Friday, July 26, 2013

Thermal Camouflage & Update on the MVT Shield

I received the following comment on my recent post 'Field Sleeping Options - A Discussion':

"I own and use a FLIR device for hunting, I understand the idea behind blocking the hot spot from showing up on observation devices, but won't the use of a thermal blocking tarp create a square "hole" in the natural thermal background pattern? By natural thermal pattern I mean the differences in heat signatures that show up due to rates of heat uptake and release." Anonymous.

This is a good point and I will address it. 

With the MVT Shield (Original Post HERE), we are at the end of field trials with the concept and are working on sourcing bulk amounts of the right camo tarp material to begin a construction run. When we begin to produce these items, each one will come with an instruction sheet to explain the best tactical use of the MVT Shield. I will explain some of these points here, which will also answer the question above:

The MVT Shield is not a 'silver bullet'. It is designed primarily to provide static shelter from both the weather and from thermal surveillance. It is designed therefore as a practical 'all in one' tactical field shelter that will block the thermal signature of those sheltering beneath it. Initial use of the term 'thermal poncho' led some to confuse the meaning and think that it was to be worn on the body as a 'poncho', when in fact the term poncho comes from the military use of issued ponchos as rain tarps. Hence the more recent preferred use of the term 'tarp' and now 'MVT Shield', or thermal shield.

In extremis the MVT Shield can be pulled over you to provide immediate thermal shielding. It can also be used in the way an emergency blanket is used for survival. However, for longer term use, part of the concept of rigging it in a manner like a tactical rain shelter is to provide an air gap between the occupant(s) underneath it and the shield itself. This air gap enhances the thermal blocking properties in a way that a thermal blanket worn against the body does not - it will prevent any long term bleed of body heat that has the potential to form a non-specific thermal 'bloom' across the material of the shield. This 'bloom' was something noticed during testing before we hit on the right design for thermal blocking and ensured that the tarp is not held against the body for long periods of time.

In tests, the MVT Shield provides complete blocking of thermal emissions from occupants below it., This includes both blocking of any body shape and indeed blocking of any form of thermal 'bloom' or signature from those underneath. Thus, if rigged correctly to block the view of the observer, your thermal signature will not be seen.

You should still adopt good tactical procedures for avoiding surveillance whether that be thermal or non-thermal. This includes good use of terrain and vegetation masking (cover and concealment). Remember  the shield will only work in a static position when you are beneath it, and it will not work when patrolling or moving. So when moving ensure you use concealment techniques that in themselves will block observation of you by both thermal and non-thermal meansGiven the choice, you should set up the shield in a location that is concealed by additional masking means, such as in a defile and/or covered by a tree canopy. All of these techniques will enhance your concealment.

Now remember, from my previous POST(s) on this subject, I have addressed the idea of the 'thermal hole'. In fact, what is seen is not a thermal hole. The following is a detailed explanation on this:

When seeking to avoid detection by TI/FLIR, you are trying to fool the operator. This is discussed in previous posts. The temperature range of detection of thermal imaging devices is so fine that you will not hide even minute differences in temperature between yourself and the surroundings. However, as above, when under the shield you thermal signature is effectively blocked.

However, as per the question at the top of this post, you need to also consider fooling the operator from observation in the thermal spectrum. This is not as hard as it sounds and in fact the measures you use to enhance your concealment from optical surveillance will also work in the thermal spectrum. When an operator is looking through a FLIR device he will see a range of black and white colors representing relative heat values. He can either have black hot or white hot, or even have heat sources picked out and highlighted in red. Lets run with the 'red hot' version because that is the most threatening - the red highlights heat sources and body shapes to make them easier to define by the operator. Even a FLIR Scout handheld device offers this function.

(This is where we are actually fooling the machine, with the thermal blocking properties of the tarp, because with our thermal signature blocked, there is no heat source to allow the machine to define it in red. This will then allow us to fool the operator. Even if you make a mistake deploying the shield, and some part of you is visible, we hope to fool the operator because it will not look like a human shape, perhaps your foot sticking out or whatever, which will make no sense to an operator looking for the usual human forms).

A thermal tarp does not appear as a hole in the background. It simply has its own temperature and thus shape. Everything in the natural environment has this quality - this is why when you look through a FLIR you can still distinguish trees and other objects - everything has its own natural temperature. You can think about this in the same way that you can for a standard rain tarp - it may be camouflaged in color, but if it is rigged up in an obvious location you will see the unnatural rectangular shape.

