Since this is our first blog post a brief introduction. We are Woven Apogee, a boutique gear developer based out of Toronto, Canada. As end-users ourselves, we focus on identifying gaps in the product offerings currently available in the marketplace and strive to fill these gaps through bespoke solutions.
In this blog post we take a look at IR patches, why we generally stopped wearing them at night many years ago and why you might want to do the same. That said, please note that the experiences and requirements that our decisions are based on might substantially differ from yours.
What are IR patches?
Keeping it brief and simple, an infrared (IR) patch reflects light emitted from traditional visible light sources (i.e. regular flashlights/street lights) or infrared emitters (i.e. IR lasers/lights) off of a reflective material back to the source and is not visible to the naked eye. We can basically think of IR patches as bike reflectors that are only visible through night vision devices.
Image Source: UFPro.
Why IR patches can be useful?
Identifying friend and foe (IFF) is just as crucial at night as it is during the day. However, many of the tools we use to successfully IFF during the day do not work at night, especially while wearing night vision devices. As an example, while different uniform colours or something like red and blue armbands are generally easily identified during the day, it is much harder or even impossible to do so at night while using night vision devices.
Obviously we could turn on our visible white light to identify if somebody is wearing something like a blue or red armband, however turning on a white light for this purpose could, a) telegraph to an opponent that they have been detected and where we are, or b) on top of exposing our own position could also expose the position of the friendly that we are illuminating to an opponent that is passively observing the encounter.
One of the common solutions to avoid having to use visible white light for IFF is the use of IR patches. If everyone we are working with wears a certain type of IR patch (i.e. a flag patch or certain symbol) all we have to do is point our IR laser/light at them and the IR patch will reflect back to us, so we can determine if they are friend or foe.
This does however require that the opponent is not in possession of any night vision devices themselves to ensure that they stay oblivious to our IFF procedures. Should the opponent have any night vision devices of their own, using IR patches and IR lasers/flashlights for IFF is just like shining a visible white light at armbands, which brings us to the reasons why we generally stopped wearing IR patches at night many years ago.
Why we generally stopped wearing IR patches?
There are essentially two reasons.
First and foremost, night vision has become much more accessible and has consequently seen widespread adoption to a point where in almost every application it would be foolish to assume that we are alone with regards to the possession of night vision capabilities. As such, while we were able to use IR patches for covert IFF when we were the only ones using night vision, those days have long passed and using IR patches in conjunction with IR lasers/lights for IFF have essentially become just as dangerous as using a white light.
Furthermore, as we have established, IR patches essentially glow by reflecting light directed in their general direction back to the source. As such, if an opponent is scanning a tree line (in which we are hiding while wearing IR patches), with a visible white light or an IR laser/light, while wearing a night vision device, our patches will glow up and make it much easier to detect us. If we would not be wearing any IR patches the opponent illuminating and scanning the tree line might have skimmed over us, but with the reflection from an IR patch we are much more likely to be detected. In fact, sometimes ambient light sources such as street lights can be enough to make IR patches glow up.
So are IR patches completely useless?
IR patches have certainly become less useful when compared to the days when opponents had no night vision capabilities. That said, despite the shortcomings as the technological playing-field has evened-out, IR patches aren't completely useless.
Let's keep in mind that we can easily cover or simply remove IR patches when not needed. Most quality combat uniforms that feature IR reflective squares also have small tabs that can cover these IR reflective squares when not needed. So in situations where stealth is the primary concern IR patches can be removed or covered and in situations where "stealth is optional" and quick IFF is more important, like an active engagement with many moving parts, IR patches can still serve their purpose as a quick IFF tool.
How to effectively conduct IFF without IR patches?
This leaves the question on how can we conduct effective IFF in situations during which we shouldn't be wearing IR patches? There are dozens of possible solutions to the problem, frankly too many for us to go into detail on as part of this blog post, but here are two.
One solution would be to use thermal devices in conjunction with thermal patches. As many others, we have adopted the use of thermal devices, specifically the InfiRay RH25 and the InfiRay Jerry CE5, which along with our NODE pouch, is available through our friends at Cold Harbour Supply. As an aside, as the availability of thermal devices has gone up and the prices have come down, adding thermal capabilities is the natural evolution from just relying on traditional night vision devices, and we expect wide spread adoption over the coming years. For reference to those unfamiliar with thermal devices, as shown in the picture below, rather than amplifying light like traditional night vision devices, thermal devices display differences in temperature.
Image Source: IR.TOOLS
The thermal image that we see above is in "white hot mode" meaning heat sources are displayed white while cooler areas are darker. If we look closely we can see the individual on the left wearing a thermal patch (the black square on his, from our point of view, right chest). The dark square only stands out like this when observed through thermal devices and would just be a tan/ranger green patch when observed with the naked eye. Chances are an opponent seeing our thermal patch through a thermal scope has already detected us, so the patch itself is far less likely to give us away than an IR patch. However most importantly, thermal patches do not require any active illumination emitted towards them to become visible. Furthermore, another benefit around the use of thermal patches/thermal scopes is that they can be seen through smoke and dust.
Another solutions revolves around having good situational awareness through detailed planning and a well coordinated command and control function. Again, without getting into this in too much detail, given the focus of this blog post, if we know the positions of all friendlies through good situational awareness and detailed planning and if in doubt can rely on a well coordinated and informed command and control function we can solve most IFF situations without the need for any active or passive signalling devices. Here in Canada, Blackline Simulations really pushes the envelope when it comes to the effective use of a command and control function in their events, so we would highly recommend their blog posts on the topic as well as attending one of their events.
I still want to have that cool guy look, what can I do?
We get it, for years we have seen IR patches being worn by all the cool guys on all the cool guy pictures and looking cool is all that matters, right? Just keep in mind that these cool guys are doing cool guy stuff and as we said at the outset of this blog post their applications and requirements are entirely different from ours.
Image Source: SoldierSystems
That said, here is what we can do to ensure we look cool without compromising ourselves at night. We can either remove any IR patches before it is time to get out the night vision devices or what we have found to be much less cumbersome is to simply use patches that look like they are IR patches but in fact do not have any IR reflective material.Talk to the patch supplier of your choice and simply ask them to replace the black IR reflective material with a matte black non reflective material and looking cool while remaining stealthy is ensured.
We hope you found this blog post helpful, if you did, give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram for more to come.
The Woven Apogee Team