Seismic - an additional signature dimension for camouflage

The classic signatures that need to be camouflaged to enhance ground forces' survivability are quite well-understood.

* visual (including image intensifier technology)
* near infrared (partially covered by image intensifiers as well)
* infrared ("thermal")
* ultraviolet (relevant on snow)
* radar (movement indicating and/or imaging)
* acoustic (now also including acoustic sniper direction indicators)
* radio
* smell
* traces on soft ground

I haven't seen the seismic signature dimension being mentioned in military manuals yet
(I've probably just missed it, though).

The seismic signatures of soldiers, wheeled vehicles, tracked vehicles and animals are distinguishable from each other to a useful degree by small sensors in the ground. The miniaturization of electronics, radio modules, GPS tools and the improvement of batteries allows for effective networks of seismic ground surveillance sensors. These can be (and usually are) coupled with other sensors like infrared to confirm and possibly identify triangulated seismic contacts.

This technology has been (in a less sophisticated) around since the Vietnam War and got attention again some months ago as one of the spin-off tools of the Future Combat System program.
Aforementioned modern technologies could make this stuff affordable in huge quantities.
It's ideal for defenders who want to cover a large are/wide frontage with few forces. There are always some spots difficult to observe - and such ground sensors (as of course others as well) can help a lot against infiltration and reconnaissance attempts.

It would be an illusion to believe that this kind of technology won't be available to second or third rate armies. Several only partially industrialized countries have a better industrial base for the production of such tools than many (so-called) industrialized countries.

Soft boot soles will likely not help, and the impressive advertised detection radius for such a seismic sensor (soldier: 50+ m, heavy vehicle: 500+ m) leaves little hope for the effectiveness of special walking techniques as well.

There are possible countermeasures, though. Attacking the sensor's radio network is a very obvious possibility, radio triangulation and subsequent mortar fire with HE bombs on the position of such sensors is another possibility (albeit likely too expensive). Seismic jamming might also be possible. Moving slow might help as well, but that won't happen if the leader doesn't suspect the presence of such enemy sensors.

Seismic sensors seem to deserve more attention. Such tools are not reserved to Western armies by nature's law - they can easily be produced by many countries and it looks as if the understanding of such sensors and the countermeasures aren't well-developed yet.

Sven Ortmann


  1. I know nothing of military affairs, but I imagine seismic sensors are "nice to have" not "need to have." Only after rifles, ammunition, water purifiers, electricity, and computers have been provided will soldiers clamor for seismic sensors.

    However -- the possibility that these devices could be made cheaply is promising. If they could be very cheap and lightweight, they might be as easy to supply as cell phones.

    Also -- could these devices be useful to homeowners and neighborhood associations in countries suffering urban warfare? If they had non-military uses, it would be easier to convince many manufacturers to mass-produce them. If they are necessarily military, they will be more expensive.

  2. Seismic sensors are still quite exotic, they aren't highly visible hardware like tanks and not adopted yet (officially) even by many 1st rate armies.
    This was really about potential than about actual proliferation.

    CCTV/LLTV seems to be superior for civilian applications. Seismic sensors function in no sight conditions (in forest, bushes, smoke, trenches of all kinds) - that isn't really relevant for protection of civilian installations because their surrounding can easily be manipulated to offer no concealment to CCTV/LLTV.


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