Our chance of survival in combat in the 21st century largely depends on how well we’re able to execute our activities unnoticed and keep our intentions hidden. The increasing deployment of cheap and advanced (commercial) sensors, platforms (such as drones), and automatic-detection algorithms (AI) is making it harder for Dutch soldiers to mislead the enemy or not be detected.

A considerable leap forward in our understanding of camouflage and deception is therefore much needed. TNO is researching tools, new concepts (such as adaptive camouflage), technologies, materials, tactics, and evaluation methods for signature management and deception against a range of sensor threats (visual, heat imaging, radar).


Camouflage and deception have been fixed components of combat throughout the ages; the 21st century is no different. However, a continuously changing military operational context and rapid developments in platform and sensor technologies have led to a dramatic threat increase for our armed forces. Countermeasures need to urgently be developed to restrict our vulnerability. Major efforts are needed in the area of signature management to raise the bar of the protection we offer our people, military platforms, and systems, and to meet current and future operational demands. A TNO research programme has been set up to develop the necessary knowledge.

Signature management: protected by invisibility and deception

In the world of camouflage and disappearance techniques, a good plan is referred to as signature management and deception (S&D). S&D research centres on becoming more aware of the traces we leave that can betray our presence. When commissioning a ship, for example, you need to know exactly which part of the ship is easiest to detect. Once you know this, you can make the necessary changes (using special coatings or stealth technology, for example), but you can also alter your chosen route or adapt your behaviour based on weather conditions.

It is also important to understand the options and restrictions of the technologies used to perceive others, since all technologies have their shortcomings. Drones cannot fly in all weather conditions and thermal sensors are ineffective in mist. Knowing this, you can adapt your strategy. Invisibility is often the best form of protection. On top of that, you can make it difficult for the enemy to properly assess your goals and intentions, or you can intentionally use deception to create a false image.

Recent research into signature management and deception is lacking. Due to this, military units on land currently find themselves vulnerable to early recognition and, with this, elimination. TNO’s research aims to develop and raise the level of S&D knowledge for the land domain.

Camouflage patterns: innovation and development

TNO developed the NFP (Netherlands Fractal Pattern) for the Netherlands’ Ministry of Defence. This set of camouflage colours and patterns for clothing and equipment was specially developed for the Netherlands’ armed forces and can be used across a range of different areas. Commissioned by the European Defence Agency (EDA), TNO – together with European partners – is also developing a demonstrator of a future camouflage suit for combat soldiers. The suit comes equipped with adaptive camouflage techniques that work in different spectral areas, such as visual (LEDs, thermochromics), heat imaging (using phase change materials or ‘PCMs’), and radar (using absorbing coatings).

The research is intended to lead to products, models, evaluation techniques, and a database – all of which will be used to adequately respond to Defence’s operational questions.

Would you like to find out more about camouflage and how TNO is contributing to the security of people and equipment?

Please contact egineer Eduard Winckers


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Eduard Winckers BSc

  • SMP
  • Soldaat Systeem
  • Human Factors
  • Camouflage
  • PPE