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Armored Vehicle Industry Explores Vehicle “Invisibility” Concepts

Mimetic camouflage moves forward

One recent industry announcement holds the promise of revolutionizing future armored vehicle designs. Specifically, an early September announcement from BAE Systems points to the company’s recent testing of an “an ‘invisibility cloak’ that allows a vehicle to blend into its surroundings.”

The testing would seem to support ongoing U.S. government interest in the application of similar technologies in future ground vehicle design.

Among other places, that interest recently surfaced during a panel presentation at the February 2011 Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference in Monterey, Calif. Addressing the future of Marine Corps vehicle design, Jeff Bradel, Manager of Maneuver Science and Technology, Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department, Office of Naval Research, pointed to two primary ground vehicle technology areas of interest: mobility and survivability.

Adaptiv turned off

An AFV with Adaptiv switched off displays the usual signature characteristics. Photo courtesy of BAE Systems

Under the latter heading, he offered brief descriptions of lightweight passive and active armors, blast mitigation, and occupant based survivability.

“Signature management/signature reduction of our vehicle fleet is important,” he continued. “Whether it’s thermal, acoustic, visual or whatever, we are interested in reducing those signatures. And again, we put out a far-reaching goal for us in the community on ‘invisibility’ – cloaking – that’s the end state. That’s the end state objective that we need to shoot for and if you have any ideas along those lines we’re interested in those.”

While initial responses to the panel included a subsequent speaker joking about how “invisibility” would result in “real headaches with property accountability,” the recent BAE Systems announcement indicates that some designers are taking the subject quite seriously.

According to the announcement, the “invisibility cloak” system, dubbed “Adaptiv,” is a patented technology “based on sheets of hexagonal ‘pixels’ that can change temperature very rapidly. On-board cameras pick up the background scenery and display that infrared image on the vehicle, allowing even a moving tank to match its surroundings. Alternatively, it can mimic another vehicle or display identification tags, reducing the risk of fratricide.”

Adaptiv mimics car

The same AFV, with Adaptiv switched on, mimics a much smaller civilian vehicle. Photo courtesy of BAE Systems

“Current work focuses mainly on the infrared spectrum, as this is most important to the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV), which funds part of the work,” it states. “However, BAE Systems engineers have combined the pixels with other technologies, which provide camouflage in other parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum at the same time to provide all-round stealth, which will be developed further over the next few years.”

BAE Systems testing conducted in mid-July “showed that one side of a CV90 could be made effectively invisible or appear to be other objects, including a 4×4 vehicle, when viewed in the infrared spectrum.”

“Earlier attempts at similar cloaking devices have hit problems because of cost, excessive power requirements or because they were insufficiently robust,” explained project manager, Peder Sjölund. “Our panels can be made so strong that they provide useful armour protection and consume relatively low levels of electricity, especially when the vehicle is at rest in ’stealth recce’ mode and generator output is low.”

He added: “We can resize the pixels to achieve stealth for different ranges. A warship or building, for instance, might not need close-up stealth, so could be fitted with larger panels.”

The system, which can work over infrared and other frequencies, will be displayed in infrared mode on a BAE Systems CV90 armored vehicle at the upcoming U.K. Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition in London on Sept. 13-16, 2011.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11295">

    Stealth, but what about the noise

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11339">

    If you’re also inside another armored fighting vehicle, you won’t hear it anyway.