Radar Invisibility, Kinda-Sorta . . .

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Some of you may remember the ‘80s movie adaptation of the epic (and excellent) sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The characters in this far-distant future wear defensive shield belts that, when activated, partially protect them from attack.

But they are not invulnerable to attack.
Radar detectors amount to the same thing. They offer partial shielding. They do not guarantee immunity from tickets. But they can greatly reduce you odds of getting one – if you understand what they can (and can’t) do and adjust your driving accordingly.

Radar detectors can’t detect radar that’s not on – but police radar might still be there.

Some cops keep their radar running continuously and that’s the radar detectors are able to detect. The radar signal emanates in the direction the radar gun is pointed – like waves approaching the beach. The detector picks up the signal and that tiggers the warning beeps and lights.

Better detectors have greater sensitivity – they can pick up the radar signal sooner than the less-sensitive models, which gives you more time to react and cut your speed and so avoid the piece of payin’ paper.

But some cops run with their radar off. They turn their unit on only when you’re already in the Kill Zone. Your detector will let you know you’ve been hit with radar, but probably not in time to do much except think about how you might try to talk your way out of the piece of payin’ paper you’re about to get.

This is Instant On radar – and it’s without doubt the second-most effective form of speed-trapping. There are only two defenses.The first is to not exceed the speed limit, which would be a feasible policy if speed limits weren’t universally ignored (because set universally below the normal flow of traffic, in order to make “speeders” out of just about everyone, so as to make for easy revenue collection). If you drive the speed limit, you’re likely to be ticketed for impeding traffic – and certain to be given many fingers.

Option number two is the better policy. It is to let someone else lead. Just like in Vietnam. Or Afghanistan. Let the other guy walk point. Since everyone “speeds,” if there is a cop up ahead running Instant On, he will paint the leader – and you’ll get warning in time to slow down.

Never “speed” alone – especially at night.

Radar can come from behind as well as ahead – 

There are many good radar detectors on the market that have a fatal flaw: No rear antenna. They do a fine job of letting you know about a looming radar trap but give you no warning whatsoever about a gaining radar trap.

About that cop who pulled stealthily onto the Interstate a couple of miles back and who has been quietly gaining on you (and “speeding” to do so, which is apparently “safe” when they do it – but that’s another rant) and – bingo! – paints you with his radar. Even if your detector has the capability to detect Instant On radar, it won’t detect anything if it hasn’t got a rear antenna (the Valentine1 does, which is one of the reasons why I recommend it).

As any fighter pilot would tell you, always watch your six.

Your nine – and three – too.

Cops running radar from side streets are sometimes hard to see (both for you and your detector) until – again – it is too late for it to matter. Another reason I recommend the V1 is that it has directional indicators as well as a rear antenna. It will let you know where the radar signal is coming from – which is helpful for the same reason that knowing where a sniper is plinking at you is helpful.

Radar doesn’t work well in the rain (or the fog) – 

It’s safer to “speed” when it’s raining. Not, perhaps, in terms of a lesser risk of having an accident but in terms of decreased risk of getting a ticket. Radar works best when there isn’t chaff – signal interference between the radar gun and the target (you). Rain drops act very much like breakwaters at the beach, interrupting the flow of the wave coming at you.

Water or radar – it’s very much the same principle.

This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to drive excessively fast for conditions. But it does mean you can drive at reasonable (if illegal) speeds with less worry about receiving a trumped-up ticket.

There is no defense against laser – 

Most radar detectors can detect laser speed targeting; the problem is that police laser (unlike police radar, even Instant-On radar) travels at literally the speed of light. As soon as the cop pulls the trigger, the beam reaches your vehicle – or at least, for all practical purposes might as well be as-soon-as.

There is a fractional delay between the cop pulling the trigger and the tightly focused beam of light reaching your vehicle.

You lose.

In court, too.

Unlike radar – which is diffuse and so non-specific and so an argument can plausibly be made (cue Austin Powers voice) that it wasn’t my car, your honor, laser works like the pointer you use to tease cats with. It singles out your vehicle – even if you’re traveling in a pack of cars.

The only viable defense (and legal) defense against laser is the same as the one used to avoid being the object of Instant-On radar: Don’t be the lead car. If there’s someone ahead of you, the probability is the cop will paint that car with his laser, not yours.

