MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- A group of experts from White Sands Missile Range, N.M.; Ft. Belvoir, Va.; BAE Systems and Radian Incorporated visited the Combat Center last week to test the new desert Ultra Lightweight Camouflage Net System.
The desert ULCANS replaces the Desert Lightweight Camouflage Screen System in use since the 1970s. Its main purpose is to conceal military structures such as aircraft, vehicles and fighting holes from enemy observation.
"The old cammie net obviously served its purpose, but there were many improvements to be made," said Jeff Taylor, camouflage research project officer, Ft. Belvoir. "The LCSS is heavy, snags terribly, and is very tedious to assemble."
According to Dr. Joel Fernandez, engineering psychologist, system test and assessment directorate, White Sands Missile Range, the most obvious improvement in the new cammie net up to this point is in the area of user-friendliness.
"We've had a problem in the past with the LCSS causing such a hassle to deploy and recover that the soldiers were just not using it," said Fernandez. "If it's user-friendly, they'll actually put it to use."
Another improvement the contractors, engineers, and camouflage specialists set out to make was better protection against the enemy's use of high-tech electronic systems such as radar, infra-red systems and night-vision goggles.
"The old LCSS didn't do well with the infra-red systems," said Fernandez. "You could see right through it using that technology, so if a soldier or Marine was walking through the desert, the net would camouflage them, but through thermal sights, you'd be able to see them."
The desert ULCANS has already been through numerous tests at White Sands Missile Range to check for durability, weather and human factors, safety, and user-friendliness.
"The net has to do so many things in terms of visual, thermal, textile, durability, and operational functions," said Taylor. "Few things require such a wide variety of tests."
During the human-factors testing, soldiers were given a questionnaire to determine if the new system was better in all aspects than the old LCSS. The responses leaned overwhelmingly in favor of the ULCANS.
"I'd say at least 99 percent of all who answered the questionnaires said the new net system was better," said Fernandez. "They especially liked it because it was so much easier to deploy and recover."
The experts were here to perform the final phase of testing for the ULCANS, a day and nighttime visual test in the East Range. For the daytime testing, they set up three different camouflage nets, the LCSS and two desert ULCANS, still in development. Photographers took digital and film photographs from a variety of distances ranging from right next to the nets to three kilometers. The pictures are used to perform a photo-simulation test.
"We take the pictures to a lab to be prepared and edited for the photo-simulation test," said Fernandez. "Soldiers or other observers will test them in a simulated desert environment. This determines the range at which the nets are detected."
The second part of the test phase performed aboard the Combat Center took place at the same course used during the daytime testing, but at night and with night-vision goggles.
"We had 24 Marine volunteers walk the course with the NVGs. At each position, they scanned the area, trying to detect the tactical vehicles which may or may not have been camouflaged," said Fernandez. "When an individual detects one of the nets, we write which net was detected and the distance."
Later, a statistical evaluation will determine if there is a significant difference between the three nets.
"We haven?t done the final analysis yet, but just by eyeballing it, it looks pretty good," said Fernandez.
The desert ULCANS is expected to go into mass-production by the fall or winter 2003.
"Especially with the war on terrorism, the desert will most likely be the location for the next warfighting scenario," said Fernandez. "There's definitely more pressure to get this done."