by David Crane
In the movie Predator
(1987), an alien hunter visits earth to bag armed human warriors (military Special Operations personnel) as trophies, and engages in this recreational endeavor very methodically and efficiently. By the time the movie ends, the alien predator has killed off two complete (elite) and highly-experienced U.S. Special Operations teams, save for one survivor (Major Alan "Dutch" Schaeffer, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), with extreme prejudice. Now, while the alien is bigger, stronger, faster, and much more mobile in the dense jungle environment than its human prey, it’s also got another major advantage–superior technology. The alien has many high-tech weapons in its arsenal, all formidable. However, one weapon in particular stands out–the power of invisibility.
The fictional (Yautja
) alien Predator uses adaptive camouflage technology (a.k.a. electro-optical camouflage, a.k.a. optical camouflage, a.k.a. active camouflage, a.k.a. chameleonic camouflage, a.k.a. cloaking technology) to great effect in order to pick off Schaeffer’s team one by one at will, without them being able to mount an effective defense. Even when they finally spot the alien and henceforth know what to look for, all they can…
really see is a slight visual anomoly against the stationary jungle background when the creature is standing (or perching) still, and a moving visual anomoly (or shimmer) when the alien is moving against that stationary background. Interestingly, towards the end of the film, Schaeffer covers his body with wet mud to make himself invisible to the Predator’s thermal vision, after he discovers the mud’s utility inadvertently. He then uses his own new-found invisibility to turn the tables on the Predator and kill it. So, in the film, invisibility ends up being the primary component to both combatants’ respective tactical success. But the Predator’s cloaking capability is fictional. I mean, it’s just a movie, right?
Actually, visual stealth tech (a.k.a. daylight stealth, a.k.a. daytime stealth, a.k.a. optical stealth), or invisibility, has been one of the holy grails of U.S. military technology R&D programs for quite some time, now. Why? It’s simple. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) understands that if you can see the enemy, but the enemy can’t see you, it’s much easier to kill him, and much harder for him to kill you–and aircraft and ships are expensive. But ya’ know what? So are infantry warfighters (infantry soldiers and Marines), although not in the same way. Aside from the obvious and largely-imeasurable value of human life, infantry warfighters are expensive with regard to public opinion and public relations. When they get killed or injured by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades), mortars, small arms fire, etc., it impedes U.S. war efforts, because the American people are now much softer and thus more sensitive to U.S. casualties than they used to be (like during WWI and WWII, for instance). Every additional death that’s reported causes PR damage. And, right now, our infantry is suffering approx. 95% of all military casualties, because they’re the most vulnerable to enemy attacks. One military expert that we spoke with awhile back described human beings as "just pink squooshy things" when they’re on a battlefield. They’re just very easy to damage and take out. However, if you can hide those "pink squooshy things" with adaptive camouflage/cloaking technology as they move through the battlespace, they’re no longer as easy to target and kill, and both their lethality and survivability are simultaneously greatly enhanced.
But, why stop there? If we can make main battle tanks (M1 Abrams MBT), armored personnel carriers/infantry fighting vehicles (APC/IFV–like the Stryker
), and aircraft invisible, too, that’s even better. Replacing human warfighters with robotic warfighters
(armed/weaponized robots) is another part of the equation. Weaponized UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) and weaponized UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), a.k.a. UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles) can help the U.S. military cut down on infantry casualties even further. And, why not cloak those, too?
Well, maybe now we can. It’s possible that a company out of Fullerton, California called Advanced American Enterprise (AAE) has achieved the holy grail–tactical invisibility. That’s what they’re claiming, anyway. It’s called the Stealth Technology System (STS), and AAE claims that the technology really works and is ready for prime time. According to the company, STS is more effective, less expensive, and lighter-weight than any known active camouflage/cloaking tech that’s previously been under development in the past. AAE states that STS can be applied to ground vehicles, boats, infantry warfighters, and UGVs/ground robots. Any object to which STS is applied will, according to AAE, become virtually invisible, even from as little as 20-25 feet away. Wow. The STS adaptive camouflage technology is apparently still undergoing T&E for application to manned and unmanned aircraft.
It’s our understanding at present that, very soon, the Stealth Technology System (STS)
is going to be tested on a small weaponized unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). This information is unconfirmed/unverified. If/when these tests are conducted, DefenseReview would very much like to see them (in person, or at least on video) and their results (witness reports, data, etc.).
We’d really like to see the technology tested on the NRI AutoCopter Gunship (weaponized unmanned mini-helicopter). If the STS tech works as advertised during these tests and it can really hold up to battlefield conditions (reliability, durability, etc.), look out, ’cause it’s gonna’ be game over. Imagine swarms of highly-lethal (and possibly even networked) weaponized UGVs and UCAVS zipping around the battlespace looking for you. Now imagine that you can’t see them, even when they’re very close or approaching you at high-speed in broad daylight. Very difficult to defend yourself against. You’d probably be killed without ever seeing what killed you. Of course, ideally, anti-thermal/IR (infrared) camouflage paint (for vehicles) or cream/makeup (for warfighters) and anti-thermal/IR apparel (for warfighters) should also be considered. This combo should give vehicle or warfighter combined visual stealth and thermal/infrared stealth. Oh, and silencers/sound suppressors should also be considered, in order to mask sound (sonic camouflage, if you will). If sound suppressors are employed, it will be harder for the enemy to hear the weapons being fired at them and/or figure out where the rounds are coming from.
Getting back to visual stealth tech, if it turns out that STS can successfully cloak mobile infantry warfighters within acceptable comfort/wearability, weight, durability, and powering requirements, then U.S. soldiers and Marines will be one step closer to Predator
capability. So, does STS actually work as advertised? And, if it does work, can it be effectively applied to our infantry warfighters so they can effectively operate with it in the field? Defense Review hopes it does, because our troops could really use it. However, we (DefRev) don’t really know, yet. We haven’t seen STS tested, nor have we seen any video footage of it in operation. But, if it does, well…Cloak On, Game Over.
Author’s note: If STS really works and is viable for U.S. infantry use, we’d better all hope the technology doesn’t fall into the wrong hands (getting captured/obtained from disabled or destroyed/killed U.S. robots, vehicles or warfighters). We definitely wouldn’t want to have to contend with cloaked IEDs or insurgents/terrorists, now would we. That would be very bad.
Photo Captions (for photos above, from top to bottom):
1) Photo still from Predator (1987)
2) AAE company photo of small square STS panel activated in front of individual.
3) AAE company photo of large recangular STS panel covering majority of individual
4) Individual completely cloaked by STS panel.