Long-time Slashdot reader SpzToid shares a new report from the Economist:

Thanks to innovations such as fractal colouration patterns, which mimic nature by repeating shapes at different scales, the distance from which naked eyes can quickly spot soldiers wearing the best camouflage has shrunk, by one reckoning, by a fifth over the past two decades. That is impressive. On today’s battlefields, however, it is no longer enough to merely hide from human eyes.

People and kit are given away as well by signals beyond the visual spectrum, and devices that detect these wavelengths are getting better, lighter and cheaper. Thermal sensors are a case in point. Today, one that costs about $1,000 and weighs as little as five sachets of sugar can, in good weather, detect a warm vehicle as far off as 10km. As Hans Kariis, deputy head of signatures research at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, notes, that is well beyond the range at which a small drone would be spotted. Two decades ago, he adds, a less sensitive thermal sensor weighing a kilogram cost ten times as much.

And then there’s automatic target-detection software, the article points out, like the Kestrel software deployed in more than 3,500 aircraft around the world, which “scans feeds of visual, infrared and radar data, and places red boxes around people and other potential targets, even as their positions in the frame move.” And the threat has only increased with the arrival of satellite-based synthetic-aperture-radar (SAR) imagery.

But then the article lists examples of new camouflage that now tricks electronic sensors:

  • Military vehicles affix hexagon-shaped sheets that can be cooled with electricity to blend into the temperature of their surroundings.
  • Camouflage netting that absorbs (some) incoming radar beams with semi-conducting polymers while reducing heat signatures with insulation — and reflecting back the cooler temperature of the ground.
  • Netherlands-based TNO makes “battery-powered sniper suits” embedded with 500 LEDs that match the luminosity and color of the surroundings using real-time data from a helmet camera.