The strategic use of Camouflage & Concealment has endured as a fundamental tactic in conflict for centuries, a practice ranging from the legendary Trojan Horse to the discreet placement of improvised explosive devices in recent conflicts. The art of mimicry and deception has played a pivotal role in shaping military tactics and capability development, continually evolving in tandem with advancements in innovation and technology.
In the 18th century, rifle units embarked on experimentation, eschewing traditional vibrant patriotic colors for drab and green uniforms—a departure that gained prominence during World War I. The imperative for more sophisticated camouflage and concealment solutions became apparent with the advent of longer-range and more accurate weapon systems. This led to the development of personal camouflage as well as camouflage for vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure.
The 1960s, 70s, and 80s witnessed Western forces, including the UK, France, and Germany, employing diverse macro camouflage patterns rooted in an understanding of human neurological responses and clutter metrics. Notable patterns from this era included Frog Skin, Tiger Stripes, Woodland Cam, Destructive Pattern Material (DPM), and Desert styles.
Over the past half-century, two major categories of tactical concealment camouflage have prevailed: digital geometric-based patterns and organic-shaped camouflage. The former is designed to seamlessly blend into the environmental background, creating a distortion effect when viewed through surveillance devices. On the contrary, organic "blob" camouflage systems utilize interlocking irregular blobs in variable colors and tones to simulate the environment.
Modern Design Patterns
To counter evolving adversary capabilities, nations have turned to technology to advance camouflage and concealment. During conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western militaries transitioned to pixelated digital micro patterns, a departure from older macro pattern designs. Examples include Canada's CADPAT and the US Marine Corps' MARPAT—revolutionary Fractal Disruptive patterns designed to mimic textures and irregular boundaries found in nature.
Multi Cam, designed in 2002 for the US Army, exemplifies this trend. Developed by Crye Precision, Multi Cam, based on seven colors, is a multi-environment camouflage pattern. The United Kingdom adopted a version known as Multi Terrain Pattern (MTP), replacing DPM camouflage. MTP retains the same colors as Multi Cam but adopts a similar shape scheme to the previous DPM camouflage.
A-TACS Camouflage is another example of a hybrid pattern that enhances old-style designs by replacing square pixels with organic pixels. This method utilizes small patterns to create larger shapes and employs a more effective color range for superior concealment.
The Need for Technology
While combatting concealment challenges through the visual spectrum has been the focus, technology has evolved with advancements in weapon systems, multi-spectral viewing devices, and target acquisition. This has led to increased investment and research in both camouflage and detection systems.
As the modern-day battlefield becomes more sophisticated, with an increased threat of multispectral sensors, it is challenging to envisage scenarios without the need for multispectral concealment solutions. Traditional solutions focused on countering the visual threat, whereas multispectral camouflage seeks to counter detection within the Infra-Red (IR) and Radar domains.
Advances in Clothing Development
The last decade has witnessed significant strides in clothing development. Experimental fabrics are being widely developed to provide improved protection against thermal detection. These fabrics, coupled with uniform design modifications, aim to disrupt the straight-line silhouettes of shirts and trousers. Adapted seam and pocket positions break up straight-line patterns, particularly around high heat emission areas. More flexible stretch fabrics are becoming common for increased functionality and anatomic designs.
Companies such as Ghost-hood and Polaris Rajuga have pioneered lightweight multispectral solutions. Ghost-hood, for instance, notes on its website (www.ghost-hood.com) that "Because night vision devices have become more prevalent, each piece of fabric is printed both inside and outside with 8 special NIR-Colours (Near Infra-Red Reflectance)." Polaris Rajuga has developed moldable lightweight flexible camouflage solutions, using innovative tactical textiles to provide signature management across a vast pattern catalog for various environments, from the arctic to urban settings.
Ceno Technologies, specializing in particle research, development, and production of ultra-fast coated particles (US), has expanded to develop thermal protective paint for vehicles and equipment. Intermat Defence (INTERMAT GROUP SA), focusing on Stealth/Anti-thermal and IR coatings, has developed items such as camouflage foam to minimize thermal signatures.
Nanotechnology in Multispectral Response
Scientists have turned to nanotechnology to develop a multispectral response by harnessing the tunable characteristics of nanomaterials. When used in coatings for camouflaged and stealth applications, radar-emitted microwave radiations are captured and dissipated by radar-absorbing materials. Metamaterials are proposed as a solution to the limited efficiency of conventional camouflage systems within a particular range of the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS).
Frequency Selective Surface Technology
In addition to using passive means such as multispectral camouflage to mask electromagnetic signatures, there is a growing need to enhance tradecraft in the concealment of EM emissions. One limiting factor of current multispectral solutions is their potential to impede communications. To address this, technology has evolved, and Saab claims to have solved this dilemma through Frequency Selective Surface Technology. This technology allows selected frequencies to pass easily either way through the camouflage system. Although the selected frequency remains detectable, it represents a much smaller segment of the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) to monitor and detect.
Lessons from Nature
Nature provides invaluable lessons, with numerous species capable of altering their appearance to seemingly disappear into their surroundings or using bright colors and warning patterns as anti-predator signals. Tiny motor proteins in their cells can rearrange the crystals of pigments within their skins. This biological insight has been applied to practical applications for defense use through Chameleon Biomimicry.
As warfare, weaponry, and tactics continue to evolve, so does camouflage. Technology, crucial in the development, design, and production of materials and patterns, also plays a pivotal role in the detection of individuals, infrastructure, and equipment.
While traditional solutions, like green sniper tape and spray paint, once sufficed for concealment in the visual domain, the advancement in weapon systems and multispectral surveillance technology has elevated camouflage and stealth solutions to become some of the most vital applications in the defense industry.
Technology has always been and will remain at the forefront of research and development in camouflage and concealment applications.