Camera-toting mortars are the latest battlefield spies

Credit: Defense.gov

Mortars, in one form or another, have been around for centuries. They're one of the few weapons still on the battlefield that remain predominantly the same, in terms of use, as they were when people were firing arrows at one another. Defense company ST Kinetics wants to change that history a bit.

Technology, the munitions manufacturer noticed, has come a little way since the heyday of the crossbow. The space within a 40-millimeter mortar shell is now large enough to hide stuff much more varied than one type of explosive or other. To that end, ST Kinetics have come up with a sneaky new mortar round designed to give soldiers on the ground an immediate advantage over the opposition.

The SPARCS mortar round is fired just like its explosive counterparts, but at the apex of its trajectory, this devious little shell pops open. Out from the shell falls a parachute-equipped camera which feeds live images of the enemy's position back to the troops who fired it. The images it snaps as it falls are then compiled into a single, large image which can be zoomed in and out and even shared with central command.

Cheaper and faster to deploy than a drone, SPARCS is also pretty enemy-proof. If the data or the round are recovered by the opposing side, all they've recovered is a visual representation of their own location and a bit of tech they could have picked up at Radio Shack. Canada, the UK, and the U.S. have all placed orders for ST Kinetics smart mortar rounds, accumulating a combined bill of over $30 million. That may sound like a lot, but it's still barely the price of half a dozen predator drones. On a battlefield where knowledge is power, we're hoping these cheap non-explosive rounds do some serious good for tomorrow's troops.

ST Kinetics, via IEEE Spectrum

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