Look Ma! No More Tank!

So what do you get when you cross military hardware with Hollywood style illusion affects? Apparently you get the latest toy the British military has in testing. No, it doesn't use cloaking devices or bend light or shift into an alternate dimension like the cool stuff in a sci-fi show. It uses some simple video techniques to project a shot of the landscape behind the tank onto the opposite side, thus obscuring it from view.

Imagine being able to deploy weapons like this into the battlefield and roll right up on that forest hideout of the dictator you've been sent to depose. A couple of these babies and nobody would ever know what hit them. The fact that we've been allowed to find this out suggests that such weapons are probably already out there somewhere, unseen. Though they're telling us that deployment isn't expected until at least 2012.
.........................
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

       
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Posted on Oct 31, 2007 8:02 pm by Samson in: | 130 comment(s) [Closed]
Comments
I'm not sure whether I should be more impressed or more scared by this disclosure.. It's a pretty amazing concept, but what could it mean for modern warfare methods? Is this going to have as great an impact as the first guerilla tactics were?

       
I guess it depends on how this technology is developed and perfected. It's certainly a huge asset on the battlefield, but it's such a huge advantage that our enemies will be wanting it too and if it falls into their hands, then things could turn ugly fast.

The thing I find interesting is that the announcement came from British news sources. Which can be taken one of two ways: Either we don't have it, or we've done a better job keeping it quiet. I'd really like to think we've just been better at keeping it quiet.

       
It's fairly unfortunate that a tank won't fit under my Christmas tree, because I want one.

I imagine that if the US doesn't already have stuff like this, we'll get it sooner or later in trade. But.

I should also think that, in the near term at least, this sort of thing will be Yet Another Force Multiplier in favor of the Good Guys, as the folks we fight generally don't have in sufficient numbers the sorts of things likely to foil the system. The exceptions being Russia, China, and maybe India, which if we're fighting them, we've got enough issues already.

Think specifically that noise and heat aren't likely to be stealthed by the system, one of which is easier to pick up on than the other. Too, it's likely to be expensive and non-trivial to maintain, which is another mark against 3rd world countries who still think the T-55 is state of the art.

That aside, what bothers ME is the human-wearable version of this that IIRC the Japanese were working on among probably others. Strikes me as a lot easier to get ahold of, and even one of them could cause some damage to the infantryman, who isn't equipped nearly as well to deal with it.

OTOH, the ridiculous sorts of things our side could be doing with such a system.

       
While interesting, until it works like mimetic polycarbon, it's not going to be practical to use in combat situations. What are you going to do, have some squad sneak in and setup projectors in enemy territory before you roll the tanks in? I can see this being used to hide stuff that's not being used in combat, but past that, just no.

       
Not to mention that the main kind of war we're fighting today is urban combat, where infantry are much more important than tanks. If we ever start the kind of large war where tanks are a main element of combat, we can start ticking off the days we have left... :-/

(Note that in the current war, tanks were only used in the very beginning, the "taking" of Baghdad. That's when we "declared victory", and when the real war started.)

       
Has it occurred to any of you that if they can come up with something like what's being discussed here: Australian Army Invests in Electrical Shirts, then adding the extra projection equipment isn't such a far leap beyond that.. frankly, if they can do this sort of projections for a tank, why wouldn't they just as easily also be able to do the same for a troop/squad of men who are staying in formation behind the screening projection until they're in position to strike?

       
What makes you think they don't already have stealth projection suits for foot soldiers? If we're hearing about this kind of stuff from the British and Australians it's likely we already have it as well.

And not to get into an argument about the Iraq war, but technically with the fall of Baghdad the Iraq war that began in 1991 finally came to an end. What we're dealing with now is an insurgency. Tanks and foot soldier equipment like this could be a huge help in putting that down for good.

       
Exactly my position. If we're hearing about this sort of technology from the Brits and the Aussies, why wouldn't we already have the same available to us too, or if not, certainly in the very near future... but either way, aside from the more obvious warfare implications, can you imagine what this sort of technology could do to our: Criminal element? Political assassins? Espionage? and so forth? :shudder:

I still say the real solution to Iraq is a few megatons of nuclear pest control... :P

       
How exactly would you go about projecting video onto infantry moving through buildings...?

