The U.S. Army is testing MCS (Mobile Camouflage System) that uses a new type of camouflage material for vehicles that provides an unprecedented degree of concealment and stealth. That’s because this new multi-spectral camouflage netting is fitted to a particular type of vehicle like a second skin and providing protection while moving, even in combat. The army has obtained (at manufacturer expense) several sets of this netting fitted for Stryker wheeled armored vehicles and is conducting field tests in Europe using four Strykers. If the U.S. military places a large enough order manufacturer Saab will set up an MCS manufacturing facility in the United States.
This new generation of camouflage material has been evolving for several decades as a way to protect vehicles and mobile bases from aerial reconnaissance that increasingly used infrared (heat) sensors. The latest generation of this material appeared about a decade ago and the U.S. bought a lot of it after 2006 when it seemed there would be a return to peer-versus-peer warfare against any enemy possessing air or satellite reconnaissance capabilities. The new netting provides a degree of concealment from infrared, thermal and radar sensors. Some of the new material was used in vehicle soft tops and it was found that this provided a degree of protection.
A Swedish firm (Saab) took this a step further and developed MCS, which proved capable of providing a degree of stealth as well as rendering aerial or ground based sensors (and infrared based weapon sights) less effective. That can be a major advantage in combat where getting off the first accurate shot can be decisive. MCS can be provided in various camouflage patterns and colors so vehicles can quickly “change their skin” to cope with a new climate or season.
After 2006 where were fears that the basic stealth netting, because it was relatively cheap, might become popular with Islamic terrorists and drug gangs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The result would be enemy positions that were more difficult to spot via airborne or satellite sensors. Enemy irregulars have been known to get a hold of high tech gear, like night vision sights or encrypted radios, and use them to their advantage. Of course, terrorists with commercial infrared sensors would find their gear less effective if they scanned the hills one night, and missed the Special Forces team out there, hiding beneath their new multi-spectral camouflage net. This did not become a major problem. But the effectiveness of the new netting is real.
Camouflage is an ancient technique but technology caught up with camouflage in the 20th century. First came aircraft, which were initially used primarily for scouting. Camouflage that hid you from someone on the ground was usually ineffective when enemy aircraft flew over, unless they employed something to hide under. Now camouflage became a life saving measure for troops normally out of sight of the enemy. Through the middle of the 20th century, troops developed efficient techniques to hide themselves from aerial observation. The most ancient camouflage techniques are still very effective. These involve covering the troops, or their positions, with foliage most of the year, or white cloth when there's snow. The use of winter camouflage is a recent development, because winter warfare did not become common until this century. Whatever the season, the principal function of camouflage is to make your troops invisible to the enemy. This invisibility is sometimes achieved, but usually the invisibility is not complete and result is that the enemy is never sure exactly what you have and precisely where it is. The use of infrared (heat) sensors has made it possible to quickly tell what is live vegetation, and what has been cut down for camouflage. Infrared can also see through foliage and detect the warm bodies of troops, and the heat from engines and recently fired weapons. Other sensors can detect large masses of metal (tanks and trucks). By the late 20th century camouflage was still very effective against troops who did not have the latest sensors. Even against high tech armies, camouflage will hide you a lot of the time if y0u can keep up with the detection technology. Any degree of concealment is still be an advantage. In electronic warfare, camouflage is anything that makes information look like something other than what it is. That’s why by the end of the 20th century camouflage paint and nets were modified to be less visible to radar. Now MCS and the netting it uses have degraded many of the recent advances in sensors.