By Jenna Brady, U.S. Army Research Laboratory April 10, 2012
Recently, the Target Detection Device (TDD) successfully passed its second flight test at Eglin Air Force base on the U.S Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Kinetic Energy Active Protection System (KEAPS) interceptor.
The TDD is an Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) hardened version of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's (ARL) Passive Infrared Proximity Sensor designed by the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate (WMRD).
TDD is part of the RDECOM Kinetic Energy Active Protection (KEAP) Advanced Technology Objective (ATO). The goal of KEAP is to demonstrate an active protection system that can defeat a tank-fired armor-piercing projectile.
The projectiles are long, heavy rods that travel at about one mile per second, giving them a very high kinetic energy. As a result, if you are sitting in a vehicle one mile from a hostile tank that shoots at you, you get a full second to react.
A typical response to this scenario would be to surround a vehicle with several tons of armor, but the U.S. Army has been looking for an alternative course of action that will not weigh nearly as much, thus, the KEAP ATO was started.
Dr. Michael McNeir of WMRD, who worked with and contributed to this project, stated that the KEAP plan for defeating a kinetic energy (KE) projectile is called blast deflection.
If a vehicle is the target of a KE projectile, that vehicle can shoot back with a little missile containing a high-explosive charge. Once the charge is right beside the projectile, the charge goes off, knocking the projectile off course. If it is done correctly, the projectile is deflected away from the vehicle.
According to McNeir, there are two key aspects of this plan that weigh heavy on its success. One is that the timing has to be exactly right with a miniscule margin for error, and two is that everything has to happen in less than a second since the projectile is moving so fast. Timing is extremely critical in getting a good deflection of the projectile, and the TDD is the last device that adjusts the timing.
RDECOM divided up the tasks that are necessary for the KEAP ATO among its various components including the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Raytheon, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, ARDEC, and the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).
The TDD program lead is Nick Cali of ARDEC. His team includes other members of ARDEC, Electronics Development Corporation of Columbia, Md., ARL's Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate (SEDD), and WMRD.
The technology employed by the TDD was developed by WMRD from 2001 to 2006 during the Infrared Proximity Sensor for Active Protection Countermunitions program. The device used an innovative optic design to exploit the infrared signatures of KE projectiles in a potentially compact sensor.
Dr. Michael McNeir, Dr. George Thomson, Dr. Thomas Kottke, and Jeffrey Cameron of ARL designed, built and tested increasingly smaller proof-of-principle units from 2003 through 2006.
The technology was then transitioned to ARDEC from 2006 through 2007, where the device was drastically shrunk and the power consumption was largely reduced by pushing new compact detector geometry into the infrared detector manufacturing community. ARDEC has also nearly eliminated electronic noise from the infrared sensor.
The TDD has completed two interceptor flight tests, and in both tests, the TDD detected the incoming projectiles. There is one more flight test set for May 2012, followed by the interceptor demonstrations in August and September of 2012 concluding the KEAP ATO.
According to McNeir, since the cancellation of the Future Combat System program, the future of active protection technologies is unclear.
"Although this technology could be applicable to a new generation of army vehicles, it is expensive and in the new era of small defense budgets, it may be too expensive," noted McNeir.
TARDEC is proposing a follow on effort to advance the program starting in 2014, but it is not definite as of yet.
McNeir also said that a new program in scalable munitions was started last year using many of the innovations from the TDD.
"I think this will be true of many of the inventions of the KEAP ATO, and they will wind up in other applications, some of which are very similar and some of which are wildly different," said McNeir.