A commando expedition is sent to country A. The fact that they come from country B must not be known in case they are caught in country A.

In order to do so, they need to have a portable way to turn the body and equipment of a fallen soldier into something that would not be recognizable (dust for instance, but anything reasonable goes).

How can they solve this problem?

This is our contemporary world with contemporary technical capacities (plus some more because this is a powerful country with advanced research). This needs to stay within the realms of "can happen", so no magic or XXX century technology, but Iron Man-like solutions are probably fine. I hope that the science-based tag reflects this, otherwise please correct the tag to something more suitable.

EDIT: to clarify, the context is not a documentary but fiction, so we assume a commando with high-tech infiltrated over a short period of time into country A (parachute, submarine, ...), that would have distinguishable gear (not an AK-47 but rather an advance rifle, latest+ technology suits, ...). They would clearly not be locals - thus the need to destroy all evidence.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm reminded of the first instalment of the Crysis franchise of games. The protagonist and his teammates wore Nanosuits with a wide variety of features, like enhanced strength and speed, active camouflage and so on. But in the event they were killed, the suit and its wearer would self-immolate down to ash in a couple seconds to prevent the top-secret hardware being captured. Most likely accomplished via the nanotech the suit is made of infiltrating the corpse and then raising its temperature to combustion temperatures. $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan May 12 at 11:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Any explanation for the close vote? $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 May 12 at 13:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond: I am thinking about an immediate, emergency destruction $\endgroup$ – WoJ May 12 at 14:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly sure it already exists, it's called a lot of explosives. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex May 12 at 15:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Whichever solution you pick, I suggest you build in a dead man's switch of some sort: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_man%27s_switch. Make sure it's set to fail deadly. ;) $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 12 at 16:38

I think it's part of the preliminary courses in counterintelligence that, whenever operatives are infiltrating an enemy country, they have to be equipped with locally available equipment: it makes easier for them to find local replacement or barter them in case of need and it's also easier to dismiss any claim that the operatives belong to the attacker, should they be intercepted. Can you imagine an infiltrated agent driving a Corvette in USSR during the cold war?

This would mean also for the operatives to wear local clothes and obviously no badges/identifiers, unless they are counterfeited ones, again from a local organization.

You are then left with the actual bodies of the operatives and any special equipment which cannot be disguised as local and that is really needed.

For the bodies, a corpse cannot tell its nationality, and again picking operatives which are homogeneous to the local people would help in this direction: don't send a Michael Jordan alike for an infiltration in Yakuzia, rather someone with Asian like appearance. Just ensure that they have the means to commit suicide if needed.

For the special equipment, you can have it either taken away from the other operatives, or you can embed an explosive charge into them to ensure you destroy the sensitive parts, and have it activated on demand.

Generally speaking in a situation where the operatives are facing the threat of being captured with no means of escape you want something quick, so a suicide pill and some explosive are the quickest way to clean as much as possible. Completely destroying a body takes time.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Some dental work might give an indication from which country they come, as well as any implants. So you would need to take care to destroy these besides the general body. $\endgroup$ – D.J. Klomp May 12 at 11:32
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Something similar to this was a significant point in the plot of Tom Clancy's political thriller novel "Clear And Present Danger", where the CIA illegally inserted infantry into Colombia to covertly fight drug cartels: only Hispanic personnel were used, all equipment and weapons were of types available locally, etc. The querent might find it worthwhile to skim it to help flesh out their ideas. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan May 12 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ A counterexample is the black-ops kind of movie operation where super equipped (usually US) commando teams go to do something. They have that super equipment that says "US" everywhere and the super suits and whatnot. So going for local gear is not always a possibility. $\endgroup$ – WoJ May 12 at 13:11
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @WoJ, movies notoriously sacrifice accuracy to showtime. I wouldn't take a movie as example on how to conduct a covert operation. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 12 at 13:30
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ We used to have a lot of jokes in the Soviet block about the Americans sending in spies with perfect cover stories, perfect Russian accent, etc, that are nevertheless given away by the fact that the agent happens to be Black. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa May 12 at 13:49

Quilted body-bags.

Well, how's that going to help? I hear you ask. Instead of downy feathers or hollow-fiber stuffing in the quilts, you'd use Iron oxide - aluminium based thermite.

It burns hot, very hot, around 2500 Celsius (4532 Fahrenheit) if evenly mixed, it's almost impossible to put-out once it's started burning, it'll melt steel weapons and render to char any electronics, it'll produce goodly quantities of molten iron and aluminium oxide slag to create quite a mess - difficult to disentangle, it will render flesh indistinguishable from scorched and carbonized beef. It also has the virtue of being stable and not-so-easy to light - needing a relatively high temperature to ignite.

