Disappearing Act

U.S. military's quest for “invisible” troops and weapons drawing closer

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Over the past generation, the U.S. military has spent billions trying to enable its airplanes to elude enemy radars using so-called “stealth” technologies. Scientists are increasingly pushing the envelope with even more sophisticated techniques that could render such weapons—and perhaps even troops themselves—ever closer to invisible.

Harry Potter fans need to chill—these technologies won’t make someone standing in front of you disappear. At least not yet. Rather, they’re designed to foil an expanding roster of electro-magnetic detectors designed to betray one’s presence via radio waves. An expanding family of radars, in other words, and its relatives.

All this leads to mumbo-jumbo and complex mathematical equations that only a relatively few physicists can understand, but the bottom line is easy to see: there may be a way in the future to cloak military forces, as well as other objects, for purposes ranging from secret surveillance, to sneak attacks, to improved wireless connectivity. A trio of new articles in journals of the American Physical Society details the evolving research.

“We believe that the development of the concepts and ideas proposed in this paper may open new and exciting research lines in the field of cloaking and invisibility,” Pai-Yen Chen, Christos Argyropoulos and Andrea Alù write in a paper partly funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation. They involve an “active” cloak, thinner than older “passive” cloaks, that uses amplifiers to paint the surface of the object to be hidden with electricity. The technology is designed to shield the cloaked object from detection across a far broader slice of the radio spectrum.

“Our work shows a practical venue to make objects transparent to radio waves, which may be of interest to camouflage from radars for defense applications,” Alù says of his paper, Broadening the Bandwidth of Metamaterial Cloaks with Non-Foster Metasurfaces. “Also, civil applications may benefit from our findings. We could make structural components or antennas disappear to neighboring antennas in a complex wireless communication system, improving the links and efficiency.” A companion paper, Do Cloaked Objects Really Scatter Less? by Alù and Francesco Monticone, highlights the downside of passive cloaks, which trade invisibility in one part of the electromagnetic spectrum for increased detectability in others.

Michael Selvanayagam and George V. Eleftheriades of the University of Toronto write, in a third paper partly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, that their research shows how an actively-cloaked item can generate “a camouflaging-type behavior” as well as making it “disguised as another object.”

Instead of using the traditional cloaking shell to guide radio waves around the object to be hidden, Selvanayagam and Eleftheriades envelope a cloaked object “with tiny antennas that radiate a field that cancels out all the reflections—more precisely, scattering—by the object,” Eleftheriades says of their paper, Experimental Demonstration of Active Electromagnetic Cloaking. He adds that the process he and Selvanayagam are promoting can do more than merely hide: “If instead of radiating a field to cancel the scattered field, we radiate something else, we can make the object to look as if it has a different shape, size, material composition and even location, to some extent.”

Eleftheriades says true invisibility—the way normal people understand it—may be within reach. “What is needed to make our approach work for visible light, is to surround the object with optical antennas and control what they radiate—color, amplitude and delay—precisely,” he says. Such antennas “are an active area of research globally,” Eleftheriades adds, but “how to control them though is not there yet.”

Well, what did you expect him to say? A search of Pentagon contracting documents apparently dates the most recent invisibility work back to 2010, with a 2012 modification. It’s an Air Force program seeking “Tactical Capabilities for Battlefield Airmen and Security Forces.” One of those capabilities is called “Clandestine Mobility”:

The focus should be on detection avoidance and solutions that reduce signatures to cloak Special Operations Forces’ presence in the area of operations. These technologies must be rugged, lightweight, compact, waterproof, and operable in all light and weather conditions and must be comparable or better in performance (speed, capacity, armor, weapon integration, etc.) than current capabilities.

Funny that there doesn’t appear to be any follow-on work. Perhaps such efforts have been moved into the Defense Department’s so-called “black” budget, where billions of dollars are spent—invisibly—every year. After all, the Pentagon spent years cloaking its stealthy F-117 and B-2 warplanes behind multiple veils of secrecy. It’s a safe bet that as certain elements inside the U.S. military reach the vanishing point, you’ll never see them coming.


