By Brandon Smith (Snakebite Tactical)
Why has it taken so long for practical thermal evasion methods to be introduced to the civilian market? There are multiple reasons. First, many average people unfortunately have little to no concern over thermal vision based weapons systems. They believe that all of these weapons reside in the hands of governments, governments which supposedly have the best interests of the citizenry at heart. Why should they develop or purchase a thermal evasion system when the “good guys” have all the thermal toys? This is blind faith in an establishment which has not earned our trust…
Sadly, with the advent of numerous privacy and liberty crushing programs, it is safe to say that not all governments if any governments have the best interests of the public at heart. In fact, many governments today are training to subdue and control their respective populations rather than protect them.
Also, thermal vision devices are now widely available to any person, almost anywhere. Criminal and extremist elements can obtain thermal vision as easily as you and I can. If you are not worried about government corruption and overreach, then you should at least be concerned by the growth of organizations like ISIS.
Second, the learning curve is immense. One must be willing to learn a considerable amount of thermal physics basics, as well as have an engineering sense which allows for creative problem solving. Most of all, patience is required to complete the endeavor.
Third, the cost of developing a wearable thermal suit can be prohibitive. Thermal scopes suitable enough to test such a product run around $3000 minimum. The cost of testing various materials can also be very high, and the process is time consuming (three years collectively for those of us here at Snakebite Tactical). Add to this the cost of production (the labor required to fabricate a working model), from prototype to final suit, and many people, even those highly motivated, simply don’t have the time or the money to make thermal evasion possible.
But, isn’t there a market for this, you ask? Wouldn’t some company out there somewhere realize that hundreds of thousands if not millions of survival advocates and preppers could have significant demand for thermal evasion? Why hasn’t anyone in the business world pursued this?
That’s easy; the people generally holding positions of authority in development in the business world desire niche markets and easy profits, but, they also benefit greatly from the existing system through government contracts (state and federal) as well as political partnerships. For the most part, these people have no interest whatsoever in inventing or distributing products that would diminish the power of that system, at least, none of them want to be the first to distribute these items.
Fourth, the majority of modern military hardware and machinery now relies on the integration of thermal systems. The fact is, standardized military strategies have abandoned smarter asymmetric tactics in exchange for technological shortcuts. The general public seems to have little to no clue whatsoever how dependent the military is on thermal vision as we enter this new era of techno-warfare. Often, perimeter and security sweeps applied by soldiers in the field are done for the most part with thermal surveillance. No major hotspots, and those soldiers move on.
Drones are even more reliant on thermal imagery, being that they often require target recognition by soldiers on the ground (using thermal/laser ranging gear), then they must find and strike those targets using their own thermal devices from vast distances which narrow the field of view down to nothing. If a drone switches from wide view with all the thermal noise involved and looks through its magnified thermal lens (kind of like looking through a straw) and finds no man shaped hot spots, then there is no target. Period. A drone operator will not waste ordinance randomly in the hopes of getting a lucky hit on a target that may or may not still be there.
If a company does produce a thermal evasion suit (a few around the world have done this, though any information on how their suits work is hard to come by), that company will without a doubt sell the design to the military under contract. To release an actual working thermal suit openly to the public essentially negates billions upon billions of dollars in military machinery and training. The bottom line is, armies around the globe used to KNOW that thermal vision is a dependable force multiplier. Today with the release of the ThermTac Ghost Suit, they have no clue who is hiding where. They have just been kicked back to the era of Vietnam-style combat environments with all the doubt and uncertainty of past wars. Needless to say, most companies and inventors do not have the balls to undercut and make obsolete the technology of the military industrial complex regardless of the extent of their profit motive.
The question is, is it fundamentally wrong then to make thermal evasion available to common people? If you understand who the “enemy” really is, then the answer is a clear “no”.
Recent documents released concerning ISIS show that many terrorist groups are funded, trained, and often armed by covert intelligence agencies under orders from our own governments. These groups are already well aware of how to evade thermal vision if they wish, which is why our military has been so unsuccessful in subduing them in foreign theaters. Meaning, our thermal evasion suit cannot aid terrorists if they are already training by our own government.
The primary application of thermal vision is to undermine asymmetric combat methods. That is to say, thermal vision was put into military use as a means to counteract the advantages smaller guerrilla units have of maneuver and surprise. Asymmetric methods are the only methods left available to the citizenry to stop the rise of tyrannical political conditions. If constitutional freedoms were entirely erased tomorrow (as numerous pieces of legislation and executive orders give the establishment license to do), the public would invariably be forced to fight back, and fight back using asymmetrics.
Thermal evasion puts at least some power squarely back into the hands of the citizenry where it belongs. At the very least, it levels the fighting field to the point that a determined population has a chance to defend themselves. Without thermal evasion, the odds of success diminish drastically.
