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Navy Tests New Radar-absorbing Obscurant

More than just a smoke screen

While warships have employed smoke screens for many decades, the U.S. Navy recently tested next-generation “obscurant” systems at sea. The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet and the Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) tested the new radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber obscurant technology June 21-25, 2014, according to a Navy release.

The maritime obscurant generator prototypes being tested generate manmade clouds laden with carbon-fiber particles that could make it more difficult for anti-ship missiles to detect ships as well as hit them. The tests were conducted to assess the obscurant clouds’ tactical effectiveness.

The systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions during Exercise Pandarra Fog, using assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how the radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can protect naval assets as part of a layered defense.

“Pandarra Fog is an example of the quick-turn integrated technical and tactical development the Fleet is doing to master electromagnetic maneuver warfare and assure access of joint forces,” said Commander U.S. 7th Fleet Adm. Robert L. Thomas Jr., in kicking off the multi-ship experiment in Guam.

“We are developing a layered approach using a full spectrum of active and passive capabilities to give us the advantage,” said Capt. David Adams, who leads the 7th Fleet Warfighting Initiatives Group. “It is not just about the technology, but also practicing how the Fleet will employ these emerging capabilities.”

“Pandarra Fog showed the value of quickly bringing together scientific and joint forces to tackle our hardest warfighting problems,” said Antonio Siordia, U.S. 7th Fleet’s science advisor. “This isn’t just smoke or chaff, this is high-tech obscurant which can be effective against an array of missile homing systems.”

The shipboard devices generated clouds of smoke in which the carbon-fiber particles were suspended. These clouds can absorb or diffuse radar waves of certain frequencies emanating from the seekers of incoming missiles and potentially obscure friendly ships from those missiles, according to the release. Such an obscurant has been employed on the U.S. Army’s M56 Coyote smoke generating vehicle, which can produce 90 minutes of purely visual obscurant, and 30 minutes each of infrared and millimeter wave radar obscurant. One downside of such obscurant generators, their weight and bulk, is a negligible consideration aboard ship.

The technology would be just one layer of a defense in depth approach, according to the Navy.

“We are developing a layered approach using a full spectrum of active and passive capabilities to give us the advantage,” said Capt. David Adams, who leads the 7th Fleet Warfighting Initiatives Group. “It is not just about the technology, but also practicing how the Fleet will employ these emerging capabilities.”

“A defense in depth approach has a lot of advantages. Not only do we know the smoke is effective, it adds a level of uncertainty and unpredictability to the equation,” said Adams.

In addition to having a significant level of effectiveness, the systems are relatively inexpensive when compared to other countermeasures and can be tactically employed through typical Fleet maneuvers.

“Our initial assessment is the testing was very successful in terms of tactical employment, usability and cost-effectiveness,” said Adams.