Modern armed forces must adopt a mix of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), standard operating procedures (SOPs) and technology in order to successfully execute missions across a varied Contemporary Operating Environment (COE).
Traditionally, camouflage was designed to protect soldiers from being identified by the naked eye, with an emphasis on reducing noticeable shapes, shine, shadow, silhouette and texture. However, technology progressions have seen this narrow spread of the visual electromagnetic spectrum elongated further to include wavelengths undetectable to the human eye such as Short Wave Infra Red (SWIR) sensors, now widely available on the commercial market. As these technologies become cheaper and therefore more accessible, armed forces will continue to see their proliferation across non-state actors and insurgent combatant groups as well as equivalent potential adversaries.
As one undisclosed member of a European military explained to Armada, the so-called ‘holy grail’ for today’s soldier encompasses protection against SWIR and thermal imaging sensors without a requirement to wear additional specialist layers of clothing or material. As Swedish company Saab explained to Armada, tactical requirements continue to change with ever expanding needs for the armed forces conducting a wide range of missions. “Modern warfare constantly evolves. On today’s high-tech battlefield, sensors are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, making it ever more challenging for military forces to avoid detection and identification,” a spokesperson for the company explained. “These days however, through advances in signature management and advanced camouflage, forces can remain undetected for longer, meaning they can prevent or delay engagement with the enemy and significantly improve their survivability and operational capability,” the company continued while describing the continued development of camouflage solutions for a wide variety of military applications.
Saab is currently offering up its Barracuda Advanced Camouflage System to more than 60 armed forces globally, with a range of entry level solutions for individual warfighters through to vehicular and force element protection measures. “When it comes to signature management, the technology progresses at such a rate that staying one step ahead of sensor capabilities becomes paramount. By masking different types of signatures, be it heat, reflected light, reflected Radio Frequency (RF), through sophisticated layers of material you can avoid detection,” Saab explained while describing how its Barracuda series of solutions comprised conducive foil and insulation technology in order to reduce thermal signatures, as well as outer layers of Three-Dimensional (3D) garnish material designed to mimic indigenous natural textures in an area of operation for “enhanced visual camouflage”.
This latter point remains extremely relevant for units conducting covert operations such as surveillance and reconnaissance missions where any ‘out-of-place’ camouflage, such as foliage, can be easily spotted as alien to the particular area and therefore become suspicious to indigenous civilian and military personnel who might be otherwise very familiar with that area of ground.
As one NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Special Forces source indicated to Armada, a very detailed approach is required to successfully execute such operations which could comprise a mission ranging from sub-surface Observation Positions (OPs) through to sniper pairs conducting reconnaissance and strike operations. Similarly, it was explained how camouflage technology can also be used to minimise footprints on the ground for larger force elements, including Ground Assault Forces (GAFs) operating from tactical ground vehicles.
Saab claims to monopolise around 90 per cent of the international camouflage market, which was yet further enhanced with the announcement of a contract in September 2014 to furnish the British Army’s General Dynamics Ajax family of tracked armoured fighting vehicles with the firm’s camouflage technology. Deliveries of the Ajax family, which encompasses a total of 589 vehicles, are planned to begin in 2017 and will continue until 2024. General Dynamics UK awarded Saab a contract to supply the Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) which was exhibited at the Eurosatory defence exhibition in Paris this June. “Intelligent camouflage is one area that will be the game changer for future armed forces and Saab is constantly working with research and development in order to introduce new products and solutions to ensure that armed forces around the world remain undetected, no matter what happens,” Saab officials explained to Armada at the event. “We are developing new ways of detecting incoming laser threats by integrating sensors and new technologies into our systems. Besides this, it is also important to develop camouflage that has the potential to adopt to the surrounding environment,” explained Magnus Gäfvert, head of marketing and sales at Saab’s Barracuda subsidiary.
