Follow Up on the ‘Thermal Poncho’ Concept

APN: Patriot Dawn; An Interview with Max Velocity
April 3, 2013
Out of contact + an upcoming post
April 6, 2013
I feel the need to follow up on the posts I have published about the potential to avoid Thermal Imaging (TI)/ FLIR and aerial thermal surveillance in general. To understand where I am coming from you will need to read and digest these two posts that I wrote on the subject:
In the comments on the thermal poncho I published a scathing comment from a reader followed by my rebuttal. My post on the ‘thermal poncho’ was also re-blogged on WRSA and has received some harsh criticism, which I have responded to in an attempt to inform readers of the truth.
Having published what I consider to be sound facts and tactical techniques, I have been accused by some of dishonesty and spouting BS for personal gain. Given the potency of aerial thermal surveillance and the importance and perhaps impending relevance of such techniques to the Patriot’s cause, I do believe that some of these comments are deliberate disinformation (trolling) to attempt to discredit both myself and thus the techniques themselves: “Don’t try and apply sound tactical techniques to avoid thermal surveillance, we want to be able to kill you with impunity!”
Some of the comments might also be genuine but written from the viewpoint of infatuation with the technology without the tactical experience to put it into perspective. Who really knows?
So here is a little summary, which will be backed up if you read my original posts:
1. I do not deny the potency of the technology and the ability of FLIR to detect persons (heat differentials).  In fact it is this potency that led me to consider it such a threat and write about counter measures. see those other posts for the detail.
2. For those that commented without reading or understanding  I have not advocated the use of standard ponchos or blankets to avoid thermal detection. The ‘thermal poncho’ is a name for a different beast that has to be made by the user but can be used in a similar way to a standard poncho, partly because to string it up as such will enhance the protection it provides by creating an air gap between you and the protective layer.
3. FLIR is not the “all seeing eye of Mordor” and the technique is not about so much defeating the technology but more about concealing body heat/shape and defeating the operator. In other words if they know exactly where you are already this technique will likely not help you, and they may be able to then confirm your location by detecting small heat emissions or imperfections in your setup. But there is a lot of clutter out there and surveillance cannot be everywhere, so you can effectively use terrain and suitable cover, including such ‘thermal ponchos’, to avoid being picked up on FLIR surveillance.
4. This is not a technique advocated for mobile personnel  It is a static technique. Mobile techniques involve related but different tactics such as terrain screening your routes and ensuring you stop and carry out frequent listening/observation stops. That is why when I described some of the battles in ‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises’, in particular a defensive battle, I described massive use of diesel and tire burn barrels as well as other fires to create thermal smoke to screen activity on the ground from aerial surveillance. That is an active technique for such a situation.
5. FLIR/TI cannot actually see through hard cover, or suitable thermal cover. Note my caveats in the previous posts about being too close to the cover and heating it by body transfer, and also the danger of appearing as a ‘hole’ in the thermal picture: you have to work to avoid this. There are different types of equipment that use the IR spectrum in different ways, not to be confused with the FLIR equipment found on such things as drones and helicopters. Yes there is equipment that can be used to see through ship bulkheads to find survivors, etc, but that is not FLIR. FLIR will be defeated by hard cover and even substantial enough foliage  It sees the surface and the heat differentials on the surface. If you have not heated that surface up and the view to you is blocked then FLIR will not see you. That has nothing to do with the amazing  ability of the technology to discern heat differentials – if it can’t see to you or the heat your generate, it can’t see those differentials.
6. If you are in hard cover, behind terrain/ground, in a foxhole with overhead cover, in a culvert, in a building, or under a suitably made ‘thermal poncho’ then the FLIR will not see you, subject to my disclaimer about heating up the cover if you are too close to it. If you are under a simple blanket, you will heat it up until you can be seen. If you are in a simple tent or under a plastic poncho, it will see you though it because the material is not sufficient to block thermal. But the human body does not radiate enough heat for it to dissipate in such a way that it will ‘drift’ out from behind hard cover! When you see images of FLIR, they are crisp, there is no ‘haze’ or ‘halo’ around the characters because of radiated heat. 
7. Most effective methods to avoid FLIR:

1. Use of weather (fog wreaks havoc on these systems)
2. Over-saturation (be it through fire, heat emitters, etc.)
3. Terrain masking.

