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Heading into battle? Don your invisibility cloak

BAE Systems has unveiled new technology that can turn warcraft invisible and undetectable by infrared surveillance systems.

Defense supplier BAE Systems is outfitting tanks, warships, and helicopters with an "invisibility cloak" that can help them escape detection by infrared and other surveillance technology frequencies.

Known as Adaptiv, the invisibility cloak is made up of a durable layer of large, hexagonal "pixels" that can change temperature very quickly. Cameras mounted in the vehicle detect its surroundings and tell the pixels to match and blend into the background, even while they're in motion. When viewed in the infrared spectrum, the vehicles can't be detected.

The pixels can also be used to change a vehicle's shape. Rather than become invisible, the cloak can turn a tank into a Jeep, or a warship into a fishing boat--at least in the eyes of night surveillance systems. Technology trials in July demonstrated that one side of a CV90 tank could become invisible when viewed in the infrared spectrum, or appear to be a SUV.

Previous attempts at cloaking technology failed because the systems used too much power, weren't strong enough, or were cost-prohibitive. However, Adaptiv corrects all those shortcomings.

"Our panels can be made so strong that they provide useful armor protection and consume relatively low levels of electricity, especially when the vehicle is at rest in 'stealth recce' mode and generator output is low," Adaptiv project manager Peder Sjolund said in a press release.

Development of the cloaking technology has initially focused on avoiding detection in the infrared spectrum, Sjolund said, because that's the primary focus of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV), which is funding part of the research. But BAE Systems says that Adaptiv's pixels can be paired with other technologies to provide camouflage in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum at the same time. However, that level of stealth is a few years away.