Unless, of course, you are driving a Corvette, Porsche or any other car with a rep for scofflawing. Which is why it’s a good idea to no drive those kinds of cars – no matter how appealing they may otherwise be. A fast car you’re forced to drive at Prius speeds is about as much fun as a hot girlfriend you can’t even kiss.

There are laser jammers – and they do work – but they are also (like radar jammers) hugely illegal in some states. Use them at your peril and not without Johnnie Cochran’s private number in your contacts list.

Less risky – and somewhat effective – are license plate covers that diffuse the laser beam. These are often illegal, too. But not feloniously. You might get another ticket. But you won’t get taken to jail.

. . .

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53 COMMENTS

  1. I seem to recall reading something on the V1 site saying that Instant-on AKA “POP Mode” readings are not legally admissible in court if challenged. Some part of a radar gun needs a split second to warm up before the gun can deliver accurate readings, and this time apparently varies from specimen to specimen even within the same make and model of gun. POP Mode does not give this part sufficient time to warm up, introducing errors which increase with distance.

    Since a front license plate is apparently a common target for laser-wielding cops (the real reason they won’t let you stick it to the inside of the windshield?), I have to wonder if some of that super-reflective spray combined with an infrared-light license plate frame wouldn’t frustrate laser speed guns as well as cameras?

    Also, does anyone know if those frames are effective against freestanding or vehicle-mounted ANPR systems?

    At least one person has reported that V1’s recommended installation location, on the windshield right below the tint band, has saved him from an “over-the-hill” laser ambush by warning him before enough of his car was exposed to get a lock on.

    • There are no vacuum tubes in a “radar gun” to warm up. Solid state electronic parts require no warmup. The accuracy derives from a crystal-controlled oscillator that begins operating when the device is turned on, to provide a clock signal to the microprocessor that does the computational work. The light from a LASER does not refract over a hill like a microwave signal does. No lock is required of a RADAR or LASER because they do not track anything. They merely send a pulse and receive its reflection and derive the speed of the reflecting target through doppler analysis.

    • All electromagnetic signals, including “CB radio waves”, microwave RADAR, and LASER, travel at the speed of light. There are few trucks that are not speed restricted to well below interstate highway speed limits. Truck drivers are not as communicative as they were when I was long-hauling.

  2. I remember reading that the stealth bomber evades radar due to the rectangular construction of the airplane. Unlike airplanes with rounded edges, which bounce signals off in every direction, a stealth bomber only bounces them off in limited specific directions. So you’d need to aim it just right to have the signal return to you. Seems like this principle might work for cars as well. If you can’t afford a body shop to make a custom geometric body for your car, perhaps an older model boxy Volvo might do the trick.

  3. I used to have a great radar detector, was very sensitive and saved me lots of $$. Now live in CA, never have to worry about speeding because my average speed around here whether surface or freeway, is less than 30mph pretty much always.

    • When the I-5 in San Diego county/Orange county isn’t bumper to bumper, the flow of traffic is anywhere from 65 (the speed limit) to 85, mostly 75 to 80. I try to keep it under 10 over. You pretty much hit the wall regardless northbound in San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano. Southbound in Oceanside.

      • I worked for a little while in San Diego. Stayed in a hotel down on the frontage road (Murphy canyon?) just off Aero about a mile from the work facility. Anytime between about 4-6 pm it took about an hour just to drive that mile because I-15 was plugged up which plugged up the interchange and all the way back up Aero.

        Best thing was to just go the other way and get some supper first.

  4. The tactic of not speeding alone is the best, but also be aware of the porkers standard tactics will help immensely, that is some areas with wide median and “official use only” signs are standard traps.
    Trucks are effective radar shields as are clusters of other cars.

    Lasers are dangerous, but still radar guns predominate because frankly using a laser is too much work for your typical donut-eater. He has to choose, aim and hit. It’s so much easier to kick back and rub your belly than to wield the laser gun esp in the rain.

    A tip for laser and a story. My old ’03 E-Class black metallic finish. I had just done the job oi it it sparked perfectly clean with Turtle Wax Ice. I was coming down the road near my neighborhood and saw an AGW on the side of the road pointing something at me. I watched, he pointed then held it up, wiped the lens then appointed again, held it up pressed a button then aimed again. I passed him as he was fiddling with it.

