On a Saturday morning, a local family convenes in the backyard for a barbecue. Only a few meters away, near the path leading up to the house, a team of troops from an elite IDF unit is sprawled on the ground, practicing camouflage techniques. The team remains in "tread-over-position" as onlookers come close enough to walk right past, completely unaware of the troops. Without ever being seen, they remain there for a few minutes, and then pull back.
Camouflage and deception have been an important battlefield technique since the dawn of time. Nevertheless, in recent years, the field has experienced a major awakening. Now, with the technological advances in urban warfare, this technique is becoming even more essential.
Camouflage and deception are accomplished through a variety of measures, ranging from special textiles, smoke canisters, and dummies, to light-absorbing and heat-absorbing materials, not to mention advanced electro-optical measures that can make forces and vehicles disappear from sight that operate within the visible and the invisible spectrums.
Fibrotex is regarded as one of Israel's leaders in the fields of camouflage and deception. The company develops and manufactures a range of products that include stationary and mobile multispectral camouflage, personal survival and camouflage measures for the individual trooper, and various deception products, including dummies with a thermal signature.
The camouflage technology is different for each wavelength," says Lior Bilinski, the marketing director of Fibrotex. "We manufacture camouflage nets with various metallic linings and special characteristics that absorb rays directed at them and stop reflection. These nets are used primarily for camouflaging AFVs (Armored Combat Vehicles), but they can also be used for camouflage and deception on aircraft and naval vessels. We recently manufactured an advanced personal camouflage position that is lightweight and can be set up quickly. It effectively fits over a sniper and meets his need for camouflage in the field. Additionally, we have just developed a modular camouflage net that can be installed on the roof of an armored vehicle that is easy to deploy when required. The net retains two sides of characteristics, and both sides can be used."
According to Bilinski, over the last year, Fibrotex has also been working on a camouflage project for an IDF post in northern Israel. In this project, both advanced nets and various deception measures are integrated together. The company is also competing for an IDF tender to supply future combat uniforms. In addition to blending in with the surroundings, these uniforms need to be light, water, and fire resistant, and make a soldier disappear (details about these uniforms were published in the Light Weapons and Tactics supplement in Issue No.8 of IsraelDefens).
"Anyone who is involved in the field of camouflage dreams of creating Harry Potter's invisibility cloak," says Yossi Bushlin, CEO of IARD. Founded by a group of scientists and engineers from the Technion, the company engages in electro-optical research, development, and radiometric measurements.
"Right now, an important activity gaining a lot of attention around the world is adaptive camouflage. This technique cools and heats vehicles using special panels that generate a thermal signature to match the vehicle's surroundings. While this allows the vehicle to blend into its surrounding, a solution for the visible spectrum is still needed. In some cases, this effort is only at the academic level, such as a method to control color by manipulating its light-absorbing capacity. Other examples include controlling optical characteristics of a material so that it emits energy in one direction instead of in all directions, and controlling a wavelength so that the object onlly emits energy in one specific medium, making iit thereby difficult to see."
Cat and Mouse
"Today it's like a game of cat and mouse – he who plays the mouse better will have the upper hand," says Shlomo Tabak, owner of the weapons development and consulting company ArmyTec. Tabak is an expert in the field of camouflage and deception, and provides consulting services to defense bodies.
ArmyTec developed a personal camouflage suit that is lightweight, easy to wear, and covers the entire spectral range (from visible to thermal). ArmyTec manufactures and markets the suit in cooperation with MyForm – a company specializing in protective clothing and concealment. Two months ago, the company submitted their suit to the IDF for trials. Now, the company is working on several newer models that it is eager to test in the field.
Tabak relates that globally, there are attempts to develop electronic camouflage systems at an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars. "This covers the entire spectral range – from visible, to infrared, and high thermal, including mobile camouflage systems for tanks and AFVs that reduce their thermal signature, heat-retardant or heat-absorbing paints, and various types of suits and uniforms for personnel," says Tabak. "However, this is not enough. We need to manipulate shape as well. In nature there are no straight geometrical shapes, so when you build a position or deploy a soldier, you must see to it that they are not symmetrical. It is a problem in the case of AFVs, since in most cases, they are symmetrical."
Founded three years ago by veterans of an elite IDF unit, Polaris Solutions developed a camouflage sheet that resolves this problem. The tri-dimensional sheet manages the thermal signature in the multispectral range. "Standard camouflage does not include the depth dimension," says Assaf Picciotto, one of the owners. "The sheet we developed is designed to cover multiple elements and arrange them into certain shapes. This material is used to manufacture camouflage for various resources and systems, from sensors to vehicles."
