Russia's inflatable tanks, jets and radar installations to fool the "enemy"

Russia has invited the BBC to inspect its new inflatable arsenal -- a complete range of decoy weapons and entire military installations made of inflatable plastic, intended to fool radar and satellite spy-systems and confuse the "enemy" (um, Belarusian gas pipeline hardcases? Chechen guerrillas? Kleptocrats who've lost Putin's favor? Gangsters?) whoever that might be.
On goes the pump, in goes the air and the plastic sheet begins to rise and take shape. A turret appears, then out pops a long plastic gun barrel. This is an inflatable Russian tank.

When the men pump up their next piece of plastic, this one expands into a S-300 rocket launcher, complete with giant truck and inflatable rockets. It is a cross between a ballistic missile and a bouncy castle.

And waiting to be blown up are inflatable MiG fighter jets - even entire Russian radar stations...They are also very realistic. They are made of a special material that tricks enemy radar and thermal imaging into thinking they are real weapons.

Russia inflates its military with blow-up weapons (via Neatorama)


  1. OMG, I totally want one! Could you imagine inflating one of those on your annoying neighbor’s front yard some morning?

  2. The Allies used this same trick in WWII, but they did one thing differently: they kept it a secret until after the whole shebang was over.

    ~D. Walker

  3. We had those in World War Two. Indeed, General Patton — before he was reinstated to real combat in Europe — was the nominal commander of an entire Army made up, in part, of inflatable armor. I think largely in York.

  4. Just think: part of the paperwork for any Russian weapons system is to send a copy of the plans for their exterior to the Balloonist Corps for balloonification. I wonder if the Corps is run by some Colonel Blimp type?

  5. If interested in the WWII version, read ‘The War Magician’ by David Fisher. It’s all about Jasper Maskelyne, a stage performer who used his talents of misdirection and simulation on the stage to help win the war. It’s a good read.

  6. That actually works quite well in war. Remember heat seeking missiles work only if engine in target is running if you’d wanna destroy immovable and hidden enemy armor you have to rely on ordinary visual observations (from on-board video cameras at air-crafts, satellite imagery, etc.) This is why ‘inflatable’ dummies work. From up above they look pretty much the same.

    I’m pretty sure that US army stocks it’s own equivalent.

    1. Inflatables also look GREAT in recon photos.

      If they’d placed a battalion of these out in the Pacific, they would’ve won the Cold War. How could we stop an army of unstoppable water tanks?

  7. I suspect even old Sun Tzu had a passage or two about misdirecting the enemy (while avoiding being misdirected by the enemy).

  8. what “new” about this exactly? Russia had deployable decoys for ages.

    Maybe they’re just expanding their market to “Super Fun Time Happy Jumpy Engine of Mass Destruction Replicas” or NAMBLA.

  9. Can we buy them? If they’re reasonably priced, I want a T-72 and a Mig! Ohhh…and a BMP, too. ANd maybe a Hind-D. then when my friends and I play Red Dawn it will be sooo much more realistic! :)

  10. Ha, good timing. I just finished reading _Blackout_ and _All Clear_ by Connie Willis, which are set in WWII England and feature the inflatable tanks and associated disinformation campaign quite heavily. I hadn’t realised it was a tactic still in use.

  11. What you all fail to understand is that the BBC article and any other PR related to these inflatables is a complex, nested ruse. By making the rest of the world *think* that much of their land-based forces are junior parade floats, the Russian army can then park huge numbers of tanks, etc. anywhere they want and then tell anyone who gets curious, “They’re just balloons! Calm down!” And then deflate a couple out of every hundred real weapons.

    Then again, maybe *I’m* an inflatable, decoy Happy Mutant, sent here to propagate a faux comment…

    Puzzles inside enigmas wrapped in latex.

  12. Iworked for THE PATTEN COMPANY for ten years as a pattern and fabric cutter.They have been making life rafts for the US MILITARY since the 1930’s including inflatable decoys used in the D-DAY invasion of Normandy.I had many opportunities to work with FRED PATTEN,the designer of those decoys and many of the life saving devices used by our servicemen and woman thru the decades since his first designs submitted to COL.Eddie Rickenbacker at Wright AFB.Fred Patten’s products were used extensively in the Apollo Space Program,Blue Angles,and every branch of the US military including saving the life of George Bush Senior who was shot down over the Pacific(all documented at Fred was still coming to work(well into his 90’s)’designing,troubleshooting and generally boosting morale at his company in 2004 when I worked there.His two son’s run it now so Fred and his wife can spend more time at their Palm Beach FL home and Montana retreat.

  13. I’d like to see if a JSTARS could tell the difference. Even if it couldn’t, we have recon satellites with 3-inch resolution. That photo was taken from over 10 feet away and it doesn’t look all that convincing.

    1. >Editz:
      >I’d like to see if a JSTARS could tell the >difference…
      >we have recon satellites with 3-inch resolution. >That photo was
      >taken from over 10 feet away and it doesn’t look all that

      The Russians/Soviets have a long and respectable history of Maskirovka. I don’t know exactly how they would be seen, but I’ll bet they have people who work that out carefully. Just visible at the edge of a treeline? Probably. Warmed up and moving at tank speeds on dark nights? Probably. Loaded up on tank transporters, lightly tarped or netted, mixed in with real tanks? Probably. Let them be seen as obvious fakes somewhere, then slip in all real tanks? No problem.

      The Russian military can do simple things well, and that’s what these are. Did you note the hint about special fabrics to fool sensors? That should be possible.

  14. “confuse the “enemy” (um, Belarusian gas pipeline hardcases? Chechen guerrillas? Kleptocrats who’ve lost Putin’s favor? Gangsters?) whoever that might be. ”

    The enemy is America derrr

  15. Good job that America avoided the naval war — Russians had numerical advantage.

    In many ways, this is the emergent game: Google Earth is omniscient. Cardboard or plastic, illusion replaces information.

  16. The USA has decoys too. I’ve seen the M-1 Abrams. Its very realistic but its fabric over a framework–not an inflatable. It has the same radar signature as the real thing as well a Kerosene burner so as to have the same IR signature. I don’t think the M-1 has ever been used against an enemy with sophisticated enough weapons to make deploying the decoys worthwhile.

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