Lets think about the reasons that things are seen:

Shape, Shine, Shadow, Surface, Silhouette, Spacing, Aircraft, Movement, Thermal.

You have to worry about all of these things in the visual spectrum when you are under observation. This is what we do with normal camouflage. Specifically in the thermal spectrum you have to worry about Shape and Thermal signatures. We have already taken care of your thermal signature by using terrain/vegetation masking and sleeping under a thermal shield. Terrain and Thermal masking will also take care of the Shape problem, but if your thermal shield is visible to the operator with nothing masking it there is a danger that it will be seen simply by shape.

There are a couple of elements to this: first there is the shape of the tarp itself, which if not camouflaged will be seen as a certain shade of white in the thermal imager. It does not stand out because it is more white, or because it looks like a hole, but it simply may stand out because it is identified as an unnatural rectangular shape in a certain shade of white against the background.

So what is the answer to this? You already know it, and often employ this technique to camouflage yourself in the visual field. It is the ghillie concept, which was part of the original concept of the 'thermal poncho' that I laid out in 'Patriot Dawn' and 'Contact!':

You need to consider breaking up the unnatural shape outline of the thermal tarp. You can do this by setting it up in natural cover and concealment, you can cover it with vegetation such as branches or tree litter, and you can also add camouflage to the shield itself. We will not sell the MVT Shield with any ghillie effect added, simply because to try and please everyone, in multiple environments, will please none. The Shield will come as a quality constructed tarp in camouflage colors. It will, in its basic form, block your thermal signature. However, if rigged in the open there is a danger of a FLIR operator spotting the shape of it. 

To counter this, you have the option of adding material to the topside of the Shield, perhaps gluing or otherwise attaching it or even just throwing a pre-rigged layer over the top: suggested materiel includes military style camouflage netting and burlap cut into ghillie style strips. You do not have to cover the whole of the shield in this materiel, just enough to break up the shape and in particular the outline of the edge of the rectangular shape. This action will have the effect of disguising and camouflaging the shape of the shield from both thermal and visual observation.

Another very relevant point about the location of your shield has to do with direct sunlight. Tied in directly with the idea of rigging it up in cover and concealment is direct sunlight. It is better to rig the shield up in shade if at all possible or at least dappled sunlight or partial shade. The reason for this is that objects in direct sunlight, both natural and man made, will heat up. This can exacerbate the differences in thermal signatures and thus further define shape differentials. This is shown in stark contrast when using the 'red highlight' function on a FLIR and turning up the contrast. Things in direct sunlight, such as the roof of a cabin, can get very hot and stand out. This may also happen to your thermal shield if it is out indirect sunlight. This can also be an advantage if you use partial shade or place the tarp in  complete shade, because the eye of the operator will be drawn to other objects, natural and man made, that have been heated up by the sun. 

No doubt this post will raise questions and comments and if you need clarification please ask me. It is worth stating at this point something that I have said before: surveillance is not all encompassing, it is not the all seeing 'Eye of Mordor'. Don't confuse psyop for reality, and also don't attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity or incompetence.

What you are trying to do by the use of terrain/vegetation masking and the use of equipment such as the MVT Shield, is to create good operating practices and stack the odds in your favor. Depending on the FLIR asset used, you may or may not know it is up there in order to take counter-measures. With a police style helicopter you will hear/see it. For a drone at 12,000-ish feet you probably won't know about it. But it will not be there the whole time, so by adopting good anti-thermal SOPs you are stacking the odds in your favor.

By these techniques we are trying to fool the operator so that we do not actually do anything that will draw the attention of the operator to our specific location, where there is chance that our thermal signature and/or shape, if not correctly concealed in both the visual and thermal spectrum, will allow the operator to see us following a detailed inspection of the area.

If on the other hand you end up in a worst case scenario where you get compromised/ambushed and end up on the run from 'enemies foreign and/or domestic', there is a danger that you will be tracked both on the ground and by aerial thermal assets. You cannot deploy the shield while moving, so you have to make best use of terrain and vegetation masking to conceal your exfil route. If a chopper or drone is put up, you want it to be hard for it to pinpoint your location and track you. If you can get away from the immediate area and you have not been tracked, then you have a chance to lay low. To lay low you have to be sure that you are no longer being tracked closely on the ground, for example by a tracker team or dogs, and you have to be in  a position where your thermal signature is not picked up in an aerial sweep.

