Filtering out the dangers
Nowhere is the progress of technology more evident than in the defence sector. In this article Electronic Specifier Design Editor Joe Bush talks to Paul Currie, Sales and Marketing Director of MPE, a manufacturer of EMC filters and capacitors, about the current dangers in the industry and the role his company plays in mitigating these risks.
Communications are obviously key within military applications, and the influx of new technologies being incorporated within military vehicles has increased the risks of those communications being susceptible to the effects of EMI (Electromagnetic Interference). Around 85% of MPE’s business is done within the aerospace and defence market, and many of the filters that the company produces have been incorporated into the myriad of vehicles currently being withdrawn from various combat theatres. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of warfare, many of these vehicles had to rapidly have additional equipment added in order to deal with new threats, thus making the risks of EMI all the more prevalent.
Such is the nature of the market that 50% of MPE’s products are customised, such as for the high profile NASA Space Fence project in the US – an anti-collision system designed to protect the International Space Station from debris. “Our customisations could be as simple as an A configured filter as opposed to C, however, it could also be a completely new design, like Space Fence. We’re involved in the ground radar station. This had absolutely unique requirements - electronically and mechanically,” commented Currie.
MPE has also supplied many thousands of EMC filters for the multi-national European military Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. Supplied through MPE’s Italian distributor Ampere of Milan, MPE’s custom ceramic capacitors are incorporated into the control mechanisms of the dispensers located below the fuselage for countermeasure chaff and flare decoys. MPE’s filters are specified to provide these devices with the highest level of electromagnetic interference protection. Click here to read more.
A large solar flare or geomagnetic storm, which may occur at any time, could disable civil and commercial infrastructures as well as defence computer and communications networks. The specific resultant pulse from any such event is known as a High-altitude ElectroMagnetic Pulse or HEMP.
For use within war zones, national defence and homeland security applications, a sub-category of EMP, High-altitude ElectroMagnetic Pulse (HEMP) filters serve to safeguard equipment systems against the devastating effects of a nuclear blast, solar flare or geomagnetic storm high in the atmosphere.
Currie continued: “There have been reported incidents of these high bursts of energy (that couple onto any equipment connected with a cable), knocking out communications and power lines. The solution to the problem of conducted emissions, therefore, is HEMP filters. Failure to take precautions would at best, interrupt your signal, but at worst, cause a real doomsday scenario and fry anything with a chip in it – everything from freezer units to cars.
“Lloyds Register, who police the insurers, produced a report around five years ago claiming that HEMP activity needs to be taken into account as it’s an event they consider will occur within a 30 year cycle. This will take time to filter through but at some stage the insurers will ask their clients how they protect against HEMP. If the answer is, “we don’t”, it’ll mean a jump up in premiums or HEMP events will simply be excluded from the policy. The first Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Summit in London in 2010, and the second summit in Washington in 2011, were held with the aim of defining a new international security framework to address such HEMP threats.
More recently still, the House of Commons Defence Committee Report, ‘Developing Threats: Electro-Magnetic Pulses (EMP)’, published in February 2012, has examined the issues as they may affect the UK.
Commenting on that report, MPE stated: “The report clearly demonstrates that the UK government, in conjunction with the MOD, deem the threat of a HEMP strike both significant and credible, whether this be as a result of geomagnetic storm activity or terrorist act. It is also reassuring to see that advice and information has been sought from many sources within both the MOD and non-MOD national infrastructures.”
Currie continued: “In addition, the UK and Europe tend to take the lead from the US when it comes to HEMP and Congress are currently in the process of passing through the Shield Act (Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage) now the CIPA act. This will pass legislative responsibility for HEMP protection to the power and utilities companies. An increase in knowledge is bringing this issue more to the fore. Twenty years ago only a few people knew about the effects of EMP, whereas today we understand a whole lot more due to various testing procedures. Plus, there have been several instances of HEMP that have occurred which has led to reactive measures.” Click here to read more.
Another real and present danger involving EMP, and where filters can play an integral role, is Intentional ElectroMagnetic Interference (IEMI). Currie continued: “IEMI is far more localised. There are suitcase or modified microwave oven type devices for example, that can be directed at more localised targets such as utilities or finance houses.”
And it’s here where the threat lies. A military installation will almost certainly have a heavily secured perimeter fence around it meaning it is more difficult for these IEMI devices to be brought close enough to qualify as a threat. However, individuals involved in IEMI are much like computer hackers and there’s little to stop them pulling up in a vehicle outside a major finance house, for example, and targeting their system. In terms of how much energy will get into the building, much will depend on the material and make of the building fabric, and of course whether or not EMP filters are installed.
Currie continued: “This is a real threat now. The US publishes figures on power outages and the feeling is that some of those may already be caused by IEMI. If you think of a finance house performing thousands of transactions a second, if those data packets are interrupted for just a few seconds, that’s billions of pounds of business that could potentially be lost.”
Within the military domain IEMI is more commonly referred to as DEW (Directed Energy Weapons). This includes the Boeing CHAMP missile and the Russian developed RANETS-E, which is capable of a 500MW output and a range of ten kilometres. Click here to read more.
“As a British manufacturer, around 75-80% of our business is exports,” continued Currie. “We have serious competition in the US (one of our biggest territories), where there are numerous indigenous manufacturers, along with France (our biggest European market), and China. It’s our breadth of offering and our ability to customise that enables us to compete. The quality and reliability of our products is also key. Our products have a less than one percent failure rate – some of our clients in the US were experiencing a ten percent failure rate with some of their indigenous manufacturers – in fact in some product areas we out-sell the indigenous manufacturer in their own backyard.
“We certainly don’t make the cheapest products around. We have no production processes in China so we have all the overheads that come with being a British manufacturer. However, there have been instances where we’ve taken our filters out of sites that have been installed for 20 years, tested them, and found them to operate exactly as they did the day they were manufactured.
“What makes us different is we make everything from component parts - electrically we wind our own capacitors, whereas most of our competitors buy them in. We complete all our own metal work, so everything is within our control, which is the source of our quality and our ability to customise.”