Apropos of an age when cutting-edge networking technology is about to switch focus from connecting humans for a quick chat to connecting their machines to keep the humans from having to get involved, a U.S. defense contractor has created a camouflage system that can make tanks and other large vehicles largely invisible – but only to other machines.
The Adaptiv camouflage system is applied like a second skin to the outside of a tank. Actually it's laid on more like bathroom tiles, but armor geeks insist on calling it "skin," so it would just be embarrassing to start bringing up bathroom metaphors.
In the infrared spectrum – the one that allows heat-seeking missiles to seek, night-vision goggles to light up the night and night-vision scopes on other tanks to shoot accurately in the dark – the Adaptiv tiles look like whatever the tankers want them to look like.
The tiles are wired with circuits that allow them to heat up quickly to temperatures that can vary across each tile and be minutely controlled from within the vehicle. They can also cool down, reducing the temperature of the side of the tank by as much as 70 degrees, making the hot tank shine much less brightly in the infrared.
By varying the temperature across the tiles – each of which BAE calls a "pixel" – the Adaptive system can create patterns of hot and cold that "paint" it in whatever pattern the operators want. At the very least, the varying temperature can break up the outline of the tank or make it resemble its background so it is much more difficult to see.
At best, the tiles can mimic the heat signature of other objects to make the tank look like something else: a jeep or other small vehicle; a small building; a cow.
Seen with the naked eye, any instrument using the visual spectrum, or radar, and all you see is a tank covered with really smart tile.
BAE is working on that, however. It is trying to make the tiles radar absorbent so vehicles covered with them won't be visible to other targeting systems.
They're also trying to expand the heat-mimicry into the visible spectrum so it might be possible to make the tank look like something else in daylight as well as at night.
So far there are none in the field, and BAE won't say much about what progress it may have made in the radar or visible spectrums.
But if you're ever in a war zone and a cow goes by at 30 or 40 miles an hour, roaring like Transformers in a tractor pull (and blowing things up with a bit of spit cud), swear off beef and go the other way.
The main sponsor and potential customer is the Swedish Defense Material Administration, though the British Defence Ministry and at least some within the Pentagon are also mentioned as possible future customers.