The concept of the thermal “suit” should also be distinguished from existing ideas of thermal “tents” or “tarps”. Shelter-style thermal evasion products are useful for certain applications, and Snakebite tactical plans to offer items like this with our own innovations. However, a thermal tarp is NOT useful for anything beyond sheltering in place, which is why they are so easy to make compared to a thermal suit. These products cannot be physically handled or worn around the body, otherwise, they heat up almost immediately. Their only purpose is to hide a stationary person who has no direct contact with the tarp, a person who has no plans to move anywhere or do anything tactically proactive.
A thermal evasion suit is designed specifically for those who wish to be mobile, and for those who want thermal coverage at ALL times at 360 degrees of security, including during operational activities, not only during rest and observation periods.
A thermal evasion suit is a tool, like any other tool. We at Snakebite Tactical intend it to be a tool for defense. We believe fully in the cause of liberty for all peoples, and we believe that thermal evasion is just as essential in maintaining that liberty as the right to bear arms is. We hope that this contribution to the liberty movement as a whole will help turn the tide of tyranny back, and give Americans a chance to rejuvenate the constitutional principles that once made our society honorably unique in the pages of history.
Making Thermal Evasion Possible
By Brandon Smith
Thermal vision capabilities have over the past decade been held as a kind of holy grail for the technologically dependent military apparatus, along with laser targeting, drones, and the overall digitization of the battlefield. Governments today want ultimate situational awareness, or full spectrum awareness of every minute detail of a combat zone, believing that they can predict enemy actions using real time computer models. The “JADE” (Joint Assistance for Deployment and Execution) in JADE HELM being a primary example of the computerized response machine relied upon by the Department of Defense. They are also acutely aware of the surveillance advantages that heat signature tracking affords. Without thermal vision, a vast array of modern weapons are greatly reduced in their current effectiveness. Without ensured observation and targeting, techno-addicted armies and adversaries are forced to face a problem they often assume they have transcended – namely the problem of doubt.
The power of technologically advanced military tools and social controls is a power that will inevitably be abused. In fact, it is already being abused. The temptation to use thermal imaging or FLIR as leverage to dominate rather than protect is extremely high.
To be clear on the importance of such tactics, thermal evasion derails the concept of total observation and surveillance dominance. It levels the playing field in greater favor of people and populations that have been denied access to modern methods of self defense. Effective proactive thermal evasion is a game changer in favor of free peoples.
In releasing the ThermTac Ghost Suit, we at Snakebite Tactical are well aware of the future implications, even if some people out there do not yet understand why such a thing is necessary.
Thermal evasion suits or “ghillies” have been invented by a handful of private contractors already, but these suits and the secrets behind how they work are tightly kept. Thermal evasion has been restricted to the hands of governments and kept far away from the general public, to the point that people now seem to assume that thermal vision is an all seeing eye that cannot be undone. The fact is, governments have had the ability to defeat thermal vision for some time now.
Military Thermal Evasion
In my personal research on military grade thermal evasion suits, I am sorry to say I found very little of use. My work began over three years ago in developing a suit concept, and no government or contractor has yet to release much more than faint hints as to how evasion is possible.
I can say that they do have access to materials as well as chemical and paint coatings that we do not have access to and probably never will have access to. That’s fine, we don’t need them.
I can also say that the standards of military thermal evasion suits are not much different from the ThermTac Ghost Suit. In reality, from what I have seen of military suits in action, their standards are lower than ours. Military Suits have a tendency to be either bulkier and more restrictive than the ThermTac, or, they tend to have reduced effectiveness in hiding signature. The goal of thermal suit designers appears to be to merely break up the human thermal silhouette to a particular degree. Perhaps a 50% to 60% breakup of the thermal signature. They consider this to be good enough, and for the most part they are right.
Anyone who has used thermal imaging extensively knows that any field of view will contain numerous hot spots from trees to rocks to animals, etc. The human shape is VERY distinctive in thermal, so, if a person can break up his thermal shape, or change it to be less recognizable, then he has gone a long way in avoiding detection. Our goal at Snakebite Tactical was to not only break up the thermal image but to blend the suit and wearer into the thermal qualities of the terrain – a 90% or greater reduction. We believe we have achieved our goal.
Thermal Suit Construction
In my studies into thermal three years ago, I felt that the best path was using extreme reflectivity both on the inside and outside of any thermal evasion suit. Inside the suit, thermal energy would be reflected back as much as possible, slowing the transfer of heat to the outside layer. On the outside layer, the low emissivity of the materials would make heat dissipation very quick and efficient. From the inside of the suit to the outside of the suit, you would have a balance of heat in, and quick dissipation of heat out, so that the person wearing the suit would end up in sync with the temperatures of the environment around him.
Low grade thermal blankets do not have enough reflective capability to pull this trick off. Many of them have a real reflective rating of around 80%. High grade thermal blankets can work, but end up being too bulky and impractical, making the “evasion” part of the scheme difficult. I eventually found a material which I believed would do the trick; Radiant Barrier Material, a kind of aluminized fabric. These materials had a real reflective rating of around 95%, and an extremely low emissivity. Of course, at that time, I did not have access to thermal vision, nor the funds to purchase it, so the suit went on the backburner.
