US warships get new cloaking device

Two U.S. Navy warships will soon be protected from dangerous mines with the same technology that will be used to keep Chicago’s power grid humming along.

American Superconductor Corp., known largely for its wind-turbine systems, also sells wires able to carry much more electricity than standard copper wires now generally in use. The company has deals in place to deploy the technology in both the ships and the grid, starting in 2021, Chief Executive Officer Daniel McGahn said in an interview in New York.

The superconducting wires will be used in a resiliency project by utility Exelon Corp. to jump added capacity among substations should one go down. The Navy will use the wires to help change the magnetic profiles of their two ships, potentially cloaking them from metal-seeking mines.

The company is hoping the ship-protection technology will lead to future deals to install additional systems to manage ships’ electrical systems, a strategy McGahn said would make the vessels comparable to utilities’ power grids.

“The ship is a microcosm of the grid,” McGahn said at Bloomberg News headquarters. “It’s a great test-bed for our technology.”

The anti-mine technology, a technique called degaussing, dates back to World War II. The company’s version is as much as 90% lighter than the systems currently in use, and needs about about half the electricity to work. The systems cost about $10 million a ship and are being installed in San Antonio-class vessels designed for transporting troops and equipment into war zones.

Modern mines have a variety of ways to detect ships, and changing the magnetic field won’t counter all of them, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based research institute.

However, the new technology is going into vessels that cost more than $2 billion each, and its relatively cheap price tag makes it a “good investment” for the Navy, he said.

McGahn has been expanding AMSC’s offerings for utility grids and and ships, and eventually expects them to each generate about one-third of sales. “We think 2021 is going to be a very big year for us,” McGahn said.

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US warships get new cloaking device