Silicon-based shielding may protect military electronics from EMP

May 1, 2005
Engineers at Transtector in Hayden, Idaho, are producing electromagnetic pulse (EMP) shielding devices based on silicon for U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) classified applications.

By John McHale

WASHINGTON-Engineers at Transtector in Hayden, Idaho, are producing electromagnetic pulse (EMP) shielding devices based on silicon for U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) classified applications.

The company supplied EMP shielding equipment for two DOD contracts-one for a HUMVEE application and one for a missile command shelter, says Bill MaGee, business unit manager at Transtector.

MaGee declined to comment further on the contracts because of contractual and security concerns. He did say, however, that the market for this type of technology is growing at about 10 percent every year and shows so much promise that Transtector officials have formed a new division around the military market and are looking at investing in an EMP testing laboratory on sight. Currently, the military market is only about 5 percent of Transtector’s business, but these investments show its leaders’ faith in this market.

MaGee says that the goal is to have every military base and C4 application shielded from EMP attacks.

EMP attacks are one of the biggest threats the nation and its military face, MaGee says. A report to Congress last year, “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack (EMP),” outlined the seriousness of the threat, he explains. However, not many heard about it “because it was released at the same time as the 9-11 report.”

According to the report, “A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of U.S. society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.

“The common element that can produce such an impact from EMP is primarily electronics, so pervasive in all aspects of our society and military, coupled through critical infrastructures. Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow. The impact of EMP is asymmetric in relation to potential protagonists who are not as dependent on modern electronics.”

“Standards require EMP shielding, but many claim these standards are not necessary. We say they should be and we have the products that will do it,” says Dan Rebeck, electrical engineer at Transtector.

Typical electronic products that Transtector devices protect are AC power or network products such as Ethernet or T1-E1, Rebeck says.

One Transtector product is the EMP-T1E1 surge suppressor, a high-speed, high-current solid-state device designed to protect balanced AMI T1/E1 lines from EMP, EMI, electrical transients, and low-level CW noise. The EMP-T1E1 surge suppressor uses only silicon avalanche-suppression diodes (SASD). It connects to the service in a pass-through configuration.

Transtector’s EMP products are silicon-diode-based, which gives them advantages such as the nondegradable nature of silicon, he says; as long as the surge does not exceed the energy level of an EMP shot, the silicon will never degrade. Gas-tube devices have varying rates and degrade more quickly, Rebeck explains. Silicon also turns on quickly after the surge hits, Rebeck says.

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