Eventually, Oath Keepers announced their intentions to put together a thermal evasion suit, and I was able to work closely with Stewart Rhodes and others in finally testing the ideas I had in mind years ago, along with the ideas of other Oath Keeper members. The ThermTac Ghost Suit is the culmination of that joint effort.
The biggest problem in developing a thermal suit is not the problem of heat, but the problem of visible camo. The radiant barrier materials work brilliantly, but adding outer camo, from fabrics to paints, caused an immediate heat up of the suit. The outer layer of any thermal suit must remain low in emissivity so that it does not retain residual heat through physical contact and transfer. Adding fabrics or paints on top of the outer layer destroyed its ability to dissipate heat.
We eventually decided to create yet another layering system, using light weight ripstop nylon, then camo netting and lightweight leaf fabrics, all of which were polyester (polyester seems to be the best material for matching the temperature emissivity of most environmental conditions, and works amazingly well where there is vegetation). We found that the lightweight materials in a layered combination were enough to give visible camouflage without greatly interrupting the thermal qualities of the radiant barrier.
The Normal Rules Of Field Craft Still Apply
The ThermTac Suit is a tool like any other, and must be used correctly in order to be effective. It is not a magic cloak that makes a person completely invisible. Your movement can still be seen at close distances or out in the open, though your shape will be difficult to identify in a thermal scope. Moving through an open field, for instance, would still be a foolish violation of field craft and the rules of evasion. Sticking to cover and concealment is still necessary with the ThermTac Suit.
The suit also in many cases must be given time to acclimate its temperature to the environment. For example, a person using the ThermTac cannot throw the suit on inside a house or vehicle that is 75 degrees F and jump outside to a 45 degree F environment and be immediately invisible. Normally, three to five minutes is required for the suit to match the temperature of the environment it is exposed to. In the meantime, some hot spots will appear on the suit.
Direct sunlight during the hotter times of the year is also a danger. Noon day sun in mid-July in an open area can indeed cause hot spots on the TherTac, and it is recommended that a person stick to shady areas during such circumstances in order to get the maximum thermal reduction. It is important to note, however, that the hotter the day, the more thermal “noise” will be present for those attempting to use FLIR to find you. At distances beyond 30 yards during hot days, a thermal image could become so cluttered with heat spots that you would be impossible to find as long as your shape remained broken.
We used a FLIR PS32 for the filming of the ThermTac video, and the scope worked very well. The sensitivity of the “red scale” option made testing very challenging. If we wanted to cut corners and make a suit half as useful, we would have stuck with the white scale option often used in thermal evasion tests by contractors and others, which makes lesser methods seem more impressive.
We found during testing that at distances as close as ten feet, the suit did its job, but was most effective at distances of 15 yards or more, where the subject became nearly invisible. At average ranges of combat, 30 yards to 50 yards, the subject is impossible to see in thermal imaging even with magnification. The suit was also tested using military grade thermal imaging equipment, which operates on all the same principles as thermal imaging available to civilians, and the design functioned as expected. Military grade FLIR does have substantial zoom and focus capabilities, but I would also remind everyone that when a military grade thermal device on a drone, for instance, zooms to focus on a target, it is usually because it has identified a human shape at a wider angle, or, units on the ground have identified a human shape and lased it as a target. That is to say, without an identifiable human shape at a wider angle, there is NO TARGET for military FLIR to recognize and zoom in on.
Thermal Testing And Video
During thermal testing be sure you UNDERSTAND what you are actually looking at and why, otherwise, none of your observations will be valid. For instance, the PS32 has the option to increase the red scale sensitivity to pick up very small differences in temperature. When we used this option we found that heat pockets appeared on the suit, but this made perfect sense. The suit’s temperature was slightly different from the air directly around it. When we backed away to around 10 yards or more, the suit’s abilities were even more impressive. As we increased the sensitivity of the red scale, the suit heated up – at the same rate as the trees around it, meaning the suit was matching the emissivity of the environment comparable to the heat of the vegetation. Even at high sensitivity, the subject was impossible to pick out in the image.
Any testing that a person undertakes with thermal should be done at varying ranges in order to get a better grasp on how a suit is working. A hot spot that can be seen at five feet often disappears at 25 feet. Again, understand what you are looking at. If the human form is gone, then the suit is working.
For those who cannot afford to purchase a thermal scope but wish to test their thermal evasion suit, I recommend the rental option. This option did not really exist when I first began work on building a suit, but today there are multiple online vendors that rent thermal imagers for days or weeks at a time.
I also cannot convey the size of the learning curve involved in shooting and recording thermal video footage without an $8000 scope. For some reason FLIR never released an attachment to allow for video recording on the PS32, and I would like to thank the good people at Cademia for shipping me one of their FLIR “hot shoes” quickly. This little device made all our thermal videography possible, along with some clever recording options. I may do a video one day solely on recording thermal images.
We would also like to thank all our supporters at Oath Keepers and Alt-Market for their continuing patronage and support. We hope that the ThermTac Ghost Suit will stand as a valuable contribution to the continuing fight for liberty.