I have had a lot of questions come in about the concept of the ‘Thermal Poncho’. I’m going to post about it here and I have also moved up my post on ‘Countering Aerial Thermal Surveillance’ from when it was originally posted back in October. That POST contains a lot of the detail on FLIR/ Thermal Imaging capabilities, along with a video of an Apache engagement. I recommend that you read these two posts in tandem and watch the video.
The idea of the ‘Thermal Poncho’ is a concept that you must create for yourself and design as you see you will use it. In the post on Aerial Thermal Surveillance there are some good ideas in comments, such as Rick posting about the ‘Land Shark’ which looks like a good bit of gear, but it is not quite what I had in mind, at least not exactly, but it would definitely do the job for you.
The concept of the thermal poncho is to create a piece of equipment that will shield you from both aerial and ground thermal surveillance. When is use the word ‘poncho’ I mean it in the sense that the military issues ponchos; rather than using it as a rain style poncho to wear over yourself, you use the eye-holes along the edges to string the thing up as a shelter, as a tarp. So I could have used the term ‘Thermal Tarp’ but I use the word poncho for this item that you would string up as a shelter. I visualized the thermal poncho as something that you would actually put up, just as you would a normal poncho/tarp/shelter, but that would also protect you from thermal surveillance In extremis, you could just deploy it and get under it, or even wear it over your head, but that was not the primary idea. But it may work for you.
The idea of the thermal poncho that I described in ‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises’ was to perform the following functions:
1. Act as a weather shelter in the same way that a normal military poncho/tarp would do
2. Provide visual camouflage to a position
3. Provide thermal protection
The construction is dependent on the exact material you have. You often find that Mylar or the thermal style blankets do not have the strength to act as a tarp and can also be shiny. Because of that, I suggested the use of a military poncho as the base material, giving it the strength to be strung up between trees or similar.
One of the problems with any kind of thermal or waterproof material is shine. This can also be a thermal problem too. The reverse is the thermal protection appearing as a thermal ‘hole’ in the background. To this end the idea was to create a ‘gillie suit lite’ effect on the top surface, with the use of camo or earth toned cloth. This cloth would be on the top side of the military poncho and you can sandwich the Mylar/thermal blanket between the two, keeping it hidden and protected. On top of this cloth layer you can sew in a limited amount of burlap/camo gillie style cloth. Just don’t do too much because it will become bulky when rolled up and also heavy if it rains. But the gillie materiel will itself add thermal protection.
Once you have created this tarp, you can attach bungees/para-cord to the eyelets just like you would with your military poncho so that you can quickly string it up. Carrying some tent pegs and short tent poles/sticks will also allow it to be set up rapidly if there are no convenient trees. Once you roll this up, you should carry it outside your day-pack so that it becomes one with the ambient temperature and does not appear as a ‘hole’ in the thermal picture.
So what do you have? A complex thermal blanket that will allow you to string it up as a tarp and also provide your position with visual camouflage.
One of the issues with thermal protection is that if the material you are hiding behind is in contact with you for a time your heat can leak into it, warming it up, and thus allowing the thermal signature to be picked up. That is why it is a good idea to have this stand-off gap by putting it up as a tarp and being underneath it. You can also bring the edges to the ground on one or two sides to also provide ground thermal protection, setting it up by one of the many techniques that you would use for a military poncho shelter.
The idea in ‘Patriot Dawn’ was that these ponchos would be put up any time the group halted for any period of time, maybe for more than 15 minutes, or if there was a threat. In extremis you could just pull it over yourself. Think being in a patrol base and putting these up over your sleeping and sentry positions. Working as pairs you only need one per two people or if everyone has one then you have extra.
There is no one way to do this, and it depends on what you have and what exact purpose you want from the equipment.
