BAE Systems' Adaptiv turns a tank into a cow

Imagine a battlefield, where soldiers are on the look-out for enemy assets including tanks to target.

Suddenly in the middle of the field they see a cow and decide to let it graze. Seconds later, however, the cow 'fires', sending them scurrying for cover.

Figment of a science-fiction writer's imagination? Or a scene from a warzone in 2110? Neither. The tank-cloaked-as-a-cow will soon become reality, thanks to 'Adaptiv,' a patented technology based on sheets of hexagonal 'pixels' that can change temperatures rapidly, and developed by BAE Systems in Sweden.

Dubbed 'invisibility cloak,' it allows a vehicle to blend into its surroundings. The system, which can work over infra-red and other frequencies, will be displayed in infra-red mode on a BAE Systems CV90 armoured vehicle at the UK Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition later this month.

''Earlier attempts at similar cloaking devices have hit problems because of cost, excessive power requirements or because they were insufficiently robust,'' points out Peder Sjölund, project manager, BAE Systems. ''Our panels can be made so strong that they provide useful armour protection and consume relatively low levels of electricity, especially when the vehicle is at rest in 'stealth recce' mode and generator output is low.''

According to him, the pixels can be resized to achieve stealth for different ranges. ''A warship or building, for instance, might not need close-up stealth, so could be fitted with larger panels.''