GEAR & TECH

This Barracuda helps make the good guys invisible

Camouflage is one of the things that we take for granted in military applications. But these days, hiding stuff has become a lot more complicated than it was in the past.


It used to be a matter of just using colors that matched the environment, for the most part — the goal was to break up the silhouette, making it harder for the enemy to know your guys are there.

But these days, you need more than the right color palette.

Marines of the US 10th Army in camouflage battle dress storm out of a landing craft to establish a beachhead, March 31, 1945 on Okinawa, largest of the Ryukyu (Loochoo) Islands, 375 miles from Japan. Back then, the visible light spectrum was the major concern in hiding troops and vehicles. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

One of the big reasons for that is the advancement of sensor technology in general. In the past, when the only sensors were cameras that operated in the visual light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, you could get away with using the right colors to hide – or just break up the outline – of vehicles and other systems.

Today, ground-search radars, like those used on the Joint Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar System, and infra-red sensors like the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, make the right color palette only part of the solution.

If you ignore the non-visible portion of the electronic spectrum, they will see you, fix your location, and you will be hit. Or worse, they find your supply dump and hit that. Then you are royally screwed.

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne)

According to handouts available at the 2017 Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C., Swedish company Saab is offering a camouflage system known as "Barracuda" that not only handles those prying human eyes, but also the prying eyes of radar and infra-red sensors. This comes in three varieties. We'll do a quick review.

The Ultra Lightweight Camouflage Net System, or ULCANS, is designed to be deployed quickly. It works on just about anything — from a towed howitzer like the M777, to a tank like the M1 Abrams.

For bigger things that need hiding, like a supply dump, one ULCANS can be linked with others to create a giant net.

You don't see what is under the Ultra Lightweight Camouflage Net System, or ULCANS. You're not supposed to. (Photo from Saabusa.com)

But what about for vehicles? Well, there are two options. First, there is the Mobile Camouflage System. Vehicles need to move, and often that means stowing the nets before you move, and unstowing when they stop for the night. The Mobile Camouflage System allows a vehicle to move, and still stay reasonably hidden.

Whoever cooked that up did troops a solid.

The other vehicle option is the Mobile Break-Away System. This is intended more for the vehicles used by Special Operations Forces like Delta Force, SEALs, the Rangers… you get the idea. In essence, this camouflage hides a vehicle well, but the vehicle can bug out in seconds.

The Mobile Break-Away System gives vehicles invisibility and the means to bug out quickly. (Photo from Saabusa.com)

In short, camouflage has advanced a lot. Now, the sensor systems will need to be a lot better before they find the boots on the ground.

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