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NEWS | Dec. 12, 2023

Carderock’s Magnetic Lab Professionals Reduce Risk for Critical Naval Operations

By Edvin Hernandez, NSWCCD public affairs

The U.S. Navy boasts a capable armada that patrols the free and open oceans around the world. To maintain its dominant maritime presence, the fleet relies on its technical experts to identify its own vulnerabilities and create solutions. Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland, employs several of these technical experts who play a critical role in developing the next generation underwater vessels and surface ships for the U.S. Navy.  

Home to some of the most unique and state-of-the-art research laboratories, Carderock’s Underwater Electromagnetic Signatures and Technology Division provides mission-critical capabilities to Sailors at sea. Electromagnetic signatures have the ability to expose a ship’s geographical location and have been used to trigger underwater mines. Since most of the submarines and surface ships in the U.S. Navy are built from magnetic material, technical experts like Division Program Manager Stephanie Ferrone  have a major responsibility to limit a hull’s exposure or detection while underway.

“Any material that has magnetic content on it is going to be magnetically detectable,” Ferrone said. “Even those that don’t have magnetic material in their hull have magnetic material on the inside. So that means any sensor looking for something magnetic will be able to see our platforms.”

Apart from detecting major naval assets, electromagnetic signatures can also be weaponized.

“Those sensors can be put into different weapons, too, including underwater mines,” Ferrone said. “These weapons can then look for magnetic signatures and know when to fire. If we don’t do anything to counter this ability, it presents a vulnerability or limitation on our ships’ ability to operate.”

That’s where the command’s Underwater Electromagnetic Signatures and Technology Division provides an advantage to the fleet. Technical experts like Ferrone and her fellow team members conduct extensive research, test and evaluation to reduce magnetic signatures of naval ships and submarines to a point where there is little-to-no difference between them and the operating environment.

“One of the main ways we counter those magnetic threats is by developing and implementing degaussing systems for our platforms,” she said. “Those are sets of magnetic coils that go on the inside of a ship or a submarine to cancel out the magnetic signature of that platform. If you have ever heard of the fact that the United States switched its pennies from copper to steel in World War II because of naval needs, that's actually in part because of the work that we do.”

Today, the U.S. Navy continues to use degaussing systems on its platforms; and Carderock has the professionals who provide the designs for those degaussing systems. The command’s Magnetic Field Lab supports degaussing testing on physical models created at the base and are evaluated to ensure Sailor safety in contested environments. Ships and submarines, however, aren’t the only thing the Warfare Center supports with regards to electromagnetic signatures.

“We are often called in to look at signatures of other items, whether that is the signature of a component that's going to go in a platform such as the engine for a small craft, or the signatures of onboard items like tool boxes – or the signature of equipment that divers are going to carry,” Ferrone said. “We do work that runs the gamut from basic research all the way up to things that are going on Navy platforms and from things that are unclassified collaborations with academia.”

Unlike other buildings on base, the Carderock’s Magnetic Field Lab was built almost entirely of nonmagnetic material, including its infrastructure and features inside. This allows Carderock scientists and engineers to conduct precise magnetic measurements in the facility without magnetic clutter radiating from materials such as steel beams or components of an HVAC system.

Another unique feature about the lab is its two sets of tri-axial magnetic field control coils that are inside the building.

“This gives us the ability to replicate the magnetic field of any place on earth and see how our ships and submarines are going to perform,” Ferrone said. “I am constantly in awe of this capability. The size and the scope of what we can do in our building is completely unique within the U.S. Navy.”

Carderock’s lab enables its technical experts to understand each operating environment and keep mission-critical assets intact. Recently, the Division has been working with the U.S. Navy’s mine sweeping fleet to measure and control the magnetic signatures on its platforms in Bahrain.

Other projects the Division supports include understanding the magnetic signature of diving equipment used for operations in high-risk and potentially life-threatening maritime regions. Carderock continues to be an integral component of the Navy and, thanks to experts like Ferrone, add to Carderock’s growing reputation for technical excellence. The base’s magnetic facilities not only offer a unique advantage to a forward deployed Navy, but it also reduces risk to critical naval operations.