American troops in Bosnia have at their disposal three dozen "electronic umbrellas" manufactured by the Whittaker Corp. of Simi Valley, should they come under artillery, missile or mortar attack.
The Shortstop system, as it is known, was developed for the U.S. Army's electronic warfare program in Ft. Monmouth, N.J.
Since 1991, the systems have proven 100% effective in 5,000 Army-instituted tests against a variety of enemy weapons, according to James Schultz, Whittaker's director of business development.
Schultz said the Shortstop system is designed to counter artillery that uses a "proximity fuse." A proximity fuse, he said, is a device attached to a warhead that detects the distance the airborne weapon is from the ground. It is set to signal the weapon to detonate at a height that would cause the most damage.
Shortstop systems, he said, detect that signal and send back a false signal that causes the weapon to explode sooner than planned. One Shortstop unit can cover the area of several football fields, Schultz said, protecting an entire platoon.
"The majority of weapons in the world today employ proximity fuses," Schultz said. "This is really a lifesaving system that protects soldiers on the battlefield."
The Shortstop systems originally were manufactured during the Persian Gulf War, but the battle ended before the systems were used.
Weighing about 135 pounds, the Shortstop systems currently in use in Bosnia can be mounted on a tripod and placed on a battlefield, or mounted on a mobile vehicle.
"We hope of course that our forces don't come under attack. But we're confident the Shortstop system would defeat an attack from various threats there," said Stan Dobies, a project engineer at Ft. Monmouth. "We feel it will be effective if it needs to be utilized."
Dobies said the project team at Ft. Monmouth is working with Whittaker to further develop the Shortstop systems. In November, Whittaker plans to deliver to the Army nine smaller units, each weighing about 30 pounds, for soldiers to carry on their backs.
"We are very excited and optimistic and see a [need] for several thousand of these systems for various Army units around the world in addition to foreign allies," Schultz said. "We believe, and the Army believes, that major testing criteria have been met. We could see 2,000 to 3,000 units over the next three to four years."
At $60,000 apiece, Schultz said, that could mean revenue of $40 million to $50 million annually for the company.
Thomas Brancati, president and chief executive of Whittaker, said that if the Army receives funding for the systems, it could be a boon for his company.
"It could mean many jobs over the next 10 years if we get the kind of production rates it appears the Army needs," he said. "Whittaker has focused on the defense industry in niche markets. One of those markets is survivability. This fits nicely with our strategic view of the company."
Whittaker reported revenues of $159.5 million in 1995, an increase of 26% from $126.5 million in 1994.