is a microprocessor 'intelligent' electro-optic device known today as the 'Bullite' laser training bullet, which is manufactured by the Israeli company Rovatec.

The Bullite is the size and shape of a standard ammunition cartridge and fits into the chamber of any personal firearm, from pistols to assault rifles. It simulates live-fire action. When activated by the firing pin, the Bullite emits a laser point-of-impact pulse that is visible for at least 50 ft (15.2 m) during the daytime, in poor light, or indoors on a reflective target. It does not alter the physical attributes of any weapon or affect the owner's ability to draw and rapidly fire. It also allows trainers to observe the problems of the shooter and correct them more rapidly.

One of the important features of the Bullite is its safety pipe. Rovatec developed a device that screws through the barrel into the Bullite when it is seated in the chamber. A highly visible orange safety nut is screwed onto the muzzle. With the safety nut in place and the safety pipe in the barrel, there is no risk of a live round being accidentally seated in the chamber.

The Bullite is not a substitute for live fire, but it offers complete flexibility, enabling anyone to practise safely 10 or 15 minutes every day anywhere. Its use makes live fire more efficient and represents a tremendous cost saving, at US$180 per 10,000 shots.

Another remarkable Israeli development has been made in the area of reconnaissance, in the form of a mini-UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). For army units grouped behind a hill and not knowing what lies beyond, a lightweight camera attached to a hand-launched miniature UAV enables them to 'spy' without having to physically scout the terrain and expose themselves to possible danger.

This technology has replaced the use of a fixed mini-camera, pointed in the direction of where the enemy was thought to be but lacking the flexibility of a moving camera. With the introduction of the mini-UAV, which is the size of a model aircraft and weighs about 3-10 kg, a camera was needed that was light enough to be carried by an aircraft of that size.

Surveillance camera

In recent years mini-UAVs have been deployed using a surveillance camera adapted from the larger models. While this gave the troops some idea of what was happening in enemy territory, the picture was fuzzy and lacked detail, owing to the instability of the sensors caused by the vibration of the aircraft. While cameras designed for large UAVs possess stabilising facilities, these had not yet been developed for a tiny camera. Furthermore, the larger cameras could not be pointed towards a desired location.

A breakthrough was made by an Israeli company, CONTROP Precision Technologies Ltd, which developed the 'D-STAMP' (Daylight Stabilized Miniature Payload) device. The D-STAMP, weighing only 650 g, is designed specifically for mini-UAVs with a speed of 20-40 kt and an altitude of 500-2,000 ft. Its ideal application is for 'over-the-hill' reconnaissance in daylight conditions.

Quick removal and assembly

The mini-UAV can be folded and carried by soldiers in their backpack for quick removal and assembly when needed. The payload (camera) is affixed to its nose and the entire assembly can be hand-launched in a matter of minutes.

The D-STAMP delivers a high-resolution colour picture in real time, plus live video. It has a stabilised pointing feature enabling easy observation and tracking (of either a target or an area of interest) by the operator, using the observation mode. The high degree of stabilisation and the long-focal-length lens enable the operator to see details in very sharp focus, with no aircraft vibration. In addition, the lens has a continuous zoom feature that can provide a broad picture of the field, or a close-up, once the target has been located. Optional configurations include a built-in Inertial Navigation System (INS) on the Line of Sight (LOS), and an optional Scan Mode enabling panoramic imaging of strips for high-resolution wide-fields-of-view target detection. These capabilities have recently been demonstrated and proven by CONTROP Precision Technologies in a variety of field tests.

Joe Charlaff is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, focusing on homeland security issues

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