    It got me thinking. When I got home I took out my Fluke 300′ laser distance meter, walked across the street and hot the car, got no reading. I kept walking closer and closer until I got a return ar about 21 feet. (no front plate in Florida)

    I went back across the street and tried it again shining it on everything and the only return I got was the back of the rear view mirror. I got nothing off the hood, the headlights, fog lights or anything else.

    A tried it again after a week or dirt and pollen and had no trouble getting a return.

    The moral, if you want to be Highway Star, look like one, be clean and shiny, esp with mettalic paint that seems to diffuse the return.

    • MY GF was driving behind a pack of people going about 10 MPH above the speed limit on a heavily traveled town road. The blue groids pulled over each and every driver in that pack. No way was every car in that pack “painted”.

      The black-robed extortionist on the bench asked the victims if they wanted to contest the tickets or settle for “mercy”. My GF went the mercy route. Bad choice. The “mercy” was knocking a few bucks off the fine. It’s all about the revenue.

      • Road pirates.
        They are so desperate for cash it makes them do stupid things,
        On I-75 south of Macon this past week traffic was walking speed, cars bumper to bumper for about 6 miles.
        At the head of the mess were 3 GHP’s with a half dozen cars pulled over causing the backup. The caused at least one rear-ender, but SAAAAAAFTY, no one was speeding.

      • Never stay too close to that pack. Stick to the right lane and above all keep your eyes open. You can often get 1/4 notice just by watching brake lights.

  5. Waze is a good phone app to run, but it is only as good as the input. Here in Germany, locals have taken it upon themselves to input EVERY permanent radar/red light camera in the country, and from time to time, mobile cameras, and polizei get posted as well.

    However, one thing to Waze is that you need a charger to keep your phone juiced up (and a phone holder). So a good charger, AND a good lightning cable are essential. For those who do not know, the charger cables have ratings as well. So to have a 3.0A charger, but a 2.1A cable, does not give you the full benefit of the charger.

    • Waze is great, but also I think it is important to flash to warn, I always flash to warn, a habit that seems to have gone out of style.

      • I still do that. And I’d be damn proud if the one, only, single thing ever on my criminal record at my time of demise was “Obstructing a Police Officer” for flashing a speed trap warnign to someone else. I’d have that as an epitaph, come to think of it.

  6. “There are laser jammers – and they do work – but they are also hugely (and feloniously) illegal. Use them at your peril and not without Johnnie Cochran’s private number in your contacts list.”

    That’s going to be quite the long distance call…..because Johnnie Cochran passed away in 2005.

    But I can just hear him now……”that beam didn’t track, because the cop was on crack!” 🙂

    • Radar jammers are illegal per FCC regs. Laser however is under the FDA if I recall correctly. This makes laser jammers legal on the fed level. State law is another and varying story.

      • The FCC has always had the authority and jurisdiction over any electromagnetic emission from DC to beyond light.
        Since they have come under severe cutbacks and pervasive control by the broadcasting gorillas, they have little more than a dozen two-man vans to check out interference complaints nationwide. Most broadcaster’s complaints are about unlicenced broadcasters, “pirates,” and they are given priority over everything else.
        If you are receiving interference from a licensed user of the spectrum, short of having a telecommunications attorney on retainer, you are on your own if the offender doesn’t care.

  7. Many states have not taken judicial notice of laser and this can make it relatively easy to beat in court provided you didn’t otherwise incriminate yourself during the stop. While I have received several tickets, I haven’t paid a speeding ticket in years thanks to this legal tidbit. Traffic court has been a hobby with me since I was a broke teen. I have also successfully steered neighbors, co-workers and brothers/sisters through municipal court victories. Radar can be beaten in trial, but is much tougher. It’s usually easier to find another defect in the ticket to exploit. As the article points out, the easiest way is to avoid the ticket in the first place.

    • You must not live on the East Coast, NJ / NYC.
      Seegina as all of this is a racket, with the courts making so much money for their own administrative expenses, let alone everyone else (which includes the defense lawyers), you really can’t beat the ticket around here for technology or defects.
      Defects, unless gross, and which rarely happens, are “healed” by the judge as not material, so long as the cop’s intent in writing it was clear, based upon what HE says.

