"Disguises of War," airing tonight at 8 on Channels 28 and 15 and at 9 on Channel 50, offers an absorbing look at the never-ending shadow games that countries play. This "Nova" episode could also have been titled "How to Win Wars by Fooling the Other Guy."
A technique probably as old as organized warfare (see index under "Horse, Trojan"), "Disguises" examines the modern methods of camouflage and battlefield deceit.
As practiced by the armed forces of the world, the art and science of deception takes many forms, ranging from simple camouflage to complex systems to make even a bomber or submarine undetectable.
Through a series of interviews mixed with war footage and some excellent graphics, "Disguises" explicates the workings of devices ranging from simple two-dimensional plane cutouts parked on airfield runways to the elaborate--and enormously expensive--B-2 Stealth bomber. Both sides of this deadly game are covered--hiding your own troops and equipment and finding the enemy's.
Some of the best material comes from the World War II archives. The Germans, for example, constructed a 60,000-acre roof painted with patterns of streets and buildings over the industrial harbor of Hamburg to trick Allied bombers. Not to be outdone, Lockheed had Disney Studios construct an entire tract of fake suburban houses on top of its Burbank aircraft facility.
The segment on the B-2 Stealth program is very timely; Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is considering cuts in the budget for the futuristic bomber. "Disguises" shows how the offensive nature of the plane may doom it in an era when the Soviet bloc is crumbling. In contrast, the F-117 fighter--another plane that can elude radar detection--may be a success because of its flexibility in combat.
"Disguises of War" drags a little bit during some of the interviews, but on the whole continues "Nova's" fine tradition of rendering clear subjects that are not easily explained or understood.