Saab also continues to pay close attention to the urban environment and particularly Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). As a company official explained, “The next step is the development of camouflage systems for use in urban terrain … The demand for advanced signature management during operations in urban environments is constantly growing. The new urban warfare configuration builds on Saab’s well-known Barracuda MCS technology which is a tailor-made, multi-purpose covering with optimised colours, designs and properties for all environments … It enhances survivability, sustainability and logistics of vehicles and equipment, while all the time providing a ‘stealth’ or masking capability in the visual, near-infrared, thermal infrared and broadband radar wavelengths. We have seen an increased emphasis on vehicle protection during operations in urban terrain, and this is our response,” it was explained with reference to Saab’s latest Urban Warfare MCS which focuses on allowing troops to operate in built-up and man-made environments where detection and engagement distances are very short. “In these theatres it is vital to have a few extra seconds of decision space, when threats are literally ‘just around the corner’. We see a great future for these kinds of configurations,” Saab concluded.
This latest product is being marketed as a multi-purpose system providing optimised colours, designs and properties for all environments including desert and jungle warfare, mountain and cold weather operations, as well as littoral and riverine missions. Such a solution allows MOUT forces to protect base infrastructure, personnel and vehicles against hostile sensors and target acquisition technology.
In the US, the Marine Corps (USMC) continues to invest heavily in next-generation camouflage solutions for dismounted personnel and equipment with a rich background in this area, having been one of the first armed services to deploy digital camouflage (Digicam) patterned material (please see How It Works: Digicam box for more information). As service officials explained to Armada, such technology fulfils requirements to make uniforms and equipment as discreet as possible across the widening electromagnetic spectrum. To this end, the USMC’s Combat Development and Integration team, based in Quantico, Virginia, continues to work closely with industry partners to develop the next-generation of technology with participants including Gore & Associates, UVR Defence Tech, and Fibrotex Technology to name just a few.
How It Works: Digicam
The pixilated Digital Camouflage or ‘digicam’ is increasingly de rigeur for armed forces around the world. Unlike traditional camouflage, Digicam employs both micro (small) and macro (large) patterns with one, of both, of these patterns employing a pixilated design. The logic of digicam is to provide camouflage across a range of distances rather than employing patterns which only provide concealment at long or short ranges, thus improving the protection of the soldier, or object, being camouflaged.
According to a company spokesperson at Gore & Associates, SWIR threats comprise the most serious concern to Marine Corps units which literally made in-service uniforms ‘glow’ in the dark. SWIR tends to detect anything synthetic, and Marine uniforms incorporate nylon as part of a cotton blend. “Traditional camouflage, which relies upon mimicry, makes you a recognisable mass of grey at standard engagement ranges,” the spokesperson explained while referring to its Optifade technology which was initially designed to counter animal vision. “This concealment pattern applies revolutionary new findings in animal vision science, camouflage science and advanced computer technology,” it was added. Civilian variants of the technology comprise Elevated II, Open Country, Waterfowl Marsh and Waterfowl Timber patterns although the company is also understood to be working on desert, jungle, temperate and cold weather options for the military.
UVR Defense Tech meanwhile stipulates that military camouflage options must cover a range of the electromagnetic spectrum including ultraviolet light (less than 400 nanometres/nm) and the visible spectrum stretching from 400nm to 800nm. “The latest camouflage pattern of the US Army is the Crye Precision ‘Multicam’ which, when viewed in visible light, blends well into the foliage and shadows,” a company spokesperson explained to Armada. “When viewed in ultraviolet light, the same uniform offers an enemy a clear target!” Cameras used in evaluation tests relied upon a COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) camera with an ultraviolet (UV) band pass filter, readily available in the commercial sector. “It is the availability of such inexpensive, real-time, UV imaging sensors that has made near-UV camouflage a field necessity for both personnel and strategic military equipment,” the spokesperson continued.