You could hide in a culvert, under the overhanging bank of a creek or river, or similar, or you could get to suitable concealing terrain and deploy your thermal shield. Depending on the terrain and the situation you may be able to lay low until surveillance assets have passed by overhead and then begin moving again ahead of any tracking or sweep teams that are on the ground. Unpredictability and good use of ground will be your friend under those circumstances. If you can hide and then cut back through the sweep line then you have a good chance of getting away.

However, in all this do not forget an offensive mindset. If you stop for any reason your position should allow you to cover approaches to your hiding position and should in effect be a hasty ambush. Thus, any following sweep teams that stumble onto you will be met by an aggressive response that will allow you to break contact. If you hide, don't do so in a place where you cannot escape. Don't hide in an obvious place like a woods cabin.. Don't hide in a culvert where there is no escape. Like all concealment training, the less obvious places, so long as they provide sufficient concealment, are always the best. A simplified example: don't hide beneath the one tree in the middle of the field. Hide beneath the less obvious areas of long grass away from the tree instead.

If you end up in the worst case scenario, depending on the amount and skill of the assets that are throwing a  net over you, you may not be able to get out. In which case, fight. Hasty ambush. Circle back, hit them unexpectedly. Stay close to confuse any aerial surveillance assets and prevent the use of indirect fire or hellfire missiles. If you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Never underestimate the enemy, but at the same time don't become over-fearful and paralyzed by unrealistic and over-fearful expectations on the 'Eye of Mordor'. If it focuses right down on you, you have a problem. Otherwise, it is in the inconsistencies, imperfections, frictions and gaps that you will survive.

A final comment: there is talk of 30,000 drones over America, some of you will say. Complete coverage, "give up hope now" you will say. I say this to you: where will the drone pilots work from? Where will the trailers be set up? Regionally, at the Fusion Centers perhaps? I don't know the answer right now. But if tyranny comes in this form, don't fight the drones. The recent ordnance in that town of Deer-whatever is ineffective if at least symbolic. Drones (at least the Predator style ones) fly above the range of effective small arms fire (commonly considered around 2000 ft). Where are the drones flown and operated from? Who flies them and services them? Where do they live? What routes do they take to and from their shifts? Hmmmm. Food for thought.

Live Hard, Die Free.



  1. Re: fighting the drones vs. going after the soft underbelly (operators, infrastructure, etc.)

    This is the sine qua non of insurgent/partisan warfare. Put more simply; attack 'em where they ain't. Or, avoid strength, attack weakness. These are all very simple concepts but for some reason everyone gets so wrapped around the idea of the invincible Leviathan they forget that Americans are used to playing "away games" where only the military is at risk and industry, infrastructure, government and, yes, non-combatants are safe at home, an ocean away from the fighting and dying.

    Such is not the case in civil wars or insurgencies.

    As you point out, why bother shooting down a drone when you can shoot the operator instead?

    One caveat to this, however: if drones can be operated out of a trailer in Nevada to attack targets in Pakistan, it's not a stretch to think that drones attacking targets here at home might be operated from a USAF base overseas.

    1. True, but even if the 'pilots' are in Qatar, the drones themselves need to be maintained, launched and recovered locally, in the same way that with 'pilots' in Nevada drones are operated by ground crew in Afghanistan.

  2. That 30,000 number is laughable, considering that less than 400 Predators have ever been built! Also, I would imagine that adding 30,000 aircraft to the American skies would make an air-traffic controller's job all the more stressful and miserable.

    1. There you go: don't confuse the psyop with the true capability, and never assume it is the all seeing 'Eye of Mordor'!

      Gaps, friction, imperfections, operator error, poor quality of training and personnel, lack of motivation, lack of coverage, disruption of supply and maintenance, attrition on essential personnel....etc.

    2. I'm assuming that 30,000 figure would include private sector drones and small Raven-sized drones as well. The former probably can be mostly ignored (more interested in spying on celebrities and traffic reporting) and the latter have very short legs and even shorter endurance (approx. 10km and 1 hour).

