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Is Poland's Stealthy PL-01 The Tank Of The Future?

Is Poland's Stealthy PL-01 The Tank Of The Future?

Has Poland's OBRUM and its partners designed the tank of the future? The PL-01 does pack some incredibly valuable features into a fairly compact and modular concept, and yes, it also looks cool as hell!

 

The idea of the PL-01 is to try and eliminate the infrared, radar and visual signature of the traditional tank to a large degree, while also relying on guile to take identity masking a step further. In addition, the PL-01 concept aims at brining to market a tank packed with relevant modern features, many of which already exist off the shelf, while others are still on the developmental horizon.

The vast majority of targeting sensors on the battlefield today rely on the infrared band of the electromagnetic spectrum to do their bidding. The PL-01 attempts its almost magical infrared signature reduction via the installation of temperature controlled wafers that blanket its exterior. This chameleon's skin of sorts, allows the tank's skin to match the infra-red signature of its surroundings. It does this by processing what small infrared sensors mounted around the tank detect, and then displays a pattern on the tank's honeycomb-like covering that best matches the infrared data collected.

As a result, the tank all but disappears to infrared sensors. Even more outstanding, these wafers can also be used like pixels, as each can be manipulated in temperature. This allows for the tank to use active infrared camouflage, such as tiger stiping its infrared signature in the jungle, or making it flat like the sand in the desert. The PL-01 also lowers its infrared signature through cooling and dispersing the exhaust from its 940 hp diesel engine. 

 

The PL-01's proposed active infrared camouflage system can even go a step further, from concealment to trickery. The tank can even make itself look like a car or another common object, via matching the temperature of its surroundings and then displaying a preprogrammed image on its temperature controlled wafers. This is an amazing countermeasure that, if reliable, can make enemy detection and the creation of a firing solution almost impossible during nighttime operations for a large percentage of any enemy's anti-tank weapon systems.

Active camoflauge for military vehicles is nothing new, in fact it has been tested as far back as the 1940's via mounting lights on aircraft, and later ones that change intensity and shade depending on their background. There are rumors that "visual stealth" was tested on aircraft as late as the 1990's.

Even Boeing's Bird Of Prey program was said to have tested some forms of visual signature reduction. We have also seen YouTube videos of LED suits that use light sensitive receivers to "cloak" an object, or even more incredible this new capability that is straight out of the Predator movie franchise. This is precisely what the PL-01's designers say they are working on for their tank now, and future models are claimed to offer both infra-red and visual "cloaking" and "spoofing" capabilities. Such a technology would work in the same way as the tank's infrared masking capability, basically by using data from video or light sensitive receivers mounted around the tank and displaying the image taken from one side of tank on the opposite side. This is similar to putting a camera behind a flat panel TV and viewing the camera's feed on the TV. If the magnification was right the TV would all but disappear from a distance.

With the miniaturization of technology, I would not doubt if a similar system has been tested on aircraft and even ground vehicles in the US as well. Infrared, and even visual detection, remains a low observable aircraft's "achilles heel," and so called "silver bullet" platforms, meant to kick down the enemy's air defenses, or to spy on an enemy without being detected, could greatly benefit from this technology. Although putting such an elaborate system on a 40 ton tank is very different than installing it on a 15 ton fighter, where weight is always an issue.

The infrared spectrum continues to dominate the ground side of the modern battlefield, especially after dark, so having the ability to blend into your thermal surroundings, or to even look like something totally different than what you actually are, should drastically increase your survivability.

The PL-01 tank is also said to be almost entirely coated with radar absorbing material, and the vehicle's very low-profile and faceted design is said to reduce radar returns in a sizeable manner. This could be quite valuable, as detection of armored formations via standoff strategic platforms using ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar will increasingly be proliferated throughout the world.

Additionally, radars and missiles that use millimeter wave radar for detection and guidance, such as what is found on the Mi-28N and the AH-64D attack helicopters, are also becoming more common place as a means of attacking armored targets under adverse weather conditions.

Finally, modern fighter and attack aircraft can use their radar systems to detect, and even target armored vehicles, even while those vehicles are moving. With this in mind, lowering the radar signature of a main battle tank, thus decreasing its detection range, can mean the difference between life and death when a roaming pack of enemy multi-role fighters is out hunting for tanks to plink. 
 
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By Tyler Rogoway
 
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