Is Our Camouflage Adequate?
SUBJECT AREA - General
Title: Is Our Camouflage Adequate?
Author: Major Richard W. Spencer, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: The Marine Corps does not have a suitable method to
rapidly change the camouflage color on military equipment.
Background: In an attempt to counter the Soviet doctrinal use of
chemical and nuclear weapons, the Department of Defense adopted
chemical agent resistant coating as the material for painting
military equipment. Chemical agent resistant coating (CARC) is
designed to prevent chemical impregnation and aid in rapid
decontamination of equipment. CARC is also the material used to
camouflage military equipment. CARC, because of its numerous
restrictions and availability, prohibits the local commander from
rapidly changing the color of his equipment when faced with a
contingency response. Because CARC is considered environmentally
hazardous, local paint facilities are restricted from painting CARC
in volume. This restriction further degrades the commander's
choices when faced with a rapid response situation.
Recommendations: The Department of Defense should discontinue the
use of CARC paint and allow local facilities to paint their
equipment when operational necessity dictates.
IS OUR CAMOUFLAGE ADEQUATE?
Thesis: The Marine Corps does not have a suitable method to
rapidly change the camouflage color on military equipment. The
problem is exacerbated by the requirement to use chemical agent
resistant coating (CARC). The solution requires the Department of
Defense to discontinue the use of CARC and allow local facilities
to paint their equipment when operational necessity dictates.
I. Why did DOD adopt CARC paint?
A. Countering Soviet doctrinal use of chemical and
B. CARC engineered to aid in decontamination.
II. Explanation of USMC camouflage patterns.
A. Majority of USMC equipment is Standard pattern.
B. No plan exist to change color rapidly.
III. CARC restrictions.
A. CARC is environmentally hazardous.
B. CARC is applied at depot-level facilities.
C. CARC is expensive and has limited shelf life.
D. CARC is not available on short notice.
E. Transportation costs for equipment is prohibitive.
F. Other paints more suitable for contingency response.
IV. Corrosion control for equipment.
A. CARC use results in excessive maintenance hours.
V. Why should we care about this problem?
A. Color is preferred over chemical protection.
B. CARC does not provide an adequate chemical defense.
C. Many factors affect the visual detection of targets.
D. Background on three color camouflage pattern.
E. Test results of desert color scheme.
VI. Why should DOD discontinue the use of CARC?
A. Controlling VOC emissions is costly.
B. The commander faces a legal dilemma.
C. Depot facilities can not provide support.
VII. Why should local facilities paint equipment.
A. Surge efforts are more responsive.
B. Materials are obtainable quicker.
C. New technology is not available today.
IS OUR CAMOUFLAGE ADEQUATE?
On August 6, 1990, elements of I Marine Expeditionary Force
began preparations for deployment to Saudi Arabia. During mission
analysis, the determination was made to change the camouflage color
of the equipment from green to desert tan. Consultation with the
depot-level maintenance experts revealed that the depots could not
handle the enormous volume of painting required. Additionally, the
materials required for the painting task were not available in
As various staffs worked diligently to find a suitable
alternative to the green camouflage paint scheme, the evidence
indicated that this was a service-wide problem. Specifically, the
problem is that no suitable method exists to rapidly change the
camouflage color on military equipment.(4:1) The cause of the
problem is exacerbated by the requirement to use chemical agent
resistant coating (CARC). The solution to this problem requires
the Department of Defense (DOD) to discontinue the use of CARC
paint and to allow local facilities to paint their equipment when
operational necessity dictates. (5:3)
Why did DOD adopt CARC paint? The U.S. military adopted CARC
paint to counter the expected Soviet use of chemical weapons.
Soviet doctrine integrated chemical and nuclear weapons employment.
Doctrine also called for the use of persistent chemical agents to
contaminate specific facilities and terrain, and non-persistent
chemical agents to support an attack. CARC, scientifically known
as pigmented polyamide paint, is designed to counter the Soviet
doctrinal use of chemical agents on the battlefield.(15:40)
Another tactic called for the use of non-persistent lethal agents
just prior to an attack. The goal was to inflict maximum
casualties while temporarily contaminating an area. The key to
survival with persistent chemicals is the ability to rapidly
decontaminate personnel and their equipment. CARC paint is
engineered to prevent chemical impregnation and to aid in the rapid
decontamination of equipment. Other coatings require more time and
effort to decontaminate, making them less desirable than CARC in
the Soviet scenario. CARC paint, because it is a non-porous
coating, offers additional benefits such as corrosion protection
and service life extension. (8:1)
To understand the magnitude and significance of the problem,
the following background information is offered. In the late
1970s, the Marine Corps began painting its equipment in camouflage
patterns rather than the basic green color. There are three
camouflage color patterns used today. They are Standard
(black/green/brown), Desert (tan), and Winter Snow
(black/white/brown). The pattern choice for the Fleet Marine Force
(FMF) depends on where the Unified Commander (CINC) plans to employ
the Marines, or other services, in his theater of operations. Due
to the requirement that the MAGTFs, and potentially the Selected
Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR), be able to respond to a wide spectrum
of world-wide crisis, the Marine Corps uses the Standard color for
its major end items. Equipment included in the Norway pre-
positioning program is also painted the Standard pattern since the
Norwegian weather throughout most of the year calls for it vice the
Winter Snow pattern.