Frankly I think it would be worth a lot more to pursue new materials technologies, e.g. nanotube bullet-proof vests, or healing-accelerating liquids. (Seriously. Look up some of the stuff they're doing with nanotech.) A visual cloaking device that relies on a projector isn't going to help an awful lot in urban combat. But saving the lives of your soldiers, and increasing their resistance to damage in general, is worth a huge amount, not only for the obvious human benefit of keeping your troops alive but also the tactical advantage of having soldiers that can take more bullets with fewer injuries.

       
       
Well, I'd imagine that you'd project what's on the other side of those bodies while moving through buildings the same way you would while moving outdoors, you simply use a real time camera system to capture what's on one side of them while projecting it onto the other side. What about that is so hard to imagine? (At least, given that I've had nothing to do with the development of the above cited projects, that's how it'd work.)

I'm sure that some of those technologies would be better research goals, but that doesn't change that the technology that exists now does exist now and will be improved upon as steadily as possible for military application nor that it will likely "leak" into non-official uses eventually either.

I disagree, and I believe the pentagon would too, having soldiers who are more resistant to damage and heal faster from it is very nice, but soldiers who can strike with surgical precision without taking almost any damage at all (because no one knew they were even there until it was far too late to counter strike) is far more valuable to the military.

       
Where do you put the camera? Where do you put the projector? Do you have dudes following your soldiers with camera and projection equipment? (Uhh, don't mind us, we're, err, with the press... yeah...) And moving outdoors isn't exactly easy, either -- what do you do if there's a tree between your projection and the surface you are projecting onto?

Conner said:

but soldiers who can strike with surgical precision without taking almost any damage at all (because no one knew they were even there until it was far too late to counter strike) is far more valuable to the military.

You're talking about invisibility cloaks and sound dampeners for infantry here. That's not what the technology described is. Sure, if you could make soldiers completely undetectable, that'd be great, but that's just not what is being described here. What I meant is that as far as immediate goals are concerned, the stuff I described is very close to being ready, whereas the tech described here (this projection business) is still far away and a pipe dream.

       
I have always held the opinion that when we hear about technology like this that the military or whoever is several steps ahead of it in development, and sometimes even in deployment. So while it may seem a bit silly for a tank to be outfitted with projection equipment, suppose they already have something like this in the field that works and nobody knows about it because they haven't actually seen one?

With foot soldiers it's going to be more difficult to pull off but they have some pretty small projectors these days so it isn't entirely out of the question for them to be equipped with something mobile on their helmets.

       
There's no way to make a 360 degree cloaking material. The best we could do is a mimetic fabric that changes colors like a chameleon's skin.

Taking an image from one side of any particular unit and putting it onto the other side isn't the problem here. It's the off-axis view.

Perhaps someday light bending will be possible at the nanoscale level or some crap that could enable a magical visual cloaking device to work well enough for deployment, but it's not happening today.

       
Samson said:

I have always held the opinion that when we hear about technology like this that the military or whoever is several steps ahead of it in development, and sometimes even in deployment. So while it may seem a bit silly for a tank to be outfitted with projection equipment, suppose they already have something like this in the field that works and nobody knows about it because they haven't actually seen one?

Oh, I'm sure that there's a shift between what gets reported and what's actually going on. But what I'm disputing is the physical feasibility of putting a projection device on the tank itself.

Think about what that's saying:
You need a *projector* to put the images onto the tank's surface.
Where do you put the projector? Do you dangle it off to the tank's side? OK, sure, but now how do you hide the projector? You need to put the projector far enough away that you have sufficient angle for projecting onto the whole tank -- that's quite a distance, more than a foot or two in any case.

If this technology were somehow linked to the material itself, like the material was a screen that displayed something, or did light bending or whatever, this wouldn't be a problem.

But an actual camera/projector system *requires* an external setup, by definition. (Otherwise it wouldn't be called a camera/projector system.) And, actually, the camera isn't really the problem (on a tank), it's the projector...

And yes, the off-axis view is a problem, but nonetheless if you had "bad" camouflage that didn't handle it right, it'd still be better than nothing. You'd see weird things moving, but you wouldn't necessarily see the actual tank. (This is assuming the projection problem went away.)

       
Hey could you post a link to where you saw this? I want to read the article.

       
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=490669&in_page_id=1811

I don't know if the article there is going to be much better at explaining it. But that's where I got it.

