The military base of the future

5 July 2017 • 4 min reading time

A structure that protects against harmful weather conditions, a very low energy consumption and easy to erect and dismantle. With the Shaded DomeTM – an inflatable hall – the Dutch Ministry of Defence can have a product that will drastically alter the future of military bases.

The principle of the Shaded DomeTM is simple: it is a semi-permanent, inflatable hall, kept in place by a network of steel cables. Nothing new about that. However, the hall is covered by a membrane construction that gives protection against harmful weather influences like the sun, precipitation, sandstorms or storms. The construction is modular and extremely light. This way it can be easily inflated, erected, and extended according to the wishes of the user. A big step forwards compared to the heavy 20-foot containers that are currently used. 

“This new accommodation has a comfortable interior climate, even if temperatures outside get up to 45 degrees, like in the desert”

Expeditionary accommodation

The consortium behind the concept consists of Royal HaskoningDHV, Zwarts & Jansma Architects and Poly-Ned Textielarchitectuur, and is supported by TNO Defence and Security (D&V). “The second prototype is now ready and can be used for all kinds of tests,” explains Mart Hinssen, Corporate Real Estate Management Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV. “For example for the distribution of the traction forces of the cables and the form stability of the membranes (second skin).” Together with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it has been decided to place this prototype at the recently opened Fieldlab Smart Base in Soesterberg. This way, the MoD can experience self its expeditionary accommodation of the future.”

Always a comfortable climate

“The Shaded DomeTM measures anywhere between 500m2 and 24,000m2,” Hinssen continues. “Moreover, this new accommodation constantly offers a comfortable interior climate, even with an outside temperature of 45 degrees in the desert. Because of the overpressure situation, most dust stays outside, making the Shaded DomeTM suitable for medical applications such as a hospital. Besides the Fieldlab Smart Base experience of quick construction and easy dismantling, the MoD will be able to find out what applications are possible with this accommodation." An important factor is the low energy consumption. The aim is for the dome to be entirely energy-neutral in a few years’ time.

“Its added value lies in the smart applications, such as heat insulation, layers of air, and lightweight but strong materials for ballistic protection”

Ballistic protection

A Shaded DomeTM is custom-made and is adapted to the specific wishes of the client, in this case the addition of a protected function for the MoD. Hinssen: “The dome is very strong. You could walk over it without causing any problems. Its added value lies in the smart applications for which it can be used, such as heat insulation consisting of layers of air - which after all does not weigh anything - and lightweight but strong materials for ballistic protection.” This was the reason for entering into a collaborative partnership with TNO Defence and Security. “We have a dual role in this project,” says Philip van Dongen, Business Developer at TNO. "On the one hand, we advise the MoD. On the other, we share our knowledge with industry. At TNO Defence and Security, expertise in the matter of protection is a priority when it comes to MoD applications. We want to use our knowledge and skills to help create a complete and safe design that meets all specifications.”

Shooting from the mountains

Expectations are high. Suppose that, in a future operation, the MoD has to set up a Shaded DomeTM base in a valley surrounded by mountains. Such a scenario would entail the risk of being shot at from the mountains. Therefore, the next prototype of the Shaded DomeTM that will be used for expeditionary operations should at least offer protection against nearby rocket impacts or mortar grenades (107-122 mm), and against ‘direct hits’ of fragments from a rocket or mortar grenade with a quick fuse. The idea is that, in such cases, the outer layer functions as a ‘trigger layer’, and that the inner layer protects against the shards and fragments. Van Dongen: “In the coming time, we will be working on ballistic protection and carrying out experiments together with the MoD, to show and experience the sort of things that are possible. It is therefore quite likely that we will come up against things that require further development. As far as I am concerned, this kind of protection will be placed right at the top of the agenda and structurally embedded in the design. After all, this innovation concerns an application for expeditionary operations in parts of the world that are unsafe.”

“As far as I am concerned, ballistic protection will be structurally embedded in the design. After all, this concerns an application for expeditionary operations in parts of the world that are unsafe”

Energy neutral

The logistics of and the energy supply of the Shaded DomeTM represent an enormous improvement for the MoD. The next step is to work on the protective function of the Shaded DomeTM. Once the requirements for ballistic protection have been met, there are other innovations in the pipeline: energy neutrality through the integration of flexible solar panels, the storage of solar energy, and biological and chemical protection.

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