Russia has made no secret in recent years that they hope to serve as the go-to arms supplier for nations that find themselves outside of the U.S.’s good graces. As American allies lined up to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Russian developers worked feverishly to build their own fifth-generation competitor — not necessarily to square off against the F-35 in the skies, but rather to square off on the international weapons market. Russian missile defense platforms have likewise been heavily touted by Russian backed media outlets, hoping to secure more international sales and inject some much-needed funding into their national defense apparatus.
Russia’s efforts to sell their wares on the international market have led to a number of significant announcements made by high ranking Russian officials about the viability and success of their advanced weapons technologies, almost always followed closely behind by evidence to suggest that their claims were either exaggerated or utterly baseless. Vladimir Putin himself recently touted the nation’s new nuclear-powered cruise missile, developed to have a nearly unlimited range that would allow it to circumvent most existing missile defense systems. Of course, it was soon revealed that the platform has yet to conduct even a single successful flight (despite actually being decades old technology). Russia’s Uran-9 ground combat drone, designed to bolster Russian ground troops with an autonomous Terminator-like weapons system, was also touted as a success in Syria, securing a place in Russia’s annual military parade as a result — only to have stories leak soon thereafter about the platforms utter failure to reliably function in a combat environment.
Now, continuing Russia’s trend of announcing groundbreaking new technologies to garner headlines, Russian state-owned media outlets have recently begun reporting on a new “stealth camouflage” system that will soon be unveiled by Rostec, a state-owned defense supplier. The camouflage system, according to Russia’s claims, will change its visible patterns and even colors to better blend in with the environment and can be deployed not just on vehicles, but even as a part of Russian soldier’s uniforms.
“At the Army-2018 forum, Rostec will demonstrate a prototype of the electrically-controllable material that can change its color depending on the surface that needs to be camouflaged and on the environment. The coating can reflect color changes and imitate complex graphical depictions, up to the leaves wavering in the wind,” Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov said.
This sort of camouflage system may elicit images of the 1987 film, “Predator,” in which an alien uses advanced technology to blend into his environment, and if one is to believe Chemozov, his company will soon be outfitting the entire Russian military with that sort of game-changing technology, but history has proven that it’s best to take a critical eye to these claims from Russian outlets.
This new camouflage system is part of the Ratnik-3 soldier improvement program, which also includes the use of a new exoskeleton system designed to increase the strength and endurance of Russian troops. The United States has a similar program in development, though America’s is still years away from deploying such a system — begging the question, how did Russia beat America to the punch despite having far more limited resources? That simple answer likely is that they haven’t. Like the Su-57, the S-400 missile defense system, the Uran-9 and so many more, Russia tends to be in the business of making claims about what they’re capable of… but rarely of producing equipment that can live up to those claims. To date, there’s little evidence to suggest that the Ratnik-3 system is any different.
However, assuming for a moment that Russian scientists have successfully developed the exoskeleton and camouflage system and they can perform as advertised, Russia’s stagnating economy would still make any widespread distribution of such a kit nearly impossible. Like Russia’s limited order of a dozen stealth fighters (just to say they have some), or their decision to stop building their advanced T-14 Armata tanks over cost, the Ratnik-3 will likely be placed on a shelf where it can be touted but never used.