       
David, have you never seen a big screen television before? The projector can be behind the image being projected these days, we've had that technology for years commercially, it doesn't have to be "external" at all, nor does it require a "screen". As Samson said, maybe they just give each soldier several "cameras" and "projectors" (aligned in opposition to one another) to cover different angles, as I said earlier, I've had no part in the development of this so I don't know any more about how it works than you do, I can only guess based on what I do know of technology and what I can imagine based on what we've been told. Again, as Samson said, I tend to believe that the military wouldn't tell us about stuff like this unless they were already working on something even more technical or had finished deploying this long ago enough that they feel it's already been thoroughly tested, afterall, the military knows full well that our enemies do read our news media too.

       
What do you mean, it doesn't require a screen? What exactly do you think the thing is projecting onto? And even so, you need a pretty big backlight. Either way, you see how big those things are, right? How do you plan on installing backlights and projectors on infantry?

Think about the optics of putting projectors on infantry. That is why the projector would have to be external on a soldier, simply because you have nowhere to put the projector on the person. What are you going to do, wrap them in a projection screen and install the many tens of projectors it would take to cover the screen? Again, just consider the optics. Projectors can't bend the light they're projecting to fit a person's body...

       
I mean the tank (or soldier) can be the screen, just like when Hollywood dresses someone in all blue to stand before a blue screen so they'll appear invisible later in the film. As for installing backlights and projectors on infantry, I'll say it a third time, David, I had nothing to do with designing this system that we're talking about, and frankly, even you should realize that, if I had, I wouldn't be at liberty to discuss the details of it anyway. We're engaging in speculation. Obviously they fond a way to do it for a tank, what could possibly prevent them from even using the same system they've come up with for the tank to conceal a moving area that the infantry simply stay shielded behind by remaining in formation and being quiet?

Why would they need to bend the light? As you, yourself, said, even "if you had "bad" camouflage that didn't handle it right, it'd still be better than nothing." For that matter, as I just tried to explain, the projection system wouldn't really have to be on the soldiers themselves, it could just conceal the area that the soldiers are standing/walking in.

       
Dressing somebody in blue isn't going to help you project onto them. If you're talking about rear-projection onto a surface, that surface has to be on the soldier, and your projector has to be between the soldier's body and that surface.

Conner said:

even you should realize

... why "even me" ...?

Of course this is just speculation, but I am positing that this is a basic question of physics... not necessarily related to this particular technology. Unless you are going to argue that they have found a way to break the physical laws of optics and projection, it's fair to discuss those physical laws. And remember, they were talking about tanks, not infantry. You can do a lot more on a vehicle in terms of mounting surfaces and image displays than on a human body.

Conner said:

what could possibly prevent them from even using the same system they've come up with for the tank to conceal a moving area

Oh, I don't know, having to mount a projection screen and system? :-)

"Hey guys, don't mind us, we're just Hollywood people going to film a movie here... yeah... this screen is for a movie... oh, this is a warzone? Umm, err, well, yeah, that's cool... umm, it's a documentary about the war?"

And how exactly is this projection setup going to follow the soldiers as they navigate a complex, dense urban environment?

Conner said:

Why would they need to bend the light?

Because you need to project onto the surface, not just parts of it. A surface wrapped around somebody's body isn't exactly projector-friendly.

And sure, even just hiding their back and front torso (areas with relatively little bend) would be a good start. But, you still have the "minor" problem of needing to mount a projection system onto the soldier! (Big screen TVs aren't exactly small or light...)

       
It's not about dressing the soldiers in blue, that was an example from television/movies that I happen to be able to easily relate to because i've done television producion before.
No, the surface can be a screen on wheels next to the group of soldiers... or frankly, even some sort of hoographic projection, who knows what technology exists that we aren't allowed to be told about yet.

"Even you" is primarily an expression, but in this case, it also applies to the fact that you grew up in another country and thus had a bit of a different education than I did, but generally our government is pretty protective about subjects they consider classified.

I disagree, I don't think we're trying to redefine nor break laws of physics at all, I think we're talking about something that's obviously possible since they've announced that they've already done it. We're just discussing miniaturization (if that's even needed in this case) to deal with the smaller scale of troops rather than tanks.

David, the whole idea behind the screen is so that no one can see, from the other side, what's behind it because they're only seeing what's being displayed to them, so there'd be no reason for a holywood team to play Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

If theres enough room for the troops and their gear to move through their course, why would a "complex, dense urban environment" photograph any differently than any other environment?

