Sniper RT simulates the line of sight that a sniper would have from a designated location. (NRL)
A software visualization tool that allows snipers to instantly determine lines of sight (LOS) in an area has been developed by the Naval Research Laboratory. It is already being used by the U.S. intelligence community and special operations forces, and has been used to plan at least one successful mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The software, called Sniper RT, simulates and checks LOS from any point on a 3-D map. Robert Doyle, the NRL scientist who developed the software, won’t identify the specific agencies using it. He did say the software was the result of informal discussions he had with analysts who plan sniper and reconnaissance missions.
“I asked the analysts what kinds of visual intelligence warfighters ask for,” Doyle said. “The senior analyst responded that they wanted to know what they could see from a third-floor corner window, and who could see them.”
Existing commercial software calculates LOS, but displays the results as a fan of discrete point-to-point lines that are hard to read, according to Doyle. He wanted a tool that could show LOS on entire areas of a map, and more importantly, do this in real time so that as a new point was selected, the software would quickly recalculate sight angles.
Doyle turned to a method called “ray tracing,” which he calls the only really accurate way of determining LOS. Ray tracing follows the path of light through 3-D imagery to generate very realistic graphics, but requires a lot of computing power.
Take a look at a Sniper RT visualization of some terrain around Camp Pendleton (shown above in the accompanying graphic). Areas within LOS to the pointer are marked in red. The yellow lines show where the ground is not observable, but someone standing erect would be visible. The software can also generate animations that display, for example, the LOS along the entire route that a patrol might take.
“My favorite example is a rooftop on a building that must be assaulted,” Doyle said. “If I animate the dragger to traverse the circumference of the roof, we can see every point that can be seen by any number of combatants on that roof.”
Doyle said the feedback from users has been, “this is way cool.”
Sniper RT can cover an area of about 25 square kilometers. Users can also call up displays with more information on sight angles and distances.
“The analyst can put markers on the terrain, just like you would put a pin on a map,” Doyle said. “They can also put signposts on the terrain that have information like coordinates. Click on the signpost and it shows a narrative.” The information can be saved as bookmarks of a few kilobytes each that an analyst can email, for example, to a tactical operations center in Afghanistan.
Sniper RT took about three years to develop, and so far it has seen limited use by intelligence and special operations forces. But the NRL is hoping to license and expand its use for other uses beyond sniper missions, such as planning force protection, area surveillance and planning helicopter routes.