The idea of the ‘thermal poncho’ is to give you a tool within the terrain masking concept. It would be most effectively deployed along with cover from ground and/or vegetation screening. You reduce your surviveability and are more likely to be picked up if you use it in open ground. If you set it up in the middle of a bare-assed arctic snowfield you may be pushing your luck! So common sense must apply here, and we must get away from an infatuation with the capability of the technology which seem to lead, with some, to a “we’re all gonna die” attitude that denies the use of sensible mitigation tactics and techniques.
Be very aware of the potency of FLIR and prepare yourself with ideas and tactics to defeat detection.
I am happy to take constructive comments/criticisms that are aimed at discussing this technique in a mature way and perhaps refining it, similar to a lot of the good comments on the original posts. “We’re all gonna die” comments will be deleted unless I feel they are useful to add to the constructive debate.
I can assure you that I plan on using these techniques should such a situation ever come to pass. I have even tested the effectiveness of the ‘thermal poncho’ with my own FLIR equipment, which granted is not .gov standard but given that I was looking at where I knew the thing was from close range it does a good job.
Anecdotal: Taliban have actually used simple blankets or space blankets with some limited success to avoid FLIR, even using them to move into position and thus in a mobile role. Go figure. Where do you think I got the idea from?
MV
P.S. Ever tried to hide in a herd of cattle? Really?

21 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Chin up, Max. I think you’ve made your point quite convincingly. Thanks for clearing it up even more.

    Daniel

  2. Anonymous says:

    Considering what the Taliban did to that airbase, which I assume had decent tech then we should assume we are not all gonna die. RRS

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have access to a FLIR camera at the firehouse. When I am done making my thermal blanket I am going to test it. If you want pics from the camera, let me know and I will set you up.

    docbunny42@hushmail.com

    • Matt Bracken says:

      Please read my comment about the best DIY thermal poncho I’ve read about to date. From the inside out, mylar, thin fiberglass cloth, poncho, plastic “leaves” glued to the outside of the poncho. I can’t remember what was used to laminate the three main layers together, but I would guess contact cement, rolled or sprayed on. From what I remember, the thin layer of fiberglass roving mat made a huge difference, much superior to simple mylar and plastic. The plastic leaves on the outside not only help to conduct away residual heat but they give a rough and natural appearance, instead of a slick and unnatural appearance. This would also help against basic visual (non FLIR) observation.

  4. Bret says:

    Max, I have some thoughts for you. I’ve read your blog from the start. You are an excellent trainer especially for the common man. Meaning that the common guys who have not done the Q course can well understand what you say and mean. And that is important. You have that unique ability to impart your skills to others, who do not have a military background. As for “anonymous” comments on the flir /thermal article. He is full of shit. Your article was clear , concise and informational. I have a land shark bag and it really does work. Your poncho ideas are spot on and will work correctly. You are also correct in stating that flir is not some mutant/xman power. If it was we would be whipping the taliban, and we are not. Also watch the tv series finding bigfoot. they use flir. And the show amply demonstrates that flir only goes so far into dense vegetation. They have not found a bigfoot yet. Your tactics are very good. So keep up the good work and dont let the ankle biters bother you.