UVR claims to have developed the only camouflage system, designated UVRC, capable of countering near-UV light, with technology featuring a thin film of transparent nano-particles. The system can be applied as a thin, invisible coating to existing camouflage solutions such as uniforms, tents, shelters, camouflage nets and vehicles. The UVRC-Permanent (UVRC-P) product for coated systems can be sprayed, rolled, brushed or printed onto products with a capability to dry within “minutes”, company officials added. The UVRC-A solution, meanwhile, is designed to provide UV signature management for uniforms and other absorbent materials. Comprising a water-based and non-toxic solution, the UVRC-A provides troops with UV camouflage without significantly altering the object’s appearance in visible or near-IR wavelengths. “It is available as 7, 22 and 80 percent UV reflective compounds, ready to be applied in liquid form,” the company explained. The technology has already been trialled on the US Army’s Fire Resistant Army Combat Uniform (FRACU). Once coated, a uniform can survive approximately 20 machine washes before protective qualities are faded out.
Elsewhere, Fibrotex Technology has been designed to counter the visual effects of UV light (250nm-380nm), visual light (380nm-700nm), near-IR (700nm-1200nm), SWIR (1200-2500nm), Medium Wave Infrared/MWIR (3nm-5nm), and Long Wave Infrared/LWIR (8nm-14nm). Personal camouflage systems comprise tents, netting, helmet covers, ghillie suits (full suits designed to replicate the surrounding environment), dual-sided personal suits and rock suits. As an example, the latter option comprises a fully-camouflaged solution protecting against UV light and near-IR light and available in hood and long cape, hood and over shirt/trousers, and hood and over skirt, kilt configurations. Weighing less than a kilogram, the system is easily carried by a soldier. The system comes in woodland, urban, desert and snow versions with optional add-ons including weapon covers, gloves, gaiters and backpack covers, and is currently in service with the Finnish Defence Forces, company sources explained to Armada.
Fibrofex’s Sniper Camouflage Tent has been designed to provide multispectral concealment for sniper pairs, with the capability to protect operators from UV, Visual, near-IR and thermal IR observation systems. Featuring reversible and optional camouflage patterns on both sides of the material, the tent is capable of reducing the thermal signatures of soldiers inside and can be set up within three minutes.
Finally, Schoeller Textil is promoting SSZ Camouflage Technology’s multispectral camouflage technology which has been designed to reduce detection levels for soldiers working across the battlefield. Exhibited at Eurosatory, the technology has already been tested by the Swiss Army, industry sources explained to Armada, which has a requirement for protection against Visual and Near-IR viewing solutions as well as MWIR. In March 2016, the two companies announced plans to market Camoshield for the protection of combat uniforms. This solution can be painted onto existing uniforms without impinging on the comfort of the soldier wearing it.
Camouflage technology is not just limited to ground and maritime environments. In Russia, reports continue to emerge regarding the utility of special coatings used to camouflage aircraft including the Sukhoi Su-34 tactical bomber. Manufactured by the United Aircraft Corporation’s Novosibirsk Aircraft Plant, the paint protects against corrosion as well as camouflaging the aircraft when viewed against the open sky or ocean. Options include the ‘Naval Pattern’ which comprises a hybrid mix of light blue and turquoise colours providing the main body of the camouflage solution with an additional white cone, while aircraft edges are coloured in a light grey. Additionally, UAC offers a single-colour camouflage option for other fixed-wing aircraft, which the company claims makes it less visible to the human eye as well as a disruptive pattern tailored to specific particular environments and designed to make parts of the aircraft unidentifiable to observers. Looking to the future, UAC is in the process of evaluating camouflage paint options capable of protecting the aircraft from ‘aggressive factors’ including excessive temperatures (sometimes generated by missile smoke plumes and cannon fire) and corrosion.
Today’s conflicts continue to throw up significant camouflage issues for armed forces, particularly Special Forces, countering the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Syrian and Iraqi theatres which continues to benefit from mature technology captured from the Iraqi Army, as well as equipment procured from its war chest. More than a decade of NATO operations in Afghanistan saw Special Forces learning some hard lessons with regards to the Taliban insurgent movement countering coalition electromagnetic spectrum observation systems, although this threat has morphed into something even more deadly in the form of viewing devices now routinely used by such insurgent organizations.
by Andrew White