MIL­I­TARY CAM­OU­FLAGE TO­WARDS IN­VIS­I­BIL­ITY : A VIEW­POINT

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Mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage orig­i­nated with ori­gin of war it­self al­beit some say it was around late 17th or early 18th cen­tury. Putting it sim­ply, the in­tent of mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage is to de­ceive the en­emy to the ex­tent pos­si­ble with re­spect to ob­ser­va­tion of per­son­nel and equip­ment, thereby pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion to both in the process ei­ther con­ceal­ing them or mak­ing them ap­pear as some­thing else.

The ad­vent of air in World War I ne­ces­si­tated the con­cept of vis­ual de­cep­tion an es­sen­tial part of mil­i­tary tac­tics; long-range ar­tillery and ob­ser­va­tion from the air com­bined to ex­pand the field of fire, and cam­ou­flage was widely used to de­crease the dan­ger of be­ing tar­geted or to en­able sur­prise. Hence, mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage be­came a part of the art of mil­i­tary de­cep­tion. At the same time, ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy have rev­o­lu­tionised mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage as well. Many mod­ern cam­ou­flage tex­tiles ad­dress vis­i­bil­ity not only to vis­i­ble light but also near in­frared (IR), for con­ceal­ment from night vi­sion de­vices (NVDs).

Cam­ou­flage is not only vis­ual; heat, sound, mag­netism and even smell can be used to tar­get weapons, and may be in­ten­tion­ally con­cealed. Though mul­ti­ple op­tions are avail­able in mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage, costs and other con­sid­er­a­tions like time and ef­fort needed for im­ple­men­ta­tion are fac­tors that dic­tate the de­gree of cam­ou­flage that a mil­i­tary may adopt. No sin­gle cam­ou­flage pat­tern is ef­fec­tive in all types of ter­rain. The ef­fec­tive­ness of a pat­tern de­pends on con­trast and colour tones. Strong con­trasts that dis­rupt out­lines are bet­ter suited for a set­ting like forests where the play of light and shade is prom­i­nent, while low con­trasts are bet­ter suited to open ter­rain with lit­tle shad­ing struc­ture.

Mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage is de­signed to work in a range of en­vi­ron­ments. With the cost of uni­forms in par­tic­u­lar be­ing sub­stan­tial, most armies in­clud­ing the In­dian Army op­er­at­ing in var­ied ter­rain have two sep­a­rate pat­terns of cam­ou­flage uni­forms; one for the jun­gle and one for desert and other dry ter­rain. There is also a re­quire­ment of snow cam­ou­flage, ei­ther by hav­ing re­versible uni­forms or sim­ple over gar­ments. Such sim­ple over-gar­ments can be used for other ter­rains too.

The Aus­trian and Is­raeli armies use solid colour field uni­forms, re­ly­ing on sim­ple over-gar­ments for cam­ou­flage. The pur­pose of ve­hi­cle and equip­ment cam­ou­flage dif­fers from per­sonal cam­ou­flage in that the pri­mary threat is from the aerial recog­ni­tion. The goal is to dis­rupt the char­ac­ter­is­tic shape of the ve­hi­cle, to re­duce shine, and to make the ve­hi­cle dif­fi­cult to iden­tify even if it is spot­ted. Many state-of-the-art mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage prod­ucts are avail­able off the shelf like the ul­tra-light­weight cam­ou­flage net sys­tem (ULCANS), de­vel­oped at the Saab Bar­racuda LLC fa­cil­ity in North Carolina, which pro­vides multi-spec­tral pro­tec­tion against vis­ual, near IR, ther­mal IR and broad­band radar de­tec­tion.

The ULCANS is fielded with the US Army and other US Depart­ment of De­fense (DoD) or­gan­i­sa­tions and is avail­able in both wood­land and desert ver­sions. A host of iPAT cam­ou­flage wraps are avail­able off the shelf for mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions. How­ever, in a de­vel­op­ment that would have far-reach­ing con­se­quences through­out the spec­trum of con­flict, the US mil­i­tary is re­ported to be strongly back­ing the de­vel­op­ment of ‘Quan­tum Stealth’ cam­ou­flage ma­te­rial that is aimed at mak­ing soldiers com­pletely in­vis­i­ble by bend­ing the light waves around them and to also fool night vi­sion de­vices. Se­lected groups of the US and Cana­dian armies have re­port­edly seen the fab­ric, de­vel­oped by the Hyper­stealth Biotech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion of Canada. More sig­nif­i­cantly, it works against mil­i­tary IR scopes and ther­mal op­tics.

In­vis­i­bil­ity un­doubt­edly has a halo whether it is achieved us­ing a shield or a piece of fab­ric. Re­search in in­vis­i­bil­ity is un­doubt­edly on­go­ing world over. In 2012, it was re­ported that re­searchers at Ja­pan’s Keio Univer­sity are de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem that may trans­form our cars into in­vis­i­ble ob­jects. In or­der to create this in­vis­i­ble car, the team used a Toy­ota Prius car and used in­verted op­ti­cal-cam­ou­flage tech­nol­ogy so that the in­side of the car looks trans­par­ent. This was demon­strated us­ing mul­ti­ple tiny cam­eras and pro­jec­tions en­abling thou­sands of small lights to shine in a spe­cific di­rec­tion with as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess. Nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples are there to see wherein science has made yes­ter­day’s fic­tion re­al­i­ties.

It may there­fore be a mat­ter of time when armies build up to the in­vis­i­ble on a brick-by-brick or a mis­sion need ba­sis. What should also be a mat­ter of con­cern is the claim by Hyper­stealth Biotech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion of Canada that the ‘Quan­tum Stealth’ cam­ou­flage fab­ric is light­weight and in­ex­pen­sive. This can un­leash of a far more deadly wave of ter­ror­ism at the global level. The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

Though mul­ti­ple op­tions are avail­able in mil­i­tary cam­ou­flage, costs and other con­sid­er­a­tions like time and ef­fort needed for im­ple­men­ta­tion are fac­tors that dic­tate the de­gree of cam­ou­flage that a mil­i­tary may adopt. No sin­gle cam­ou­flage pat­tern is ef­fec­tive in all types of ter­rain.

LT GEN­ERAL (RETD) P.C. KA­TOCH

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