  5. Dan Shaw says:

    Your original article made sense to me to start with. Not having any practical experience on the ground I do know something about FLIR and it’s capabilities and drawbacks having hundreds of hours controlling aircraft on missions.
    If other heat sources around you a stationary then you must remain stationary and if moving you have to move. A good operator with multiple heat sources will look for movement/non movement as a clue. The same goes for you appearing as a non heat source in a hot background environment…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Think like scientists. The vehicles supporting their imaging make huge thermal – as well as sound – signatures and the most deadly is also the most vulnerable. Man can quickly alter the temperature of many environments making their equipment useless. A pine forest generates its own cover. And French scientists have very recently developed a thermal cloak. Search night vs thermal vision and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each.
    While the ability of FLIR has the ability to distinguish a small degree of temperature difference, this is NOT true when the surrounding environment is hot.

  7. pdxr13 says:

    Countermeasures that are very cheap DIY and work sorta-kinda 60% of the time are worth doing.

    FLIR as “the Eye of Mordor” meme only works when the parties being observed do not know about the technology. Primitives and wolves don’t stand a chance. Once they know about it, they at least partially counter it with tactics and what they have available. Our advanced adversaries make certain that critical knowledge is transmitted with countermeasures to our tribal opponents. The Russians have got to be enjoying the Afghan adventures of the past 15 years, just as we enjoyed supplying and cheering for the Mujadeen (Congressman Wilson’s CIA War) when they dropped a Hind or left a Russian mother wondering about how her conscripted son was lost.

    Tankers were probably surprised when the first shaped-charge weapons punched through armor proof against any bullet-shooting anti-tank gun, then a smart fellow built a frame to hold fencing that detonated the round 2 feet away where it just makes a big noise. Measure, countermeasure, repeat, surprise, counter-counter measure until it gets too heavy or expensive.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So how does FLIR work in a desert environment like the Mojave?

  9. avordvet says:

    I found your previous article right on target, as was this follow up. Many of the naysayers have never been around the technology, much less tried to counter it, I’ve used it and although it is something to be considered, I do not fear it. because as with any other technology, it can be countered.

    Most do not have DoD budgets for cutting edge IR counter-measures, you gotta work with what you can… especially when trying to outfit your entire team.

    So, during the potential festivities when you peek out from under your “thermal poncho” you may see me laying next to you, under mine.

  10. Matt Bracken says:

    The problem with countering FLIR is that the overhead platforms are within an effective search range when they are still far beyond the ground operator’s visual or audible range. You will not know when you need to hide under a thermal poncho. Thermal ponchos might still have utility for static hides, but not much more than that. OTOH, if the operators are also under tree canopy etc, any reduction in heat signature might drop the overall thermal output below what the FLIR platform is searching for. The heat escaping below the poncho of a patrolling operator might be reduced to that of a small mammal such as a raccoon. The best thermal ponchos that I have heard of (that have supposedly been tested) are multi layer, with a thin layer of fiberglass cloth laminated between the poncho and the mylar. The fiberglass roving mat conducts the heat to the edges of the poncho, otherwise, over time, even mylar and plastic alone won’t stop the heat from getting through. Heat escaping at the bottom edges in no way resembles a human target. The poncho’s smooth outer surface is broken up with small plastic “leaves” to conduct away any residual heat leaking through the poncho. But even the most effective thermal poncho suffers from the fact that the FLIR platforms won’t make a noisy pass warning those on the ground to take thermal cover. Note: This is only what I have read, not what I have personally tested.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Max,

    Just finished Chapter 16 of Patriot Dawn. Really enjoying the book, thanks.

    Wanted to mention something to enhance the exterior feature of the poncho. While working with mylar for my sun panels of my solar over, I was using 3M Super 77 spray adhesive to attach the mylar to the wood shapped panel base. On my last panel and waiting for the adhesive to set, the wind picked up the mylar and flipped it onto the ground, sticky side down. The result after lifting was my previously clean surface was loaded with pieces of dry grass, dirt, stick and ground debris……a huge mess!

    In hindsight, I can see taking this adhesive and spraying it on the external surface of the poncho in a dusting fashion, waiting about 5 minutes or so while tacky, then flipping the poncho over and allowing it to acquiring ground debris. The adhesive loses it tack after 24 hrs thus preventing permanent adhesion when rolled up. A plus is the light coat of adhesive will mask the shine on glossy surfaces. After Katherine 48 hrs of cure time, the ghilli features can be added to finish the effect. This same adhesive could work as a contact agent for the blanket to the inside surface of the poncho.

