The U.S. Military Is One Step Closer to Having Invisibility Cloaks

Three F-22s taking off from Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska

U.S. Air Force

AA Font size + Print

Three F-22s taking off from Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska

Nanotechnology solutions offer the promise of hiding in plain sight. By Patrick Tucker

Researchers are one step closer to creating shields that could render parked tanks and aircraft virtually invisible.

Debashis Chanda of the University of Central Florida and his fellow researchers have developed a technique to much more quickly create the “metamaterials” with the potential to bend light rays around objects, creating, in effect, invisibility.

In 2007, a group of engineers from Purdue University created a “cloak” design of cylindrically-arranged nano-needles that could deflect light around an object in somewhat the same way that light, when it hits water, bends around the object just beneath the surface, or a hot flat expanse, can create the illusion of water near desert horizon. Rays of light, composed of photons, change in shape depending on the atomic properties of the objects that they encounter. The Purdue researchers could hide only large stationary objects because of the design’s limits in terms of electromagnetic wavelength.

In the years since, researchers from around the world have made steady progress in metamaterial design. But metamaterial doesn’t exactly grow on trees. It has to be engineered at the nanoscale (one billionth of a meter in size) so creating enough of it to hide anything has been a challenge. Chanda and his fellow researchers have developed a technique that allows for the mass-production of metamaterial through a type of printing process.

The technique creates stacks of metallic dielectric wafers that then merge together, chemically, called nanotransfer. “You create a stack and then another stack and you actually grow them on top of each other chemically,” Chanda explained. H said he can use this technique to print 4 inch-by-4 inch areas of metamaterial that could, in principle, be altered to deflect light. The alternative method right now is having is assembling individual pieces of metamaterial, most no bigger than one millionth of a meter.

“Printing is high throughput based on a low cost nanotransfer printing technique,” Chanda said. “Other techniques don’t allow for an easy way of making multi-layer 3D metal/dielectric stacks.”

Getting from printed stacks to a point where it is possible to print enough material to hide large objects is a matter of scaling up the process.

The material that Chanda created can’t simply be slapped on top of a tank or plane to hide it but the printing process would allow for the faster creation of the sort of highly complex material with that capability. “You should be able to engineer that,” he said. “We looked to just engineer a bunch of properties over a big area.” One of those capabilities was partial invisibility. Specifcally, he says that the material that he and his fellow researchers made had a negative refractive index over the 400-625 nanometer wavelength range.

it could be used to hide large, stationary objects but probably not moving objects. 

It’s a small but important step in the realization of a cloak to hide large objects out in the open. Just make sure to make a reminder about where you left your F-35.

Their paper is published in the March journal of Advanced Optical Materials.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.