Military ‘stealth cloaks’ could breach Geneva Convention – legal expert

© Hannibal Hanschke
Military invisibility technology could breach the laws of war if developed and put into use, according to former Royal Air Force (RAF) commodore and legal expert William Boothby.

In a report in the journal Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict, due to be published by Oxford University Press in March, Boothby examines the legal concerns associated with advancing stealth technology. 

He says although normal camouflage measures are lawful, some new technologies may break the rules of warfare.

Boothby fears that technology which deceives the enemy in certain ways could be illegal if one party uses stealth abilities to appear as a non-combatant by making his weapon invisible and uses that appearance to gain a deadly advantage.

A combatant whose weapon is rendered invisible by its coating is arguably not complying with the minimal requirements [of carrying a weapon openly],” Boothby claims.

Such a move could leave the disguised combatant liable according to what the Geneva Convention terms a “prohibition of perfidy.

Similar technology could be used to disguise a tank as a civilian vehicle or even render it invisible to surveillance equipment, an ability UK arms firm BAE Systems is currently researching in Sweden.

Boothby explained that a vehicle could be fitted with technology which beats an infrared scan by the enemy by making itself appear to have the same temperature as the background scenery.

An object can be made to disappear into the background for an observer using an infrared sensor,” Boothby said.

It can also be used to mimic the infrared reading of a different vehicle, so a tank looks like a civilian car, for example.

Nations including the US already use a range of stealth technologies on their aircraft. Special ‘metamaterials,’ which bend or alter light, have become multimillion-dollar research areas.