Camouflage gel developed for tanks and soldiers

A camouflage system that allows tanks to disappear into their surroundings can also prevent vehicles being detected by infrared scanners, its developer revealed this week.

The adaptive camouflage gel, which can change colour according to its environment, could also eventually be used to camouflage soldiers.

The system is being developed by biomimetics researchers at Bath University, as part of a MoD and EPSRC-funded project, due for completion in October 2003. Based on the actions of the cuttlefish, which evades its predators by ‘disappearing’ into the background, the system can control colour in both natural light and in the infrared and ultraviolet range, meaning tanks would be able to move around undetected by overhead surveillance aircraft.

The cuttlefish uses muscles to instantly deploy layers of black, brown, red or yellow pigment cells when it needs to change colour, and beneath this is a layer of light-diffracting and light-scattering cells that reflect ambient light back from the creature’s immediate background.

The camouflage gel mimics this action, said its developer Alex Parfitt, a postgraduate biologist at the university’s department of mechanical engineering. Military vehicles can be left in position for up to 12 months, and seasonal changes mean camouflage netting used to cover them in summer is not effective by winter, but the space on tanks is too limited to carry replacement equipment.

As the gel is based on nature it is reliable and does not waste energy, said Parfitt. ‘It is a very low-energy system, and because of that it could also be used on soldiers – although we are not quite there yet,’ he said.

‘The camouflage of tanks to make them invisible to overhead surveillance by aircraft and from space would be extremely important,’ said Phillip Mitchell, army analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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