The US Navy has recently tested a new anti-ship missile countermeasure system using an obscurant generator prototype. The systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions using assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can prevent a missile from detecting and striking its target as part of a layered defense.
The Naval Warfare Development Command tested the maritime obscurant generator prototypes June 21-25 to assess their tactical effectiveness for anti-ship missile defense. The shipboard device generates carbon-fiber particles suspended in a cloud of smoke. These particles absorb and diffuse radar waves emanating from the seekers of incoming missiles, thus potentially obscuring the target from the missile’s seeker.
“Pandarra Fog showed the value of quickly bringing together scientific and joint forces to tackle our hardest warfighting problems. This isn’t just smoke or chaff, this is high tech obscurant, which can be effective against an array of missile homing systems,” said Antonio Siordia, U.S. Seventh Fleet’s science adviser.
Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas Jr., commander U.S. Seventh Fleet, kicked off the “Pandarra Fog”, the multi-ship experiment in Guam. “Pandarra Fog is 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,” Thomas said.
The experiment demonstrated maritime obscurant generation can be a key enabler of offensive manoeuvre of the fleet despite the global proliferation of anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.
Thoughtful obscurant employment will significantly reduce the risk to surface ships from missile strikes
“We are developing a layered approach using a full spectrum of active and passive capabilities to give us the advantage. It is not just about the technology, but also practicing how the fleet will employ these emerging capabilities,” said Capt. David Adams, who leads the Seventh Fleet Warfighting Initiatives Group. “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. The materials are environmentally friendly and sized to maximize operational effectiveness. “Our initial assessment is the testing was very successful in terms of tactical employment, usability and cost-effectiveness,” said Adams.
Smoke screening is a common tactic in land battles, particularly useful for obscuring attacking forces on their final advance to an objective, these smoke screens are often created by injecting diesel fuel onto the hot exhaust. Other ‘rapid blooming’ screens enable tanks to evade enemy direct fire, by repositioning behind the smoke screen released by the tank’s smoke canisters. These smoke clouds are fired at the direction of the incoming threat, thus creating the necessary effect. In naval warfare smoke has been used sporadically throughout the 20th century. In recent years smoke, flares and chaff are widely employed as part of multi-layered defense against anti-ship missiles.
Warships have sometimes used a simple variation of the smoke generator, by injecting fuel oil directly into the smoke stack. The proliferation of observation and guidance systems based on thermal imaging systems required changes in obscurant smokes that would be opaque in the visual and infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. To achieve this the smoke uses a composition of particle of different sizes. The particles present in the smokes are designed to absorb visible, infrared and some laser wavebands, Carbon-fiber particles are tuned to absorb radar energy in the millimeter wave band (9-96 GHz).
In his article ‘The Strategic implications of Obscurants‘ Prof. Thomas J. Culora, chairman of the warfare analysis and research dept. of the Naval War College recommended ‘navalizing’ existing capabilities such as the US Army’s M56E1 Coyote smoke generator that already uses radar absorbing carbon-fiber clouds that can prevent radar guided air-launched cruise missiles from detecting their targets. “It is an attractive system, since the cost of generating a single obscurant cloud covering several square nautical miles is in the tens of thousands of dollars.