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During the week of July 28-Aug. 1, officials from the Capabilities Development and Integration Development's Mounted Requirements Division, SAAB Barracuda and Soldiers from the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course tested an experimental camouflage system on Fort Benning.
SAAB's mobile camouflage system, a patterned textile netting, was attached to two M1A2 Abrams tanks during ABOLC's final field training exercise, a competitive force-on-force exercise.
According to SAAB officials, in addition to providing visual camouflage, the system also helps to mitigate and reduce thermal signatures, radar signatures and near infrared signatures.
Staff Sgt. Joel Moore, an Abrams instructor with L Troop, 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 199th Infantry Brigade, said he felt the system worked as promised, especially in mitigating thermal signatures.
"I've actually viewed the system through our various thermal systems on the tanks and at 200 meters in the brush here, tanks using this system are completely gone thermally," Moore said. "We can't see it. We can see little hotspots here and there, but it doesn't look like a tank. It's very difficult to make out."
While Moore was on a tank using the MCS, he also experienced the MCS being used against him.
"The other MCS tank actually came into our objective where we were on defense," Moore said. "Our tank commander and gunner were both looking through the thermals, and that tank was less than 200 meters away. They had eyes on us because their tank commander was up top scanning visually and their gunner was using day sights, but they didn't see us until they were right on us.
"I saw a couple of little hotspots, but I couldn't tell what they were. That's kind of the idea behind this system. It doesn't completely eliminate the thermal signature, but it reduces and alters it to make it not look like a tank."
Both the Soldiers and SAAB officials noted other benefits besides thermal signature management.
"Our number one thing that we produce these products for is signature management, which is changing that thermal signature or hiding you from radars," said Kevin Dunham, program manager for SAAB Barracuda. "But, the other thing it does is the heat mitigation. Whether you put these systems on a tank or a generator, it'll make both cooler and make both work better, easier and burn less fuel."
That heat mitigation made for a much more comfortable working environment inside the tank, Moore said.
"As far as what the crew can feel, it's an easy 10 degrees cooler inside the tank just with the mat on," he said. "When you're inside that tank, 10 degrees makes a big difference. ... Having this system makes a world of difference. The other day, it was 91 or 92 degrees at the motor pool when we were getting ready to come out here and sitting outside the tank, I was a little warm. But inside the tank, I was comfortable. I wasn't cool, but I was comfortable. The difference was that much. It's immediately noticeable."
In addition to improving the comfort of the Soldiers inside the tank, there is also an added comfort outside the tank.
"We're tankers and we sleep on our tanks," Moore said. "That matting makes a nice little bed mat, so it's a lot more comfortable to sleep on the tank."
Dunham said the MCS is extremely durable, and held up well during the ABOLC exercise.
"There's lot of questions about how it performs," Dunham said. "Will it stay on? Will it be damaged in the woods? We've had this tested in South Africa with thorns that are two inches long, and very little damage is done to the system. This system has been driven through the brush and broken limbs with very little damage to it. None of the pieces have torn off. It's attached with what we consider to be the best velcro in the world that's made by 3M. None of the adhesive has failed."
The system is attached in several pieces, enabling damaged components to be replaced one at a time rather than requiring an entirely new system to be installed.
Moore also said the different pieces helped to make maintenance easier.
"We have our engine access plate that's a pain to get in and out, and I was skeptical about this system covering that because we have to pull that in and out every time we operate," Moore said. "But, this actually surprisingly made it easier to put that back in place and had no effect when we were pulling it out. Instead of having a metal-on-metal contact like all other tanks, we had a metal-on-cloth contact, so there were no catches or snags."
Dunham said SAAB wants to conduct more tests with the Army and that the feedback obtained during the Fort Benning test was invaluable.
"The MRD has been really great and it's great when you have Soldiers like the ones from 2-16 who are so excited and willing to give you feedback," Dunham said. "We told them not to baby it and drive the tank like they normally would. We needed that feedback and the Soldiers and MRD have been willing to provide that."
No matter what the future of the MCS system is, it has a fan in Moore.
"Everything that they've said this system will do, it has done," he said. "I'm impressed."