Military ‘stealth cloaks’ could breach Geneva Convention – legal expert
14 Mar, 2016
Military invisibility technology could breach the laws of war if developed and put into use, according to former Royal Air Force (RAF) commodore and legal expert William Boothby.
In a report in the journal Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict, due to be published by Oxford University Press in March, Boothby examines the legal concerns associated with advancing stealth technology.
He says although normal camouflage measures are lawful, some new technologies may break the rules of warfare.
Boothby fears that technology which deceives the enemy in certain ways could be illegal if one party uses stealth abilities to appear as a non-combatant by making his weapon invisible and uses that appearance to gain a deadly advantage.
“A combatant whose weapon is rendered invisible by its coating is arguably not complying with the minimal requirements [of carrying a weapon openly],” Boothby claims.
Such a move could leave the disguised combatant liable according to what the Geneva Convention terms a “prohibition of perfidy.”
Similar technology could be used to disguise a tank as a civilian vehicle or even render it invisible to surveillance equipment, an ability UK arms firm BAE Systems is currently researching in Sweden.
Boothby explained that a vehicle could be fitted with technology which beats an infrared scan by the enemy by making itself appear to have the same temperature as the background scenery.
“An object can be made to disappear into the background for an observer using an infrared sensor,” Boothby said.
“It can also be used to mimic the infrared reading of a different vehicle, so a tank looks like a civilian car, for example.”
Nations including the US already use a range of stealth technologies on their aircraft. Special ‘metamaterials,’ which bend or alter light, have become multimillion-dollar research areas.
Awesome Science: Did China Just Turn All Fighter Jets Invisible?
A team of researchers from China is said to have created a material that could hide the world's best war machines from the all-seeing eyes of the most powerful anti-stealth microwave radars… and they have made the technology publicly available.
Similar materials have been available for some times but the one developed at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology is ten times thinner making it possible to use it to hide anything ranging from ships to planes. Some speculate that it could be even used to construct stealth fighter jets.
The team described the material as "an ultra-thin broadband AFSS absorber with a stretching transformation (ST) pattern for use in ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) applications" in a paper released by the Journal of Applied Physics.
It does sound like a mouthful but this is how it works: microwave radars broadcast signals and use arrays of antennas to detect them as they bounce off objects. This helps radars to see what is obscured by clouds, for instance. The new material is capable of absorbing some of these signals broadcast to make an object it covers appear smaller than it actually is.
The Huazhong University's material is made up of several layers and can be adjusted to absorb a range of frequencies.
"A metal slab sits on top of a layer of thin metal honeycomb, and under that is an 'active frequency selective surface material' made of a.04 mm layer of copper resistors and capacitors. Underneath all that is a circuit board with semi-conducting diodes and more capacitors," the Popular Mechanics magazine detailed.
The research paper is available in its entirety online.
In the age when stealth is considered to be one of key components needed to achieve military supremacy, any technological advances in this area will surely attract attention.
"As radar detection equipment continues to improve, our thin absorbers with broad bandwidth and working in the UHF band will be widely useful," the team wrote in the paper.