  3. Thanks for answering my question in such detail. A little background about me I am a former marine Platoon Sgt. I got out in 1990 and at that time we had nothing like that at my level. The battalion STA Plt (Surveilance and Target Aquisition) may have had access to early types but not to my knowledge. Fast forwrd to Boston Martial Law Trial Run 2013 and the guy in the boat. The images of the guy were frightenly clear despite him laying down and apparently not in contact with the cover over the boat. Not only was his body visible in stark clarity but heat soak from body movement was as well. I am wondering and believe me I am not trying to down your idea/product, is the return (masking) 1. worth the effort based on the Boston photos (Team Fed has phenominal gear) and 2. how many people have the disipline to use the gear properly. It would seem that space and weight constraints would question its viability for most. I like the idea and believe that for a hide that is semi permanent combined with your additional cammo, outline breakup, and placement tips it has usefulness. But for a dily set up tear down function it just too much, both in time and effort.

    1. Each to his own. However, I will come back with the following remarks:

      1) Using a rain tarp such as this is a standard infantry function and should be put up in your patrol base as a matter of course. It should be equipped with pre-tied bungee cords and/or paracord at the various provided tie points that allow for very rapid put up/take down.

      2) The MVT Shield will only be slightly more weighty/bulky than a standard tactical rain tarp. Thus you are getting the benefits of an easy to use and effective lightweight tactical shelter/visual concealment product that will also effectively mask your thermal signature.

      3) There is no significant weight/space constraint, other than that you are carrying a very useful piece of shelter and concealment gear with you. This will fold/roll up and go somewhere easily like under the lid or strapped to the outside of a patrol pack. You could put it in a butt pack on your battle belt if you wanted.

      4) It is exactly the footage of the Boston bomber hiding in the boat that shows the need for a product such as this that will mask thermal signature. He was under one of those thin boat covers that, like a tent or standard tarp, offer no thermal masking. It showed the 'thermal bloom' of his body heat of him laying underneath, just as I describe from my testing.

      5) As for the discipline of the user, I have no answer to that, just as I have no answer to any other aspect of battle discipline that people out there may exhibit. I can only offer a tested product and hope it is used effectively along with all the other aspects that I am attempting to train people in.

      Here is a link to a FLIR image of the bomber in the boat:

      You will see that he is actually pretty clearly visible through the boat tarp and there is no significant 'spreading' of body heat - the body heat does not 'drift' or move from where you are. There is a small amount of 'thermal bloom' across the tarp above him, which is cut out with the MVT Shield. If he had been under a thermal shield he would not have been visible. Even if he had been under the boat itself, he would not have been visible unless from a different (lower) angle.

      Oh yes, and a point about the 'Eye of Mordor": they only found him because the owner looked under that tarp - it was not due to the FLIR initially spotting him. The FLIR only confirmed his position under there.

    2. Sargent, FLIR has some weakness to exploit; The FOV for the camera is very narrow, the remote operator must have an idea of where you are in order to "see" you. FLIR cannot "see" through dense green foliage, FLIR cannot "see" men in foxholes with overhead cover, even IF the operator knows the location of your MLR. "If it stops frags it defeats FLIR". FLIR cannot "see" in FOG. Rain, heavy snow and dust storms all degrade FLIR image. As Max stated the drone MUST be serviced locally in order to maintain loiter time. Small MANPAD drones have very short range. If you see one in your AO the team using it is nearby. HI TEC. is vastly over rated. MOST of the "information" about military HI TEC. is PSYOP. If it was half as good as the propaganda we would have won, and left, the 'Stan 10 years ago (The DEA would also know where all the pot farms were in Kentucky--They don't)

  4. yes the eye of mordor how true

  5. The show "Battleground Afghanistan" they had two drones over a fighter during midday and they lost him, and he had a few trees and irrigation ditches. The capability with them must be decent because they fuzzed the view of the Toughbook screens on the show. Omnipotent Mordor is primarily the labors of the VFW drinkers, give em last call then ignore them

  6. RE: Where are the drone operators ? Right now (I'm certain there are other locations) but the drone pilots are flying many missions out of Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    1. Also McChord in WA state

  7. Looking forward to the MVT-shield. Keep us posted Max.

    Thanks for all your hard-work, and time, on the blog.

    v/r -Mervo

  8. If you want to stop the drone operators, just interrupt their supply of Mountain Dew and Cheetos. ; D

  9. All - I am so thrilled there are citizens thinking about this stuff.

    But a small note re- the Boston bomber. He was found by the boat owner, not the Feds. The guy stepped out to check on his boat and located the guy then called it in.