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'Smart Chaff' being developed to thwart surface-to-air missiles.

HAIFA, Israel -- Engineers at Israel's Technion University are developing tiny, electrically conductive fibers that could someday be used to defend aircraft from missile attacks.

The Russell Berrie Institute for Research in Nanotechnology at Technion is working on nanostructures that would act as a near invisible decoy, diverting a missile away from an aircraft, says Technion researcher Aaron Gassman.

"We are interested to find out how nanofiber properties can be tailored in order to protect airplanes," Gassman tells National Defense.

The nanostructures being developed here will be used to deter radar-guided missiles that go after the electrical components of an aircraft.

The technology will not be used to deter heat seeking systems, which chase after airplane emissions, Gassman explains.

The technology is being developed for the Israeli air force.

The air force currently uses small fiberglass materials as "chaff" to deter an enemy's radar system, he explains during a tour of his lab. The electrically charged fiberglass pieces are fired from the aircraft and swamp enemy radar with multiple readings. Chaff was used in World War II to confuse enemy radar.

Chaff is named after a plant's pollen or seeds that blow in the wind, Gassman says, because it is meant to replicate that concept.

"They [plants] have structures that are small enough and light enough that when they are released, they blow far away from the native plants and spread to different areas."

But the problem with existing fiberglass chaff is that it is too big and too easy to detect, asserts Gassman. It can be seen with the naked eye. Its relatively heavy mass pulls it quickly from the sky once fired from an airplane, which gives the enemy the "idea that something on the radar is really not the plane," he says.

Nanotechnology principles are being applied to develop "smart chaff" that mimics the behavior of pollen, he adds. Researchers have created fibers that are a miniscule 130 nanometers wide. By comparison, a human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide. The fibers are electrically conductive. In the future, Gassman predicts, the fibers will be made 100 times stronger than diamond, with very high electrical and thermal conductivity.

Because of the tiny size of these fibers, an airplane will be able to deploy millions of them, says Gassman. Once airborne, they will float almost weightlessly and will be invisible to the naked eye.
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Comment:'Smart Chaff' being developed to thwart surface-to-air missiles.
Author:Wagner, Breanne
Publication:National Defense
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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