“Invisibility cloaks” and other future advances in military camouflage techniques could violate the Geneva conventions, a top military lawyer has warned.

Refinements of technologies that are already used on stealth bombers could breach compliance with international laws regulating armed conflict if equipment is disguised or soldiers’ weapons are hidden, according to Bill Boothby, a former air commodore and deputy director of RAF legal services.

Scientists and military contractors are spending tens of millions of pounds researching methods for generating effective invisibility through more sophisticated “metamaterials” – substances designed to absorb or bend light and/or radar waves in order to conceal approaching aircraft or troops.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has been one of the major funders of metamaterial science, triggering excitable comparisons with Harry Potter’s fictional invisibility cloak. Last year the US army announced it was planning to test prototype metamaterial uniforms.

Such chameleon-style technology is not entirely new. B2 stealth bombers first went into service with the US air force in the late 1980s and took part in air raids on Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their narrow profile, radar-absorbing paint and deflectors are intended to make them virtually invisible to enemy radar.

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