*WARNING GRAPHIC* HERE is the video *WARNING GRAPHIC*
EDIT: Important warning. The ability to hide from FLIR/TI is obviously very important and could be a life saver. To that end, I want to make it clear that it is not as simple as getting a poncho or a thermal blanket and hiding under it. That is why I go to the trouble above of describing a system and a way to deploy it. See below:
Some further info:
When we look at thermal masking we have to take into account the capabilities of modern USG thermal imaging systems. The .gov (and DoD) standard is the ability to discern either +/- 1 degree in temperature difference between objects and the ambient environment at any given range. So either one degree cooler or hotter and the shape of the image shows up in modern TIS. Most LE agencies use the same or similar equipment that possesses the same capabilities. In practice it’s hard to hide from either TIS or FLIR unless you do it right.
Most effective methods:
1. Use of weather (fog wreaks havoc on both systems)
2. Over-saturation (be it through fire, heat emitters, etc.)
3. Terrain masking.
That is why in Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises I make such a point of using terrain masking, vegetation and constructed cover (cam nets and false roofs etc) and also in some of the battles the Resistance uses thermal smoke from tire fires to mask action on the ground from overhead drones.
So to conclude: just getting under a straight up poncho will not work for long. You may appear as a ‘hole’ in the ambient temperature. There is also the danger of heat leaking out over time, or heating up the poncho surface. But how close are they looking? What you are at least doing is masking your human shape, which may have some short term value but is not the whole solution at least not for long.
If you use terrain masking along with being under some vegetation and you get under a properly put together ‘thermal poncho’ strung up above you then you will make it very hard for surveillance to spot you. Particularly if they are expecting to look for human shapes. Then it comes down to how long they concentrate on an area and if they discern heat either leaking out or warming up your poncho because you have it too close to your body.
Remember that on the commercially available casualty blankets it says it only stops 80% of body heat. The 20% will gt you killed. So make a ‘thermal poncho’ similar to how I have suggested and have some good ‘gillie’ cloth on the topside to break up shine and imagery. Put it up in trees or on short poles above you so that there is separation between you and the covering poncho. The more cover you have between you and the FLIR device, such as ground or vegetation cover, the better, such as trees above the thermal poncho. Of course, if you can get into a hole or cave then all is good, but the thermal poncho is for when that is not available Remember that the FLIR devices on the market such as the FLIR scout, actually advertise that you can check you home insulation by seeing where heat is leaking out. Something to think about!
So take the FLIR threat seriously and don’t think that just putting a casualty blanket over you will be like an invisible cloak. It is a complex camouflage issue that the thermal poncho can aid with, but may not be the whole solution all of the time. Depending how well you use it, it may only save you from a casual scan, or done well it make make you invisible to a careful search.
P.S. I ended up moderating a couple of comments of the “We’re all gonna die” type. Keep it constructive, even though the video is shocking. To use the video as a teachable moment:
1. Look at the tents, how they block the thermal signature. The problem is mostly surface/shine. That could be countered by the camo netting/ragged/gillie effect on top of your thermal poncho.
2. That is open ground in Afcrapistan. Imagine if you were operating in an area with greater tree cover, how that would add another layer to help you. That goes to terrain masking.
3. Look at the US Troops and see how their IR treated ACUs make them significantly harder to see than the Taliban. And they are walking in the open.
4. Just to conjecture, but the guys on the ground wounded or trying to hide, if they had even pulled a simple space blanket or simple blanket over themselves, how they would have significantly increased their chance of survival. In this case it would be a little like surviving a bear attack – you just have to be more hidden than the other guys! So yes, a little selfish, but the point is there.
Thermal camouflage is just another layer to the art of camouflage. You have to work at it and it may not always be perfect, but there are things you can do to increase your survivability that do not involve always wearing a survival blanket. For example:
1. When moving plan routes around terrain / vegetation masking. Have frequent listening/observation halts.
2. When halted, also use terrain masking but have properly constructed thermal ponchos available to put up to mask visual and thermal signature. Blend into the ground.
3. If actively fighting, particularly in urban areas, consider the use of tire or fuel barrel fires to create a thermal smoke screen to mask off aerial surveillance and targeting platforms.