      Ditto the technology:
      they can ALAYS prove they were trained to use it as intended, went through the proper daily calibration routines, etc. So, it was working, they used it properly, hence, judge accepts their word.

      After all, the only proof a cop needs is that he says it was so. That’s the accepted standard in NJ.
      here is an example:
      NJ Turnpike ticket written a 87mph. One of the worst traffic days in years, many summers back, 6:45h from North Jersey to DC, normal is <4h. So, Turnpike traffic is doing 40 for many miles, with faster pockets. 87 was impossible in this condition.

      Cop issued the ticket without radar usage, he timed it, through his rearview mirror, from at least 200+feet up ahead.
      Defense attorney said, even if you fight this, the fees and discovery will be at least 2000, and the chance of beating the cops proof, ie his word that it happened, even then is not good.
      So, you take the lowered charge plea….

  8. The mob has nothing on the government. You get taxed for doing the right thing and fined for doing something wrong. Speeding tickets are the governments bonuses swindled out of we the sheeple.

    • The Mob also doesn’t hold it against you if you fight back.

      They might not like it, and they might retaliate, but they’ll never tell you you’ve got no right to fight them.

      Plus, if you successfully defend yourself from them enough times, they’ll leave you alone for good.

      I prefer dealing with the Mob.

      • Hi Ice,

        Amen.

        Also, after Tony Soprano’s guys shake you down, they don’t (per Spooner) follow you around and tell you how good it is for you, that they are only “keeping you safe.”

  9. I’m sure likely most people here agree with this but speeding shouldnt be a crime at all. Its not a property rights violation. Youre not hurting anyone. I would argue tailgating is because its like someone pointing a finger in my face. You better not do that buddy. I had a phone stolen recently. the cop I talked to could give a shit honestly. Police are almost practically useless except making arrests for victimless crimes.

      • Don’t forget, police are also valuable as object lessons in the idea that before being given badges, individuals should be given to philosophical introspection.

        • Hi Ice!

          I’ve become pretty extreme in my views regarding AGWs (note that I don’t call them “police” – let alone “peacekeepers”). Because, at bottom, that is what they are: Armed Government Workers. They are not my “servants” – a risible idea; I have never heard of a servant who is in charge of his master/employer, who may literally assault him physically at will without repercussions. And I did not ask for their services. Leaving aside the nature of the work they do, they derive their income by force – and that renders them morally illegitimate before they do any work at all.

          No one has a moral right to force someone else to pay them a salary – whether you are a writer or a doctor or a trash man or a guy with a gun enforcing laws (and that’s a whole ‘nother level of moral difficulty).

          • In that respect, government is a giant squeegee jockey.

            They provide a “service” and then demand payment – for something you don’t want and didn’t ask for.

    • The local police have no jurisdiction over stolen cellphones, they being regulated by the FCC.
      It is very difficult to sell or use a stolen cellphone after it has been reported to the carrier, who will track it and report its location themselves.

  10. A quick point about keeping the Valentine software updated. I bought mine in 2014 (my second) by 2016 the thing was going off constantly, even in the middle of the desert, without a cop for miles. Had it updated over the summer and it runs perfectly. Great radar detector.

  11. First thing, I have never heard the bit about rain reducing effectiveness of radar guns. I’ll have to look into that, but it makes some sense. It would likely interfere much more with laser, too.

    Second, radar is electromagnetic radiation just like lasers. It travels at the speed of light, too. It operates just as fast as laser/Lidar guns. Compared to laser, though, it isn’t as narrow a beam and it can be hard to discriminate which target is speeding if there’s a group. It tends to favor faster moving objects but also larger objects. Thus a speeding car alongside a semi truck and trailer may not be detected by the radar. However, laser is much more difficult to use because it requires hitting a shiny/reflective part of the car fairly precisely. They have aiming sights for this purpose. Usually the headlights on the front, license plate on the rear, and bright shiny bits like chrome are the preferred targets on a car. Dark cars and matte paint jobs are more difficult for laser.

    Third, no, laser jammers are not illegal in most states. There are several quality manufacturers of these systems in the US and they work fairly well. There are some states where it is illegal (Oklahoma, for one), but it remains legal in most states. There’s also no easy way to prove that you’re using them, and all systems I know of come with the ability to disable the jamming feature when in a jurisdiction where it is illegal. However, radar jamming is highly illegal and much easier to detect. The reason for the difference is that radio waves are regulated by the FCC while light, like what laser hammers use, is not.