The exception to this Standard pattern is the equipment
aboard MPS-3, stationed in Diego Garcia. This equipment is painted
the Desert pattern because its primary mission involves the desert
regions in multiple operations plans. While MPS-3 was utilized in
Southwest Asia, it should be asked what the plans are to paint
other equipment to a Desert color if used in a different area.
Currently, there is no plan to rapidly change colors and this
challenge is further complicated by the requirement to use CARC
paint. (5:3) With the proposed reduction of military forces, it is
highly probable that military units will be combined to handle any
significant threat. This will cause the majority of units
responding to a desert scenario to change the color of their
Why should DOD discontinue the use of CARC? While it appears
that CARC is the ideal paint for camouflage and chemical
protection, it is important to realize this relationship directly
contributes to the problem. Several disadvantages are obvious when
attempting to rapidly change color. CARC paint is considered
environmentally hazardous, and its application requires
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved safety equipment and
facilities. (11:2) EPA regulations restrict the use of CARC to one
quart per site per day. (6:2) Only approved facilities, such as
depot-level maintenance facilities can dispense CARC in volume.
This restriction on volume painting is attributed to the amount of
volatile organic compounds (VOC) released into the atmosphere when
spraying. (9:2) Other paints, such as polyurethane or alkyd base,
also have to meet state and local emission standards. The solution
to the emission problem lies in the use of a low pressure
mechanical spray system combined with a low emission paint. (11:2)
CARC paint is expensive and has a limited shelf life. In
fact, CARC is approximately four times more expensive than a low
emission alkyd or polyurethane paint. (10:2) The expense and
storage requirements of CARC limit the amount of paint that can be
procured on short notice. Manufacturers supply CARC on a scheduled
basis, requiring sufficient lead time and forecasting of
requirements. Manufacturers can significantly increase production
and delivery of alkyd or polyurethane paint within days of
notification. The flexibility of use, and the relative ease of
procurement of non-CARC paint, make them more suitable for the
rapid change of camouflage color.
Another disadvantage of CARC is the huge transportation costs
incurred when transporting equipment to a depot-level facility.
State and federal intra-state transportation laws require large
pieces of equipment be transported, by rail or truck, to the paint
facility. Tanks, for example, require special trailers that have
the necessary weight bearing capacity. Additionally, transit times
are restricted on week-ends and holidays. Special permits, which
add to the total costs, are required prior to movement.
Transportation costs account for nearly fifty percent of the total
painting cost. Transportation costs can easily exceed $2,000 per
major end item, making this alternative cost prohibitive. Local
painting eliminates the need to transport large quantities of
equipment to a depot-level facility for painting.
A significant challenge for most units is the requirement to
protect equipment from the effects of corrosion. Corrosion is
accelerated when equipment is exposed to salt water or spray in a
marine environment. (13:6-1) The best protection is to completely
seal a surface from exposure to such elements. (3:2) Once a
surface is corroded, the corrosion must be removed before the
surface can be prepared for sealing. Power grinders or sanders can
not be used to remove corrosion from CARC painted equipment since
hazardous dust is released to the work space. This creates an
environmental hazard to personnel. The requirement to manually
sand areas, and the restriction placed on the volume of CARC that
can be applied at each site, inhibits effective corrosion control.
The use of CARC paint, with its restrictions, significantly
increases the maintenance man-hours required to combat corrosion.
(3:1) Equipment painted with non-CARC paint required extensive
surface preparation before it could be repainted with CARC. (6:2)
Why should we care about this problem? The commanders'
decision for a desert tan paint scheme was unanimous. Their
decision was made after fully considering the ramifications of
operating in a chemical environment. Color is preferred even
though Iraqi forces were known to possess a chemical weapons
threat. The operations officer of the 9th Engineer Support
Battalion, in charge of training chemical decontamination teams,
I can say that the crucial issue in decontamination
operations is the availability of trained decontamination
personnel, appropriate water supply equipment, and large
quantities of water. Most vehicles that would require
decontamination would be dirty. The paint would be
scratched in many areas ... or would be inaccessible
behind canvas or attached equipment. CARC paint, of
itself, is not going to provide an adequate chemical
Why is camouflage so important to the commander? The
importance of proper camouflage is stressed in basic military
training. Commanders realize that proper camouflage directly
enhances the survival of their men. (7:149) Additionally,
camouflage patterns disrupt the normal appearance of the equipment,
making the recognition of high-value targets more difficult. Many
factors affect the visual detection of targets. Some of the
fundamental research in the field was performed by Blackwell in
1946. (12:2-3) He was concerned with discovering what makes things
detectable (e.g. signals, displays, life-rafts, etc.). Others have
extended his work to the application of camouflage, that is the
making of otherwise detectable objects undetectable. However, no
one has disputed his fundamental finding that at a reasonable
contrast ratio and illumination level, the threshold detectability
of targets corresponds to a target size of one minute of arc.