=It’s a safe bet that as certain elements inside the U.S. military reach the vanishing point, you’ll never see them coming.=



Gee, I'm sure the Pentagon must be "so happy" that the Tea Party-led GOP has decided to "take the super-PAC money and keep vacationing" instead of RAISING REVENUE as Article I, Section 8 expressly requires. Taken to its illogical conclusion, the "paid for" narrative dispensed by the GOP may be aptly summarized as follows: even though we claim to be concerned with the deficit, we are simply "unable" or "unwilling" to COLLECT Federal Income tax from the most profitable US Corporations to SUBSIDIZE the Common Defense and People's General Welfare. Moreover, despite the CBO's findings that the ACA will SAVE the TREASURY TRILLIONS over the next 100+ years…we are going to thwart its implementation because "our base says so" or "we don't like President Obama."

What nonsense. 

If there is a SINGLE, HONORABLE member left of the GOP…perhaps the time has come to serve the People with HONOR and INTEGRITY and RAISE REVENUE for the Common Defense and People's General Welfare... and instead of this shopworn, incorrigible inability to even address the COST/BENEFIT of State Action for the People, e.g., say, juxtaposing the incidental "costs" or "inconvenience" of the few hundreds or thousands of people that allegedly "desperately" want to keep their NON-CONFORMING, CONSUMER PROTECTION-LESS pre-ACA policies against the TRILLIONS the US Treasury will save over the next 150 years.

“There are times when even justice brings harm with it.” - Sophocles

How can ANYONE even whisper "abolishing" the ACA without approximating the fiscal cost of “repealing” or "defunding" Obamacare- that is, approximate the ACTUAL, out-of-pocket cost including, but not limited to (1) the rising, unsustainable costs of Health Care under the prior format to be reinstated [i.e., with ZERO guarantees whatsoever they won’t be HIGHER]; (2) the direct and indirect costs to date of passing Obamacare and implementation [i.e., what, do you think the People don’t absorb the ACTUAL costs to date if the GOP gets to “repeal” or “undo” Obamacare?] and (3) then add, of course, the direct and indirect costs of "changing back to the old laws."

So….can somebody in the Several States (and/or that is "good with a calculator" at the CBO)…run these projected numbers for the People immediately? That way, the "paid for" 'expert witnesses' with a financial bias on TV to subvert the best interests of the People in inflammatory fashion (e.g., Palin) would have to reconcile the self-evident, fiscal imprudence of "dropping Obamacare" due to basic PROHIBITIVE COST and focus on the immediate INJURY of the GOP Congress' unlawful rendition of "jury nullification"…dispassionately.

Here, Congress’ LEGAL OBLIGATION to RAISE TAXES precludes any "self-perceived discretion"…not simply to even effectuate your LOBBYIST-driven, pre-meditated "shut down" of the government costing the US TAXPAYERS $180 BILLION in LOSSES

It's the shameless nature of Congress’ abrogation of the very FUNCTIONS of your office for which the PEOPLE tender you a salary that renders your Christian Faith as illusory as your greed-driven lies nailed to plastic crosses.

Worse of all, both the unnecessary "sequester cuts" contravene that express language of Article I, Section 8. And here again, like the myriad ACA "news" articles purporting to (evil robot voice) "invalidate, invalidate,  invalidate"…property rights that the rule of law has deemed to be PROTECTED by the Constitution you claim 9/11 allows the GOP to cast aside. Well, here is the Supreme Court's ruling on the Bush Administration's NSA program and- like every other Despotic "justification" proffered by the GOP to stab Lady Liberty- the actual, dispassionate evidence…proves you lied.

"Opportunity makes a thief." - Francis Bacon

Incredibly, the "paid for" Media conspicuously omits ANY reference that the entire GOP members of Congress and, sadly, many GOP elated officials in the Several States are hell-bent on thwarting the implementation of the ACA, as if, in there end, such refusal to Faithfully Execute the Supreme Law of the Land does not, under the totality of the circumstances, exacerbate the purported "problems" cited as a pretext to (what else) "abolish" what has yet to even be put into its streamlined functioning. But can we ALL just agree that it can't be "both."

