Boeing has recently launched its surveillance detection system (SDS), a technology capable of detecting optical threats in near real-time. SDS scans the battlefield from every angle and identifies when friendly forces are being monitored or targeted by cameras, binoculars, sniper scopes or other optical means.

To a large extent, existing battlefield detection technology depends on recognising heat signatures or electrical fields from personnel and equipment. The only means of detecting purely optical systems to date has been by using other optical systems, which are directional and dependent on an observer catching, for instance, a tell-tale lens reflection.

The solution developed by Boeing’s Directed Energy Systems combines sensing and processing components in a single compact unit. It then uses GPS to provide the precise location of the detected observer.

Much of the technology is proprietary, but Strategic Defence Intelligence spoke to Boeing spokeswoman Elizabeth Merida to find out a little more about the background of the programme and how the SDS works.

Strategic Defence Intelligence: What is the background to the SDS programme?

Elizabeth Merida: Boeing’s directed energy systems division, headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, developed the SDS capability using internal research and development funding.

SDI: How does SDS detect an optical observation system, especially considering that some of the forms listed emit no electronic signal?

EM: Both the scanner and the sensor are light-sensitive.

SDI: Can its efficiency be degraded by using anti-glare or by employing the optical system from a deeply shaded area?

EM: Boeing has validated the performance of the SDS through extensive field testing in tactically relevant scenarios.

SDI: What is its size and weight? Is it designed to be hand-held or vehicle-mounted?

EM: The SDS unit is designed to be mounted on a telescoping pole, but could also be used in a hand-held fashion. The system can be adapted to the particular needs of the customer.

SDI: How will the system be adapted to the different applications towards which Boeing is targeting it, such as the tracking of counter-surveillance, snipers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and improvised explosive devices?

EM: The interrogation sensor can be programmed to detect threats based on user input.

SDI: The development time of two months was very rapid. Was SDS based on existing Boeing Directed Energy Systems technology?

EM: For more than 40 years, Boeing has extensively developed directed energy technologies, and is currently leading efforts in the field of directed energy applications. Combining Boeing’s advanced pointing and tracking solutions and real-time processing with our rapid-prototyping experience, this system is able to provide warfighters with the tactical advantage they need in hostile environments.


Boeing’s SDS could prove to be ‘game-changing’. If the system demonstrates its worth on the battlefield, countermeasures that conceal optical systems from detection are sure to rapidly follow, in the same way that camouflage for troops and equipment has been developed to shield infrared signatures.