The three color camouflage pattern is significantly different
in concept from previous patterns. While earlier patterns
attempted to match background colors and texture, thereby causing
the object to have a minimum contrast with its background, the
three color pattern breaks the vehicle up into barely discernable
objects which do not correspond to vehicle features. (2:16)
Pattern placement and color disrupts those cues which assist in
shape recognition (lines, curves). This leads to the significant
result that the camouflage pattern should disrupt objects larger
than one minute of arc (30 cm at 1000 meters), while itself being
at least one minute of arc in size. (12:2-4) The only exception to
this pattern theory is the results obtained by the Saudi Arabian
National Guard (SANG). Their test showed, that in a sparse desert
environment, a solid color was preferable to the three color
pattern. Fortunately, this helped to lessen the time required to
change the green pattern to desert tan.
Why should the DOD discontinue the use of CARC paint? The
industrial engineer at the Marine Corps Logistics Base, (MCLB),
Barstow, California states:
This paint was over designed. Despite what may be valid
laboratory results that demonstrate CARC is effective in
shedding chemical agents during a deliberate
decontamination process, we -- the DMA at MCLB Barstow --
can not afford to pay for the prohibitively expensive
equipment required to apply and control the emissions
from CARC paint. (8:1)
Additionally, when painting large quantities of CARC, it is
exceptionally costly to control the VOC emissions. Controlling VOC
emissions involves some of the most complex and inefficient
technologies ever devised (carbon absorption, incineration, etc.).
The unit commander is faced with a dilemma. While regulations
determine painting schedules and location, the commander is
responsible for the preparedness of his men and equipment. State
and federal jaws hold the individual responsible for the violation
of EPA statutes. The commander, at any level, can be prosecuted
for violating the local and federal laws regarding clean air. (9:1)
When responding to a crisis that requires a different paint scheme,
the commander is faced with violating the law to prepare his
equipment. The statute of limitations makes him liable for
prosecution long after the crisis has been resolved. Imagine the
turmoil caused when faced with legal action while attempting to
prepare equipment for combat.
As mentioned previously, the depot maintenance facilities
could not provide the painting support, and local laws prohibit the
use of CARC paint. What is the commander to do? When faced with
the same problem for Desert Storm, members of I MEF completed the
painting tasks by using low emission water based latex paint. The
paint was procured from local vendors and applied with a commercial
grade mechanical sprayer. This painting was completed with EPA
approval. (6:2) The equipment was painted by a mobile team,
travelling to various locations, where the equipment was staged for
embarkation. This method caused the least impact on the units
preparing to leave the base. After many months in the extreme
desert environment, the equipment showed remarkably little wear.
Why can't this method be used for future contingency response? In
fact, this method can be used, but it will require changing
regulations and discontinuing the use of CARC paint. Ultimately,
use of low emission paint and mechanical sprayers allow the rapid
change of camouflage color that is considered critical for
battlefield survival. (1:149)
Why should local facilities paint equipment? Local commanders
can control the hours of operation of local facilities, causing
them to surge when necessary. The local commander can augment a
facility with additional manpower when required. The depot
facilities, manned mostly with civilians, incur tremendous costs
when forced to surge. Additionally, qualified labor may not be
available on short notice. The greatest benefit of having local
facilities paint equipment is shortened turn around time, This is
critical when faced with contingency deployment schedules.
Other solutions involve the use of new technology. For
example, 3M Corporation is developing a system of adhesive decals
that would provide rapid color change. Because the technology is
still in development, few facts are known regarding cost or
suitability. Undoubtedly, the research and development cost would
be absorbed by the military if this system is adopted. Another
solution, being proposed, is the development of low emission CARC.
While this may eliminate the VOC problem, it will continue to be
very costly and have a limited shelf life. (10:2) All other
solutions involving new technology are not currently available,
making them unsuitable for today's needs.
In conclusion, the problem of rapidly changing the camouflage
paint scheme to match the area of hostilities is perplexing. The
current methods simply do not work for contingency operations.
With current regulations requiring CARC paint, options for rapidly
changing color are not existent. With the end of the Cold War, do
we really need the costly protection that is derived from CARC?
When taken in the context of force reductions and weapon systems
cancellations, CARC is an expensive option that has out lived its
usefulness. Two of the pillars of our national defense strategy
are forward presence and crisis response. Remaining tied, to the
numerous restrictions and encumbrances associated with CARC, does
not allow the force to adequately prepare for crisis response.
Huge monetary savings can be realized by discontinuing the use of
CARC. DOD's adoption of a suitable low emission paint, such as
alkyd or polyurethane, allows local facilities to comply with EPA
regulations and complete their tasks. Future budget reductions
will not allow the huge expenditure of funds to continuously change
the color scheme. Most importantly, allowing local facilities to
paint equipment with a suitable substitute for CARC would provide
the commander with the responsiveness required to complete his
mission. DOD can quickly solve the problem of changing camouflage
color by discontinuing the use of CARC and allowing local
facilities to paint equipment. The solution, when viewed in
today's rapidly changing military posture, is practical, feasible
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