Sorry, one cannot credibly “cite the low enrollment numbers” without dispassionately holding this smear campaign face to face, much less cite the alleged “rise in Health Care costs” without also calculating the "troubling" number of the ACTUAL, OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS to United States TAXPAYERS- not just to date, but ongoing- that have proximately resulted from GOP officials refusing to FAITHFULLY EXECUTE THE LAW OF THE LAND. What, the "stay on permanent vacation" GOP Congress is going to predictably pretend it is "too rushed" to fulfill its EXPRESS OBLIGATION to perform its PLENARY POWER to TAX and SPEND "in time for the next fabricated fiscal crisis"? The People's DUE PROCESS RIGHTS to a STRONG and SOLVENT Military/Police/Fire/EMT/FBI cannot be so easily thwarted by Foreign money strangling the GOP.

Notably, simply consider what the following would do for the Federal government (and therefore the Several States): (1) close all Corporate loopholes; (2) retroactively "capture" losses from said Corporate loopholes for those with excess of $1mm profits annually [while offering future tax deductions/subsidies in the future to offset losses]; (3) allow Corporations to "repatriate" the TRILLIONS in offshore profits with flat tax [e.g., 15%]; and (4) materially reduce unnecessary agencies [e.g., Homeland Security] that can be replicated by simply passing surplus funds to Several States [e.g., directly to State, County and Municipal Police/Fire/EMT] and "reorganize" or "absorb" Homeland Security into Pentagon or the DOD. Moreover, enter into CREATIVE FINANCING VEHICLES with the UK, EU and Russia. Again, BUT FOR actual, provable BRIBERY purporting to "limit" or "prevent" the Congress from RAISING REVENUE…what, pray tell, is the "counter argument" to such basic fiscal prudence?

We are the World's Most Powerful Military and our unwavering Diplomatic Unity with the UK, EU and Russia is all we need as "consideration" to conclusively "remedy" this ridiculous and utterly inhumane "Austerity" path that, like "fracking" our own FRESH WATER supply for NO COMPELLING STATE JUSTIFICATION at all…needs to be ABOLISHED along with the Democracy-thwarting Filibuster- not "weeks from now", but this week. For God's sake where is the leadership in our Several States' government across the United States DEMANDING the Filibuster be abolished for the Despotic device it has proven to be?

What, does the GOP and its FAUX NEWS propaganda machine really believe that the OPEC-funded "no new taxes, ever" + "frack our remaining fresh water" + "kill all entitlements" is actually anything OTHER than Foreign Money trying to WEAKEN the aforementioned USA, UK, EU and Russia indirectly, over time by means that it actually has in hand? That is…illimitable petrodollars hidden under the sand?

“Thy love afar is spite at home.” - Emerson

The Constitution’s protections- including the People’s Due Process Right to a STRONG and SOLVENT Military/Police/Fire/EMT/FBI works and is… unlike the GOP leaders, it cannot be contracted away and/or bought.

“The future struggles that it may not become the past.” – Publilius Syrus


Sure annoys me when I see Journalists calling aeroplanes airplanes ...aaaarrrgggg shheeessss


Electronic interference is one thing, but for invisibility to the naked eye we could probably already come up with something. The technology is already there, things like flexible screens that can be made into clothing. Have a camera on the front and one on the back to get the images to broadcast (the one on the back would project the image to the screens on the front of the soldier and the camera to the front would display to the back of the soldier). You could render someone very close to invisible that way.


Too expensive for general use, and we wouldn't want the rest of the world to get the technology. It would only be used by commandos.


"All this leads to mumbo-jumbo and complex mathematical equations that only a relatively few physicists can understand..."

I absolutely hate when authors use phrases like this.  Science is not a black art, and many scientists and engineers can understand the equations. That's part of what we do.  If we're going to get more people interested in STEM fields, we need to avoid terminology that suggests science is some taboo thing that isn't meant to be understood. 


I had an invisible guy pass me on the street the other night, the dog sort of saw him and sniffed with a funny whine and I couldn't see him but I heard his footsteps was very strange...