MILITARY CAMOUFLAGE TOWARDS INVISIBILITY : A VIEWPOINT
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