Yail Noa manufactures frequency jamming forward command post tents and camouflage systems for positions and individual soldiers. "In addition to the special fabrics with metallic lining that absorb rays by thermal, infrared, and night vision devices, there are also radar absorbing solutions," explains Barak Fainaro, head of the camouflage and deception division at Yail Noa. These solutions are a "combination of textiles and plastics that send radar rays transmitted by the enemy back to the source. The position or AFV may be isolated so it does not emit electromagnetic radiation, thereby cutting it off from the world," he adds.
Fainaro says that in the past, "it was thought that the energy emitted by a vehicle should be locked in by an isolating layer. However, people concluded that heat would be released anyways, so today camouflage is designed so that a tank engine could be vented and the emissions routed to avoid a thermal signature."
Export Erez is a prominent manufacturer of military textile products, including combat vests, bulletproof vests, and backpacks. According to the company's CEO, Tsachi Barber, the IDF recently decided to introduce a compulsory standard that requires the use of specially treated raw materials that provides fabric with a low thermal signature.
There are also companies like Ametrine Technologies that work to develop color transformation. Another area of interest for Ametrine is fabrics that reflect and thermally match their surroundings.
Other companies in the field include Lior Textiles. Located in the northern part of Israel, Lior Textiles specializes in the manufacture of fabrics used for advanced camouflage, mainly by sophisticated geometrical shapes and color selection.
T9 Design specializes in camouflage and concealment of equipment and personnel, which makes them a top pick with the Shabak, the Mossad, and Israeli Airports Authority.
"In many cases, the needs are highly specialized for a specific operation, such as concealing resources in a custom-tailored suit: communication equipment, firearms, photographic equipment, monitoring equipment, and so on," relates Liran Cohen, CEO of T9 Design. "We conceal it under garments or inside hats and handbags." T9 Design also manufactures field camouflage measures for various intelligence systems, including sensors and cameras, as well as camouflage for snipers and for firing positions.
According to an expert in the field of camouflage and concealment, Israel does not give this field enough attention; compared to other Western countries and NATO, Israel is behind. However, this expert source says that Israel’s Navy is making large investments in this field, mainly in surface and underwater electronic systems.
Advanced stealth and camouflage technologies can also make combat vehicles invisible using active deception and by generating a fake thermal signature in real time using electronic means (e-camouflage). Eltics of Ashkelon has a patent registered in the US that is an active-adaptive stealth technology. The patent mounts smart panels on an AFV that projects the background onto a vehicle, thereby enabling it to blend in with the scenery and evade attack.
According to Ronen Meir, CEO of Eltics, "A Jeep may resemble a tank, a tank may resemble a Jeep, and both may resemble a cow." In addition to concealment and survival, the system is intended for use by Special Forces in strike operations. "Regardless of the speed, terrain conditions, weather conditions, or the sensors scanning the area, the active panels generate a signature that is identical to the surroundings. including various color shades, and the vehicle becomes a part of the scenery."
This system, dubbed the "Black Fox," includes an active window with a technology that enables the vehicle operator to look outside the vehicle and check the situation on the ground without revealing his location. In the future, the company hopes to adapt the system for use on commando boats or helicopters, whose engines heat up and generate a highly visible thermal signature.
Fibrotex also develops products for adaptive camouflage. Their products combine composite materials and advanced textiles for locking in the heat emitted by engines and for concealing the vehicle using smart panels.
A Cloud of Smoke in Seconds
There are also those measures that have been around for a while, like smoke canisters designed to conceal vehicles and forces, or dummies made of wood, paper, or inflatable materials. These dummies look like real vehicles and even generate an identical thermal signature.
The Munitions Systems Division at Israel Military Industries is responsible for the manufacture of the smoke canisters used by the IDF. "We have a series of products manufactured according to IDF requirements, used to protect heavy and light AFVs and to mask other resources," explains Shmulik Moran, head of IMI's Munitions Systems Division.
"We have manually operated smoke canisters, smoke charges that can be installed on the AFV and launched when required, and smoke drums dispersed on the ground and activated for various needs. The products mask all sorts of resources and can cope with various types of the visible spectrum, including masking against thermal surveillance measures and night vision devices. The smoke meets a specific profile, including when the smoke is generated, how long it remains airborne, and so forth. Product specifications are revised periodically."
This feature appeared in Issue 9 of IsraelDefense