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Barracuda ULCAS woodland

What is signature management?

Signature management is the process through which the electromagnetic signature of military assets is studied and then deliberately modified to reduce the likelihood of detection. It is a key part of camouflage strategies and recognises the fact that disguised armed forces have both a major strategic advantage and are far more likely to achieve their missions.

Work in this field is based around the fact that every soldier and military asset on the planet is constantly interacting with different forms of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Even on the darkest night, light waves bounce off the surfaces of a tank or a deployed troop’s gun, while infrared and radio waves, invisible the naked eye, are constantly being reflected, emitted or absorbed by objects.

When such EMR interactions are viewed through a sensor like the human eye or a radar screen, they form distinctive patterns or signatures that allow objects to be identified – and then targeted by the enemy.

Modern signature management systems, such as those in Saab’s Barracuda range, help assets to effectively ‘merge’ into their backgrounds when viewed by sensors. This includes disguising objects so they are harder to make out with the human eye and also camouflaging them from a wide range of electronic sensors that detect infrared and thermal radiation as well as radio waves.

The importance of deception in modern warfare

Being able to divert an opponent’s attention – to make them overlook potential threats – has long provided armed forces with an invaluable strategic advantage.

Just think of the Greek warriors who famously conquered their Trojan enemies by concealing soldiers in a wooden horse. Or of the use of dummy tanks and aircraft to fool aerial reconnaissance during World War II. If you can hide your presence and true intentions from the enemy long enough, chances are that you will find yourself in a position to deliver a truly devastating blow.

But in a world where weapons are more powerful and sophisticated than ever, why should deceiving the enemy be a consideration for modern armies?

Drones, satelite and UAV monitoring the battlefield
Modern battlefield

The truth is deception has never been more important. Advances in drone technology, sensors and networked attack doctrines, all mean that it has never been harder for armed forces to hide from the enemy. Western forces, in particular, are likely to face opponents who have developed highly sophisticated battle strategies involving drone reconnaissance and remote fires. Just look at the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

To gain the upper hand in battle and protect its forces from attack, the West needs to improve its deception game. Advanced camouflage solutions that provide protection against a wide range of sensor threats are one way of achieving this.

Always consider infrared, thermal and radar

If you look back just over 100 years, armed forces wanting to camouflage themselves from the enemy only had to concentrate on visually blending in with their surrounds. Prior to 1915, the human eye, aided by optical instruments, was the primary means for detecting enemy forces. If you couldn’t be seen, you couldn’t be detected.

But the past century has seen an explosion in sensors using other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The first infrared-sensitive films were deployed during WWI and early night vision sensors were created in the late 1930s. Radar was a gamechanger in WWII.

Today, global armed forces can expect their opponents to be equipped with infrared, short-wave infrared, thermal and radar sensor systems. Light-weight night vision goggles relying on both near-infrared or thermal radiation will allow them to make out soldiers and vehicles in near total darkness. Radar scans captured by satellites, spy planes and ground-based scanners will clearly highlight any uncamouflaged assets. To be effective, modern camouflage solutions need to consider all these sensor threats.

Why signature analysis is a must

It’s relatively easy to assess how effective a visual camouflage system is at disguising an object. Using our unaided eyes, we can judge whether a camouflage net blends in effectively with its surrounds and disguises the objects it is covering. Or, perhaps, whether the net’s colouring clashes with the background and sharp angles and unnatural contours quickly betray the nature of the objects beneath.

But how can armed forces know how their deployed assets will appear to the sensors of their enemies? And what steps can be taken to alter and disguise this signature? This is where signature analysis can help. The process essentially involves assessing how camouflaged assets – and groups of assets – appear to a wide variety of sensors, with a view to making improvements.

At Saab, we use signature analysis to field tests all new Barracuda prototypes. We typically take two identical assets – trucks for example – into the field and camouflage one while using the other as a baseline.
We then scan the assets using near and short-wave infrared, thermal scanners, radar and visual techniques to assess their effectiveness.

Signature Analysis

Another key use for signature analysis is in determining how the collective camouflage systems of an armed forces work together when their various assets are deployed in the field. It’s crucial to know how these different assets and their signatures will interact with each other and the combined effect they will have on enemy sensors. Tweaks and changes can then be made to improve sensor protection.

Demand multispectral protection

The wide range of sensor technologies in use today mean that to be effective a camouflage solution must be multispectral. That is to say, it must provide protection not just against the visual part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but the infrared, short-wave infrared, thermal and radio wave sections as well.

This has become particularly important with the gradual rise of AI-powered multispectral scanners that can provide real-time analysis of target landscapes using a variety of sensor types.

At Saab, we address the various sensor types with a range of technologies. In the visual spectrum, we pay close to attention to colours, patterns, textures and surface reflectivity to ensure our nets and other solutions closely visually resemble the landscapes in which they are to be used. Support structures can additionally be used to disrupt contours not found in nature.

ULCAS
ULCAS

Near infrared and short-wave threats are addressed in the top layer of a camouflage solution, with special pigments and binders used to help the camouflage blend in with the natural environment. Thermal blanketing is used to manipulate the thermal energy released, ensuring that it stays consistent with changes in the environment through the 24-hour cycle. Because radio waves typically penetrate the top layers of camouflage, our radar protection system is generally in the bottom layer, beneath the other systems.

Solutions for all terrains

Camouflage is all about an asset blending into the background when it is viewed by sensors. If your tank, headquarters or platoon looks just like the surrounding environment, it’s unlikely to be detected and destroyed.
MCS
Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System
ULCAS
Barracuda ULCAS Desert
ARCASe
Barracuda ARCASe

Because different environments have different geological, topographic and climatic conditions, camouflage should be adapted to each location to get the best results. Each sensor threat and the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that it corresponds to needs to be considered.

Our Barracuda range of camouflage solutions includes nets and vehicle and personal systems for environments as diverse as jungles, woodlands, deserts, Arctic plains and more. At a visual level, paints, patterns and pigments are used to ensure the camouflage system looks like its surrounds to the naked eye. As well as being the same colour or colours, care must be taken to mimic the contours, complexity and reflectivity of the environment. The concealment technologies for other electromagnetic spectrums are also tailored to the mission. For example, deserts often experience very high daytime temperatures while being extremely cold at night. To be effective in such environments, care must be taken to adapt the thermal solution to the conditions.

The Barracuda Advanced Reversible Camouflage Screen or ARCAS combines camouflage for two distinct terrains in one solution. It’s reversible design means teams can respond to rapidly changing environments.

Our 3D Ultra-Lightweight Camouflage Screen (ULCAS) meanwhile, delivers unparalleled senor protection qualities while reducing up to 80 percent of solar loading on vehicles, shelters, tents and containers.

By choosing the right solution for your mission and requirements, you can greatly increase your chance of mission success.

When being unseen

Concealment requires advanced camouflage. The same environment can shift in colors and multispectral reflection. ARCAS is multispectral and can be adopted to have different properties on each side.

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