By Shawn NesawNovember 20, 2019
Home to many unique capabilities, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Chemical Biological Center supports the U.S. Army and Department of Defense.
While most of those capabilities focus on protecting the warfighter from chemical and biological threats, the Center also continues to develop improvements and innovations as the Army's science and technology center for smoke and obscurants.
The Center's history in working with smoke and obscurants reaches back nearly a century to the 1920s, and today its capabilities include the development of new obscurants as well as the world's most comprehensive obscuration assessment methodologies and facilities.
Experts in the CCDC Chemical Biological Center's Smoke & Target Defeat Branch are working to make their assessments the standard for how all smoke and obscuration testing is completed, and discussions have begun on developing a NATO Standardization Agreement which defines processes, procedures, terms, and conditions for common military and technical procedures and equipment between the member countries of the alliance.
"We briefed NATO and industry, and everyone wants to learn more about us, our unique capabilities, infrastructure and tests like this," explained Robert Carestia, acting branch chief of the Smoke and Target Defeat Branch. "They are looking at our methods and encourage us to develop a NATO standard. The team is using data to provide quantitative numbers in a non-biased way to provide leaders with information that will assist them in making more informed decisions."
Effective Assessment Tools
"The Center has its own test range (M-field) for evaluating smoke and obscurants with target boards on a small grid and a large grid, meteorological stations and portable trailers with test equipment to collect data," Carestia said. "Down range, we can set up a number of tests to evaluate both visible and infrared (IR) obscurants."
The dedicated test range is outfitted with everything the team needs to effectively and consistently assess obscurants.
Black and white target boards measure the effective screening area of vehicle launched smoke grenades. These are mounted behind the vehicle under test to provide a visual target for cameras and sensors down range. Heating pads are also mounted to the target boards to provide a thermal signature for IR imagers. Effective screening area is a quantitative metric to compare the obscurant performance of all items under test.
Visible and IR imagers view the target boards to record the effect of the smoke grenade and calculate the effective area the smoke obscures.
Infrared blackbodies measure smoke and flame temperatures produced by the smoke rounds. High temperature smoke and flame produced by the smoke grenades can aid in IR obscuration.
"Measuring these temperatures allows us to better understand the effect of the smoke on IR sensors," John D'Agostino, mechanical engineer said.
Using transmissometers, devices used to measure energy transmission, the team can evaluate the density of obscurant particle in the aerosol, another important factor in terms of obscuration effectiveness.
The test range has weather stations positioned around the test area to measure temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, solar radiation and wind direction.
"These parameters are recorded and noted for each trial," D'Agostino explained. "Wind speed is included in the effective screening area calculations. By normalizing the wind speed and measuring other weather effects, testing can be conducted with variations in weather that will not skew results."
The team also uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to provide an overhead look in the visible and IR spectrum to witness and record the smoke technology range and performance.
"Flying above also simulates the view of an enemy at an elevated position such as a hill, rooftop or even in a helicopter," D'Agostino said. "Future vehicle launched smoke grenade designs will offer protection for these overhead threats."
Army program managers use this assessment capability to help make requirements-based decisions. "We've had a long standing relationship with CCDC CBC and we value their expert assessments of obscuration technology to help us make decisions," said Eric Hodges, assistant product manager of camouflage, concealment, deception and obscuration at the Office of the Product Manager for Vehicle Protection Systems in Warren, Michigan.
"With years of successful past performance, they have intrinsic knowledge about their industry," Hodges said. "They analyze vendor technology in an unbiased assessment and really, their goal is to see the best system put to use to achieve success. They are our go-to smoke and obscurants resource."
"We've developed research testing and evaluation criteria we think give a comprehensive assessment of an obscuration technology, analyzing materials in a lab, scaling the material and evaluating in our unique instrumented chambers and then demonstrating that technology at M-field," Carestia explained. "But it's not about what we think. We've heard from industry partners and organizations that our evaluation methods are exactly what they want in order to make better decisions about what smoke capability is best for their needs."
In many cases with industry, buyers want to see trustworthy, sufficient data from a defense contractor before they make big purchase decisions. The Center offers reliable, unbiased data reports to aid in the decision making process.
It's that level of data and results that help guide decision makers involved with developing or procuring these types of items which could one day be used on the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, one of the Army's modernization priorities.
"A client might come to the Center for one thing but we can offer more than just that one expertise," Carestia said. "Our SMEs, labs, chambers and unique in-house capabilities, provide a one-stop shop that make the Center a collaborative partner with a lot to offer."