By David Crane
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Image Credit: South China Morning Post
December 11, 2013
Will Chinese aircraft (like the Chengdu J-20 5th-generation low-obserable/stealth fighter, for example) and vehicles have adaptive camouflage/visual cloaking capability in the near future? According to a recent South China Morning Post article, Chinese scientists are "increasingly confident of developing the world's first invisibility cloak, using technology to hide objects from view and make them 'disappear'", after successfully making both a cat and fish disappear, apparently without cooking and eating them (o.k., bad joke about the cat). The new technology could theoretically prevent American fighter aircraft from being able to lock onto Chinese aircraft like the J-20 with heat-seeking missiles.
The secret to the "invisibility cloak" involves using a hexagonal array of glass-like panels and electromagnetic fields to bend light around the object, as well as mimicking nature to make advanced camo materials. The hexagonal panel array is reminiscent of BAE Systems' ADAPTIV pixelated hexagonal panel vehicle skin/adaptive camo system, the similar-in-concept-and-result ELTICS Black Fox cloaking system, and of course Hyperstealth Quantum Stealth (QS) adaptive camo/cloaking tech, all of which DefenseReview (DR) has covered in previous articles.
Professor Chen Hongsheng's team at Zhejiang University made the fish go invisible in a demonstration last month. Other Chinese universities and research institutes involved in the program include the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing Institute of Technology, Xian Jiaotong University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Tsinghua University, the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA). The NUAA team is reportedly being funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China to "develop 'full invisibility' technology and material for hypersonic jets similar to NASA's X-43A scramjet", which would allow them to attack targets at speeds at least five times faster than the speed of sound, perhaps even with nuclear missiles and bombs.
As alluded to in the first paragraph, the Chinese adaptive camfouflage/cloaking technology is apparently also multispectral, as a team has developed a device that can cloak an object in the thermal/IR (InfraRed) light spectrum (thus the anti-heat-seeking-missile protective aspect) and prevent it from being picked up by metal detectors. DR assumes it's thermal/IR camo aspect would also prevent the cloaked object from being seen in the near-IR (night vision) light spectrum, but this hasn't been confirmed/verified, yet. Professor Ma Yungui, an optical engineering specialist at Zhejiang University recently spoke about this device, which is roughly the size of matchbox, but can be enlarged as necessary to allow weapons to be secreted passed security checkpoints.
The fly in the ointment is that a "useable and practical invisibility cloak might still be decades away as it needed super-materials that could not be produced with current technology", but the Chinese government and military are pressing ahead with it anyway to gleen theoretical knowledge that can potentially produce many tech spin-offs. "I went to an international forum on invisibility studies in Paris last year and found that at least a third of the researchers came from mainland China. It is challenging to get a research grant no matter what the subject is, but the government’s support on fundamental frontier research such as invisibility study is strong and increasing." So, the U.S. government and specifically the Department of Defense (DoD) had better take note and do the same. Otherwise, we may just find ourselves behind the 8-ball in a future nation-state war against the Chinese and/or the Russians. The first major showdown with the Chinese may possibly involve Taiwan. China wants it back, and we (the United States) don't want them to get it back.
Ma gives himself and his Chinese cohorts "about a 40 per cent chance of making the world's first invisibility cloak," he said. Let's hope that doesn't happen. A Professor Wang Guoping, of the physics department at Wuhan University in Hubei province, also researching visual cloaking/adaptive camouflage technology, also believes the Chinese have an edge over the rest of the world in this field. Materials science (specifically in the area of light-bending metamaterials, we assume) will ultimately be the key, according to him, and he says the Chinese have the (natural) advantage there, too. "Chinese scientists are gaining the lead not only on the invisibility cloak, but in many fields of advanced research." Well isn't that just great. As if we didn't already have enough to worry about from the Chinese military.
Quick question: What's to keep the Chinese from applying multispectral cloaking technology to fun things like supersonic anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles and torpedoes? Just curious.
Hat Tip: South China Morning Post
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