DOD fields handheld device to foil IEDs

Technology used to detect illicit cell phones in prisons makes its way to the battlefield

A relatively new weapon in the counter-improvised explosive device fight is a handheld device designed to detect illicit cellular telephones inside correctional facilities.

More on counter-IEDs

Defeating the IED threat

Known as the Wolfhound, the unit has a range of about 50 feet. Typical use is inside buildings or in built-up areas. A sensor in the $1,800 unit scans cell phone frequencies and points the operator in the direction of the phone emitting the signal. Scott Schober, president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics, the New Jersey company that builds the Wolfhound, said its core technology evolved from test equipment that the company developed for the cell phone industry during the 1980s.

“One of the offshoots was for government customers — again and again, they requested something that could find cell phones in areas where they’re not permitted,” he said. “So we worked to develop the first product in December [2009], with a built-in detection and direction-finding unit, but no jammer, because that’s against [Federal Communications Commission] regulations. Most jammers are sloppy and cause havoc with radio communications. We’ve taken the passive approach so we don’t have to worry about disrupting 911 emergency calls or other public safety communications. The other strong argument we bring up: Finding the cell phone allows you to confiscate the phone and do forensics on it and use it as evidence.”

The company has sold “hundreds, not quite a thousand” Wolfhounds to U.S. military agencies that are already clamoring for additional features, said Carmine Carerra, Berkeley Varitronics’ sales manager. “They want a cell phone detector module they can put into other systems, video, the ability to detect other [noncell phone] radio frequencies, logging, Internet recording — it’s mind-boggling,” he said.

“Our next secret weapon will be a more comprehensive version, the Wolfhound Pro," Carerra said. "It will have improved sensitivity, selectivity and filtering. It will discriminate better with specific band detection, with more user feedback. Maybe we’ll have the ability to log with a time stamp. The [Defense Department] wants to be able to sense the placing of an improvised explosive device as it’s going down. There is no competing system that we know of — we have a nice niche market here.”

About the Author

Paul Richfield is a contributing writer for Defense Systems magazine.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Comment:
Please type the letters/numbers you see above