They're also relatively lightweight to deploy on a battlefield, one person can carry several, lay one out beside a body, roll the body on, fold the quilt over the top, then use an easy to ignite flash powder to set it off.

As an alternative that wouldn't require extra personnel, or equipment, might I suggest that the thermite be incorporated into the uniform itself. Sensors detecting an end to life-signs would result in automatic self-immolation, this can also be accomplished with a "self-destruct" facility, usable when death or capture is imminent and unavoidable.

You could even go to the extent of placing sensors on each separate limb, such that if a soldier loses a foot or lower-arm, they will after a certain time (so as not to pinpoint the soldier's current location) no longer be apparent on the field - but leaving the soldier to continue the mission if possible. A similar arrangement could be made with abandoned weapons, additional providing for the possibility of a very effective means of arson.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ When I get sick of carrying a lot of equipment on my special mission, freaking cremation bag is the first thing getting chucked in a ditch. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 12 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Fair enough, I'll edit an alternative into the question. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 12 at 14:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, building the thermite with an appropriate detonator right in to all of the weapons would be useful as well. Any weapon that is not within a certain range of a living operative automatically detonates. Could make for interesting OOOOpsy plot sub-lines. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second May 12 at 19:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Meat (including humans) contains a lot of water, which takes a tremendous amount of energy to boil off before what's left starts carbonizing. From poultry vs. thermite videos that are flashy but leave quite a bit uncooked flesh behind such as youtube.com/watch?v=CYf1SjCJuT0 and youtube.com/watch?v=VTd3OKgmqtk , it's not clear that these thermite body bags would deliver enough energy to be effective unless they were very heavy. Moreover, authorities would surely be very suspicious of any corpses found burned with thermite and initiate a manhunt in the area. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan May 13 at 1:42


Nukes will solve any problem that requires a considerably high amount of energy being released in short time, which I figure could be about 10% of the questions in .

We have already mathed out the amount of energy you need in order to disassemble a human body into molecules before in these questions:

And here is the source for the estimated amount of energy required to vaporize a person. It is around three gigajoules, which is what you get from a single metric ton of TNT.

That single ton of TNT would only fully vaporize a person in very ideal lab conditions though. Most likely you would get chunks that could still be used for DNA identification. What we need is to dial things up to eleven.

The smallest nuke ever made is the W54. It fits into a backpack specially designed to encase it, as seen in this image from the Wiki:

A backpack with a W54 nuke inside, propped against a column. A fire extinguisher is present for size comparison.

Notice the fire extinguisher, for size comparison. It is quite feasible for a black ops team to carry one or two of these backpacks.

The maximum yield for the W54 is about 1 TNT kiloton equivalent. For comparison, an accidental, disastrous, non-nuclear blast of that yield happened in 2020 in Beirut:

The blast was also felt across Turkey, Syria, Israel, the West Bank and parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 240 km (150 mi) away. It was detected by the United States Geological Survey as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3, and is considered one of the most powerful artificial non-nuclear explosions in history.

The explosion overturned cars and stripped steel-framed buildings of their cladding. Within the port area, the explosion destroyed a section of shoreline and left a crater roughly 124 m (407 ft) in diameter and 43 m (141 ft) in depth.

There is footage of the blast, though it may be understandably distressing to watch.

If you activate a W54 warhead upon a fallen comrade, you will fulfill the hard requirement in the question about body and equipment being turned into something not recognizable. It is also a non-magical solution that is feasible with less than current technology, since the W54 is an invention from the 1950's.

As a bonus, you can also deal considerable damage to the enemy side. The mininuke in your possession might also be a deterrent against retaliation or against being chased when you retreat.

Last but not least - you should preferably be able to trigger it remotely so that you can put some safe distance between you and the teammate you wish to evaporate. You can figure out possible safe distances by using the NUKEMAP (don't forget to set the yield to 1 kiloton before you detonate). For most cities, you should be a couple neighbourhoods away just to be sure.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Didn't they do this in the original The Predator? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second May 13 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond I vaguely remember but I think so. It's time to watch it again! $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law May 13 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ At the end, the predator triggered a self-destruct nuclear weapon when it was about to die, when it new it was defeated, destroying all evidence of its existence or technology. Plus a great deal of real estate. Really, the movie is not worth watching again. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme the Second May 13 at 19:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.