Not if the surface isn't actually attached to the body.. as I've explained above. But even if it were attached to the body, what's wrong with using some sort of mimetic polycarbon like Whir said?

Frankly, I'm not even sure that you'd need to hide their front/back torsos, why would you need to hide even more than just the one facing that the enemy has line of sight of.

No, big screen TVs aren't light nor small, but again, it was only an example to demonstrate that the projection system doesn't need to be externalized because we already use systems commonly that don't require external projection to cast images on a surface. Frankly, LCD monitors and TVs also accomplish something similiar and are capable of being made fairly small and light. Why are you so determined to "prove" that what the media says already exists can't exist? I guess I just don't understand your position here.

       
Conner said:

David, the whole idea behind the screen is so that no one can see, from the other side, what's behind it because they're only seeing what's being displayed to them, so there'd be no reason for a holywood team to play Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

That comment was in reference to the people setting up the screen, not what people are doing behind it. If you need to deploy your troops, you have to get the screen there somehow. How are you going to keep that screen discrete and hidden from all sides? What if somebody sees the other side of the screen?

Conner said:

If theres enough room for the troops and their gear to move through their course, why would a "complex, dense urban environment" photograph any differently than any other environment?

Troops and gear? A bunch of soldiers walking through buildings (i.e., dense urban environment) won't have room for a whole projection screen. It's not a question of whether or not the environment is more or less suited to being filmed. But since you bring it up, distortions due to off-axis views of the screen will be much more pronounced in a complicated urban scene than in e.g. a desert scene where the scenery is mostly sand anyhow.

Conner said:

But even if it were attached to the body, what's wrong with using some sort of mimetic polycarbon like Whir said?

Because that isn't the technology that this article is talking about. I am not criticizing the idea of hiding troops, but rather the applicability of this particular projection technology to hiding a group of soldiers on foot.

Conner said:

Frankly, I'm not even sure that you'd need to hide their front/back torsos, why would you need to hide even more than just the one facing that the enemy has line of sight of.

Because we don't fight line-vs-line. The enemy isn't necessarily in front of you in urban combat, e.g. when you are going through buildings and the like. The enemy could be on a rooftop of a building you just walked past.

Conner said:

Why are you so determined to "prove" that what the media says already exists can't exist?

Hey now -- the article was talking about a TANK, not infantry equipped with portable cloaking devices! It didn't say anything at all about hiding soldiers; you were the one who said that it could be applied to infantry too. I am arguing against the usefulness of a projector system for infantry.

       
The technology being discussed in the article seems like it's in preliminary stages of development - at least as far as we've been told by the British press. Even supposing they weren't allowed to know about this yet, if the military was confident enough to test it out in the open where the press might find out that suggests the actual technology is much farther along.

As far as hiding foot soldiers, with the information we have now it would seem unlikely to be possible unless they were walking in formation near the tank and using it for camouflage, as has been done in war ever since we've had tanks. This would just make it far more effective. And again, considering how military tech development works, they may already have something soldier-sized capable of camouflaging them directly.

The problem isn't the feasibility of the projection technology itself. It's the feasibility of taking that and turning it into a cloaking device. Even in science fiction ( good sci fi anyway ) it's generally accepted that such a device capable of bending light and concealing things would require far more energy than a soldier on foot could carry. Stuff like that would likely be restricted to ships at sea, larger planes, and maybe even troop transport vehicles on the ground. But that alone would be a huge advantage for whoever had it. Don't think we've got the ability? Philadelphia Experiment anyone? Not the movie either - the project the movie was based on. Where they were experimenting with methods for making a ship radar invisible and supposedly caused it to disappear visually as well.

       
Samson said:

The problem isn't the feasibility of the projection technology itself. It's the feasibility of taking that and turning it into a cloaking device.

Not sure I understand the distinction here. Are you saying that the problem isn't the existence of the tech in general, but instead, the ability to shrink it to the point where it can be carried by people?

Samson said:

And again, considering how military tech development works, they may already have something soldier-sized capable of camouflaging them directly.

Not all military development is Area-51-style uber-top-secret. When they do research with universities, such as Stanford or MIT, the project is well known to exist. The nano tech stuff I talked about, technology still in development mind you, is being done by research labs. Now, the details and implementation might indeed be more or less secret, but the fact that they're working on something isn't. I can walk down the hall, or go to seminars, and find out about some of the most advanced research going on in some of these areas.

       
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