    Fourth, while it is illegal in most states to have anything covering the license plate (usually under the rise of “obscuring” the plate, as determined by the officer’s own discretion), it is not illegal to obscure other reflective parts. There are products, like Veil, that can be painted over headlights and other such parts to reduce the laser reflectivity dramatically. This can make the time the laser requires to lock on and detect a signal much longer. That can buy you a few more seconds.

    Fifth, from a purely situational awareness perspective, I like to know when radar or laser is ahead, behind, or to either side. However, only if it is in line with your direction of travel can they really measure your speed. These systems can only measure speed towards or away from the gun, so anything moving perpendicularly to the gun (the cop is down a side street pointing at your door, not the front or rear) will read as zero or close to zero. That said, most guns are handheld these days, and a cop may be parked perpendicularly to the road but right near the edge and pointing the gun out his side window. From your perspective, it will still look like it’s coming from in front or behind you.

    Sixth, radar from the rear is less of a threat but still a threat. If a cop is driving and coming up from behind, he will use his own eyes and his speedometer to gauge how fast you’re going, not radar. Their radar is more used for incoming traffic. A single-antenna radar detector will pick up rear radar just fine, since most of the detector body is transparent to radar plus radar reflects off of road signs, trees, other vehicles, etc. in front of you back to your detector instantly. Having two antennas does a few things. First, it increases sensitivity. Second, it permits determination of direction of the source. Thus you can get arrows pointing towards the source.

    Seventh, window tint can seriously decrease your detector’s sensitivity, especially the thin strip up high on some windshields. All windshields attenuate the signal somewhat. Most aftermarket window tints do, too, except the ceramic tents. Never put your detector behind window tint. The most sensitive detectors are the remote mount ones that go in the grill or above the rear license plate. It these are expensive.

    Eighth, the best detector is your eyes, in most cases. Keep them peeled and look for patterns such as several cars up ahead all suddenly putting on their brakes at about the same spot in the road. They saw something. On a related note, use Waze, the smartphone app, while driving, especially on long trips. It permits crowd-sourcing of police spotting and works exceptionally well in combination with a radar detector. I tend to do more reporting than I receive reports of simply because I’m paying attention, but this still remains the best compliment to radar detectors I know of, especially for the laser and instant on radar types of threats. Unfortunately, it’s now owned by Google, so they track your location, but if you have an Android smartphone, they already do that. On the plus side, it also happens to be good at providing alternate routes through traffic congestion and construction based on real time traffic data.

    • Re #1, we have DirecTV and quickly learned that heavy rain will block the signal. (Apparently so does heavy snow, which is irrelevant to us in FL.) We have yet to lose satellite radio in heavy precip, but tall trees and buildings create dead zones.

      Re #4, license plate covers should be OK as long as they are clear and do not make the plate unreadable. I have never gotten any grief for having them, nor has anyone else I have spoken to. The front plate (if your state requires it) is a good place for the Veil cover, according to its maker.

      Re #8, the Cobra detector I have allows for Bluetooth syncing with the maker’s phone app. That lets you report police activity and traffic tie-ups, and receive threat alerts.

        • Years ago, I got a $35 ticket in a Chicago suburb while parked in a parking lot of a shopping center. When I came out and saw the ticket on my windshield, I went to the police station and the cop who wrote it was there. I asked him why and he said the State had just outlawed ALL license plate covers a few months earlier.

          • I think even most license plate frames are illegal. When I decided to get license plate frames I ended up with these super slim ones to avoid any and all reason to be pulled over. I painted them the colors of the cars so they are practically invisible.

      • DBS (direct broadcast satellite) signals are extremely difficult to block if the antenna is aimed correctly. Never by rain or snow, and only briefly on two days a year when the sun lines up directly behind the satellite, swamping its signal.
        If rain or snow are causing a problem, call the provider, or buy a satellite finder and fix the problem yourself.

    • NUmber eight..your eyes. Spot on the mark.