    I’ve worked with the adhesive extensively and am pretty confident this could enhance the effectiveness of camo on the poncho.

    Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to offer up an idea, and I appreciate your contributions to the Patriots.

    Leauxryda

  12. Anonymous says:

    I would ask any critics. Got a better idea? Let’s hear it.

    Something is better than nothing when you are dealing with a “do your best to survive” situation.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Max, there is no need to answer nay-sayers and trolls. There is always an airchair general out there with a beer resting on his belly, dispensing advice and criticism. The idiots have never served in the military, let alone have any combat service.

    Ignore them brother. I got what you are saying, and know that using sufficient cover works.

    My two cents…

    I am a Marine vet, and retired police officer. We had a perp hide under a plastic kiddy swimming pool, one night from our helicopter’s FLIR during a foot pursuit.

    I would bet that the Grabber brand of thermal blanket would work, provided there was camouflage and texture.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Made a thermal poncho based on your design in Patriot Dawn,used our thermal camera at fire house and it worked…..If your body contacts the poncho the heat will transfer.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Google “3D Air Mesh Fabric”…

    Put that between you and the mylar/thermal component of the system, and you can minimize the “contact” problem.

    Use a ripstop fabric with a few vent holes cut into it to be the layer that touches you and your gear. Then layer the 3d air mesh fabric on top of that (glue it…duh), then the Mylar/space blanket to contain the heat, and then use a milspec near-ir fabric on the outside, and cover that with camo vehicle netting.

  16. Anonymous says:

    After reading this last night and reflecting, I thought about a vacuum insulated thermos bottle. Take a look at how they explain the tech on amazon if you aren’t familiar. Having an air lining between the exterior and the interior would greatly reduce any heat signature if it’s possible to pull off and keep the material flexible, although it doesn’t last forever. The thermos claims 12 hours of keeping food/liquid hot or 24 hours of keeping food/liquid cool.

    I Googled the above Anonymous’ (Separate person) suggestion of 3d air mesh and think that air mesh might really work. Would it need to retain a mix of uniform space or sealed between layers to reduce heat differential, and be flexible at the same time? Can you make both hard and flexible covers?

    If that won’t work are there spray foam insulations that don’t become rigid? Maybe a non-conductive gel?

    Maybe I’m getting too fancy, what about plain old bubble wrap? Or a hardened variation of it, anyway? Would it heat up

    Dismissing practically anything out of hand is foolish and unproductive.

    Ignore the naysayers, go with actually trying things. Experience over opinion is a good way to go. Thanks for providing all you do, this thermal signature / drones concern is a huge factor IMO.

  17. Ned says:

    I remember two separate LEO searches, in which FLIR was used and they couldn’t find the perps. Just maybe FLIR not fool proof.

    BTW – one incident happened last year. The other, over a decade ago. Neither of the perps has the time of foresight to undertake any countermeasures for FLIR.

    I’d rather have something that might work, under certain circumstances, than nothing at all.

  18. yanklll says:

    I found this from SAAB at http://guerrillamerica.com, now if they’ll sell it to the civilian market is another question but they do have a dealer request link..

    http://www.saabgroup.com/en/Land/Force_Protection/Signature_management/Personal_Camouflage/Suits_Uniforms/Poncho_Personal_camouflage/

    This takes care of the IR better than anything i’ve been able to find but field test always show more..

    Yank lll

  19. the virginian says:

    military training manuals will confirm that you are on target. i suspect the people that are trying to discredit you are people that dont want us to understand defence tecniques. keep up the good work you might be saving lives.

  20. the virginian says:

    military training manuals will confirm that you are right on target. i suspect that the people that are trying to discredit you are people that dont want the public to know defence tecniques. keep up the good work, you may be saving lives.