How Ukrainians created a €400 “cloak of invisibility” against Russian thermal imaging cameras

Ukrainian developers crafted a cloak that makes defenders invisible to Russian TICs and drones with thermographic cameras. On October 4, the Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, reported about the project on his Telegram channel. However, it has been in development since 2014.

Kostiantyn Boriak, Doctor of Technical Sciences and Professor, told AIN.Capital about the cloak of invisibility creation, what makes it unique, and why it is not everywhere in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Kostiantyn Boriak. All photos in the article were provided by the interviewee

The project began in 2014

“It all started with the idea to protect our loved ones in 2014 when Russia attacked us. My friends went to the ATO (Joint Forces Operation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine) and then, for the first time in the ATO zone, faced the problems of using TICs by enemy intelligence units and on enemy armored vehicles (while French thermal cameras were being installed on Russian modernized T-72M tanks). We decided to develop some kind of protection against this,” Kostiantyn Boriak told AIN.Capital in an interview.

Its full name is “PNM-1, Camouflage Cloak for Military Personnel against Thermal Imaging Surveillance and Reconnaissance Equipment.” Currently, scientists at the State University of Intellectual Technologies and Communications are working on it. But when it all started, this institution did not exist yet; it was established later.

“In 2016, our educational institution’s name was the Odesa State Academy of Technical Regulation and Quality (OSATRQ), merged with the Communications Academy in 2020. Since then, the new educational institution has been called the SUITC,” Kostiantyn explained.

The first prototype of the cloak of invisibility Boriak and his colleagues, S.V. Lienkov and A.F. Diachenko described in an article back in 2015. Since then, the project has had eight iterations, and scientists continue improving it.

The parameters of the Ukrainian cloak of invisibility

  • The cloak blocks heat radiation and makes the soldiers invisible to the enemy. This is vital for snipers or Special Operation teams performing combat missions.
  • It weighs up to 2.5 kg, is highly protected from rain and sleet, does not burn, and protects against high temperatures.
  • The cost of one prototype of that coat is about 400 euros, which is significantly cheaper than its Western counterparts. Kostiantyn says that a similar NATO-style product costs over 2,000 euros.
  • Most of the materials used to make invisibility cloaks are local production.

“We had two goals in mind. First, to develop a product that would protect our soldiers. Second, to make it so that we would not depend on imports and be able to establish the entire production cycle in Ukraine. I believe we have done the impossible at our own expense,” summarized Kostiantyn.

Why isn’t the cloak in mass production yet?

Soldiers from various units have successfully tested the cloak in the field. But to launch mass production, the team needs orders. Volunteers’ requests for single pieces are not enough because sewing a single coat is 4-5 times more difficult than sewing ordinary clothes, so it is unprofitable for contractors.

“In 2016, I demonstrated this project in Kyiv at an Arms and Military Equipment exhibition. We received a lot of requests and questions, and everyone liked it. Foreign experts from Turkey were very interested—they asked questions, took pictures, and offered to cooperate. And when they received all the information, they disappeared and did not answer the phone calls. An interesting fact is that 5-6 months later, in the spring of 2017, information appeared about the Turkish army receiving anti-thermal-camera camouflage means in the form of cloaks,” says Kostiantyn.

After the exhibition, we received a few orders from individual volunteers. We made ten samples and gave them to our friends in the military and volunteers—we didn’t have enough money for more.

The scientists received two patents in Ukraine for a multilayer material used in the construction of the cloak. Still, after a significant (approximately 10-fold) increase in the state’s monetary contributions to maintain the patent and the lack of demand for manufacturing, research was frozen until better times.

“Everything was on hold until the full-scale invasion. And on February 25, 2022, I took this product out of the garage, and we decided to resume the project and improve it,” Kostiantyn said.

Project resurrection

In 2014, Kostiantyn invested 2,000 euros of his own money in the prototype. Further expenses were not calculated, as the cloak is still in development. The sample demonstrated by Fedorov is the 8th version of the invisibility cloak for 2023, and it will not be the last.

The scientists have filed a new application for a Ukrainian patent for the 8th version of the improved cloak and are awaiting the decision of the Ukrpatent’s experts. In this way, they hope to protect the know-how in its basis. According to Kostiantyn, this radically different approach distinguishes the cloak from foreign analogs, making it effective in the field and cheaper in production.

“When making the cloak, we do not interfere with the existing physical processes of heat exchange between a human being and the environment, but only adjust and adapt to these natural phenomena so that they go invisible to thermal imaging surveillance equipment of the enemy.

Adapting to the conditions of nature and controlling physical natural processes has yielded positive results. Our cloak can be used for almost unlimited time without losing its camouflage features—they are stable, like natural phenomena, and do not deteriorate from long-term use.

And this is the main advantage over foreign models, which have certain limitations and lose their “invisibility” after a long use. Foreign analogs work on the principle of reflecting or absorbing infrared energy, and we have added controlled natural convection to our sample cloak, and it works.”

The project applied to the state MillTech accelerator Brave1 in May and passed the selection. Since its publication by Fedorov, the cloak has received much attention. However, it is still a story with an open end. This time, the developers hope to convert it into a result that will not go in vain as in 2016.