Now you see me, now you don’t – reducing visual and infrared detection of soldiers and their vehicles

Image of soldiers as seen throught night vision goggles

1. Challenge Statement

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF) are looking for solutions for actively modifying the visual and infrared signatures of Army platforms in order to decrease detectability in changing environmental conditions and operational environments.

2. Background and Context

Being able to operate covertly offers a prime tactical advantage for Army. When platforms (i.e., soldiers and vehicles) have the ability to conceal their presence, they are more likely to detect threats before being detected themselves. Thus, masking the elements that make soldiers and vehicles stand out is critical to survivability. While signature management can be divided into several categories, the focus of this challenge is on the concealment and camouflage of platforms for visual and infrared (e.g., thermal) spectrums.

One approach in signature management is to print textiles (e.g. for Army uniforms and to coat or cover vehicles and other equipment) with a visual and near-infrared reflective pattern to mimic as much as possible the average background pattern of the environment(s) in which they are likely to be deployed. At present, combat uniform prints do not include any thermal infrared signature management schemes. Among the options that do exist, there are several notable challenges and limitations that need to be overcome. For instance, visual prints tend to under-perform in the upper spectrum of the near-Infrared spectral band (1350 nm and above); the addition of a low emissivity (low E) and/or thermal convective layer materials that mimic the average temperature of background features must be put over the current combat uniform. The current difficulty with this approach is to combine the right mixture of low-E and/or convective materials to blend with the environment. Vehicles and other equipment add-on camouflage may be bulky, fragile and manpower intensive. By its very nature, signature management needs to account for different mission contexts and constantly shifting environmental conditions. The most significant challenge with effective concealment is providing a single solution that is optimized for a wide range of environments. To date, it has not been possible to implement a single camouflage scheme that is equally effective in all conditions due to the highly varied and ever changing conditions (e.g. lighting conditions, composition of the background, ground and air temperature, etc.). An ideal solution is one that adapts to different mission contexts and environmental conditions.

There is a particular and added challenge when designing effective camouflage materials that provide thermal-infrared concealment. For soldiers, camouflage solutions need to achieve the right balance between visual and infrared concealment and an acceptable level of physiological comfort. For vehicles and other equipment, thermal-infrared concealment must provide infrared signature suppression without creating a detrimental effect on the performance of the equipment, power generation, heating, ventilation and cooling systems.

The pace of development of sensor technologies and proliferation of high performance, low cost sensors in the military and public domains are currently outpacing the performance of signature management systems. This presents a significant challenge for providing effective concealment and camouflage systems that will maintain the tactical advantage for our Forces.

3. Desired Outcomes

Research, design concepts and technologies are sought that address, but are not limited to, the following characteristics associated with concealment and camouflage:

  • Innovation in dyes and textiles will allow the extension of our camouflage specification and extend concealment into the shortwave infrared spectrum;
  • Innovation in dyes and textiles technology to permit spectral signature matching;
  • An integrated uniform design that provides thermal camouflage that is both durable (e.g., washable) and provides an acceptable level of the thermal comfort for the user;
  • Effective concealment of combat soldiers and vehicles against the next generation of threat sensors, including but not limited to multi-spectral and hyperspectral imaging;
  • An optimized signature management solution for a wide range of operating environments, threat sensors and changing conditions (e.g., time of day, weather, season);
  • Signature management technology that can actively adapt to environmental conditions in the visual spectrum and/or the near-infrared and thermal spectrums;
  • Flexible and reliable devices and materials that permit spectrum changes with a prolonged operational life (e.g., months to years) that is effective in the visual and Near-infrared band;
  • Performance metrics for the characterisation of adaptive and multi-spectral concealment and camouflage benefits (e.g. thermal comfort, spectral signature matching, adaptation and effectiveness, reference environments).
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