      I’ve never had any detectors, most of the time drive well above posted, and my last moving violation was in 1994. And I drive a LOT (put 220K on my old van since I got it). I do slow down in lots of places that just “smell” fishy, and needlessly. But that’s OK. I’ve got a very s sharp sense of “smell” for pork, developed back in my earlier days in California before CHP were allowed to use radar.
      Back in the days of the faux fuel shortage schtick, and the advent of the Double Nickel Shuffle, I did a lot of long distance highway driving. Drove a nondescript old Volvo 122, light grey. I well remember late one sunny afternoon along the near deserted I-5 stretch through Buttonwillow, flying along at 85 mph in the 55….. I could see maybe ten cars total in either direction, the north and southbound two lane roadways were separated by a few hundred yards, it was gentle rolling hills as far as one could see. Just as I was passing a semi with drybox behind, he at 55 me at 85, I noticed a blackandwhite on the northbound inside lane approaching about a quarter mile ahead. I dropped my foot off the throttle, sure enough I checked my side mirror and saw brakelights as he passed my beam. Continued to drop speed until I was at the double nickel, he plowed through the dirt centre divider and fell in a fat quarter mile behind me in my lane. I held 55, he paced. Semi was matching us, maybe one or two per hour slower. I held exactly 55, he slowly fell back, then slipped behind the dry van. Funy thing, in the rollers, every time the three of us went up and down, I could see him sitting about 300 yards back of the dryvan. I’d top the hill, the rig would, and as he went lower I watched the copper crest behind him. This went on for a good five miles.. I had gained a few hundred yards on the truck, which was getting smaller, but that little black ant was still behind him each hill crested. After another five miles I could no longer make out the rig… let alone the cruiser behind him. I raised my speed to 57, putting more distance between myself thd the rig with tail. I’m sure the trucker was cursing me for inflicting that shadow on him. Once I could not see either of them at all, I raised it another three, and continued another few miles. Figuring I had ourfixed him, I kicked it back up to a decent speed… 85… and resumed by rapid transit.

      Most other drivers never would have noticed the CHiPper approaching and diving through the center part AFTER he had passed to my rear. Nor would they have noticed, if they had, when he slipped behind that big dryvan and squatted there. Even though the ordeal lasted over fifteen minutes playing cat and mouse. the total time I lost going slower was only about four minutes. But knowing how they made their speed determinations back then, a calculated differential distance observation made it easy to bust his attempt. I’m sure he’d have written me for felony reckless driving at thirty over posted.

      This is far from the only time a sharp eye and knowing their MO prevented them busting me big time.

    • Also there is a factor known as “cosine angular” error, that is the gun will read lower by a factor of the cosine of the angle between the fun and the target. Sometimes a few MPH is all you need, he paints you at 85, gets 75 instead. The closer you get the greater the error, so you have to take measures the very second you get the signal on your V1 or Passport.

      The V1 BTW is the next best thing to diplomatic immunity.

  12. Several years ago I had a VW Jetta VR6 beater. (Great car btw) The clear coat had peeled off the hood, front of fenders and above windshield so I blasted these areas and the plastic bumper with a couple of coats of black rocker guard.

    Might just be luck but I never got a ticket in that car, despite always driving well above the speed limit. Had several cop cars coming the other way that I was absolutely sure had snagged me but never got pinched.

    Anyone know if there are radar absorbing qualities in rocker guard?

    • Best guess from this perch is that the stippld surface does not return a strong beam back to the radar unit. The reflectivity of the surface is needed for the radio wave to bounce off and return. If there is no part that is “square” to the gun, the signal will go elsewhere. That was the principle in the design of the SR71 Blackbird…. no surface was square enough for enough surface area to return a redar signal to its source.

      • The SR71 was not stealthy. The Russians had no trouble seeing it on radar and shooting it down. Its only defense was being so fast that by the time they had a fix they could use, it was miles away.

        • Yep. The SR-71 was apparently designed to be faster than the missiles shot at it while the U-2 was designed to fly higher than the missiles could go. It simply wouldn’t matter if they were on radar or not.

        • Right now, stealth technology is based on the idea of, “you can’t hit what you can’t see.”

          But a more effective method of evading enemy fire is the old concept embodied by the SR-71.

          “You can’t hit what you can’t catch.”

          Speed and agility are more generally useful than radar-absorption – and a whole lot more durable and less expensive.

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