Care packages of candy bars and beef jerky are a welcome taste of home to soldiers in Iraq, but an inventor has something they could really use: a way to make them invisible to the eyes of the enemy.

Ray M. Alden has designed a system of tiny lenses and mirrors he says could be used to camouflage almost any object – a tank, a Humvee or an individual soldier – in any environment.

With such a device, fighting forces would have less to fear from the urban combat they still face in the treacherous alleys of Iraqi cities, where they are searching for armed holdouts of Saddam Hussein’s regime. To the human eye peering out from a barricaded door, the soldiers would simply disappear into the background.
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Alden’s idea may not be as Buck Rogers as it seems. A Japanese company already has developed a system that can make individual objects “disappear” from certain vantage points, and simple versions have been used by illusionists to make audiences think islands can vanish from the landscape. Alden’s more complex concept would obscure objects from any perspective.

It would require covering the surface with lenses or “pixels” that receive, transmit and reflect light from the object’s surroundings. Made into a suit, for example, the pixels could absorb light coming from a soldier’s left and emit it at the same trajectory to the soldier’s right, and vice versa. The result would be that a person looking at the soldier would see “through” him, observing colors in the shapes of whatever is on the other side.

“Not only can it be done,” said Alden, “it will be done. It probably already is being done” in the well-guarded laboratories where military advances are made.

He has exhausted his savings pursuing the development of these and other potentially useful products.

The U.S. military has long looked for ways to make its personnel and equipment less obvious in the field of battle, a goal it calls “signature management.” The most primitive technique might be painting a tank yellow before driving it into the desert, or dressing a soldier in shades of green and dropping him into the jungle to fight. Radar blocking is a little more sophisticated.