Camouflage: what is it for and how it works

(ORDO NEWS) — Camouflage of military equipment and manpower does not always aim at complete camouflage. Sometimes it is enough just to bring down the enemy confused, leaving visible objects … but unrecognizable.

It is incorrect to say that camouflage makes the cloaked object invisible. The human eye is a very perfect instrument, and it is very difficult to deceive it by completely “hiding” an object against the surrounding background. But, as a rule, this is not necessary. You can simply paint the object – this makes it difficult or even impossible to recognize it correctly. And an unrecognized object is not psychologically perceived as dangerous: for some fractions of a second, a person subconsciously goes through familiar images, compares them with what he saw, and, not finding a similar one, erases this image from visual memory, without sending it to the part of the brain responsible for making decisions.

An eye sees, but a tooth doesn’t

You can, of course, order the observer to give target designation to all unrecognized objects as potentially dangerous. In this case, very soon the list of potential targets will grow incredibly. In addition, “targets” are not just targets for shooting, but objects of the enemy, which in turn tries to identify and destroy the military objects of the other side. This means that it is possible to open fire only on those objects that are unambiguously identified as targets to be destroyed, and their location is known so precisely that the target can be destroyed by one or two shots.

To open accurate fire on a target, you need to know its exact coordinates. Basically, you need to determine the direction to the target and the distance to it. Without these two values, artillery cannot calculate data for firing (barrel elevation angle, barrel rotation angle relative to zero direction, powder charge value). Ground forces usually use optical observation devices equipped with goniometric reticle (binoculars, sniper sights, stereoscopes, periscopes , etc.)), optical artillery and sapper range finders, quantum (laser) range finders. In order to determine the distance to the target using an optical rangefinder, you need to place the observed object between the risks of the grid, count them and determine the angular size of the target. Knowing the real size of the object, it is very easy to calculate the distance to the target. But this is where the problems begin: camouflage makes it much more difficult to identify the target and determine its actual size. And an error in sizing entails an error in assessing the distance … and a miss.

However, the artillery rangefinder allows the observer not to know the size and type of the detected object, since it is based on stereoscopic vision. In the rangefinder, the observer sees five glowing triangles: one in the center, two behind and two in front. Rotating the ratchet, place the middle triangle over the target, while the scale will show the exact distance to the target. But the problem is that the ambiguity of the contours of the target not only does not allow placing the mark virtually above it, but also instantly takes away the stereoscopic vision from the observer. The sapper rangefinder works on a different principle – it uses optical parallax, combining two images into one. But even this system does not give accurate results due to the blurring of the target contours.

The most modern rangefinder is a quantum (laser) one, it uses the measurement of the transit time of a laser pulse to an object and back. It would seem that camouflage is not a hindrance to him, but practice shows that in real combat conditions the laser rangefinder reacts to a lot of hindrances: smoke and dust, fragments and clods of earth, which are enough over the battlefield, hinder it. It reacts to grass, twigs, wires, flying birds and even insects, invisible to the observer, but caught in the path of the beam, not to mention rain or snow. Of course, for radar systems that work great on airplanes, all these factors are not a hindrance, but the radar is quite cumbersome.

Spotted amoeba

The reason for the difficult recognition in the above examples is the so-called distorting camouflage. It is also called large-spotted because the color spots (usually 3-5 colors) on its surface are quite large: a typical spot size is from 10 to 20% of each plane. Such camouflage distorts the contours of the masked object, especially the internal ones, which greatly aid in object recognition. The shape of the spots in distorting camouflage can be round or broken. It depends on the nature of the surrounding area. For example, where there are no harsh shadows, the color transition should be smooth, and in mountainous areas, where, due to the high transparency of the air and the bright sun, very light and deeply dark tones coexist, a sharp, angular shape of spots is preferable.

For central Russia, greenish-brown is used as the main color, and light dull green, yellowish-gray, light gray and dark gray, with spots of an irregular rounded shape, and the spots “crawl” from one plane to another, are used as additional colors, so that their edges do not emphasize the outer contours of the machines (in particular, ZIL-131 are painted according to this scheme). The car itself in such a livery is, of course, distinguishable, but it is difficult to recognize the body type and make of the car.

But what to do when the season changes or if you need to move to another area – repaint the equipment? Is it possible to create a universal camouflage? Actually, the original idea of ​​the spotted camouflage was precisely to make the camouflage color suitable for all terrain conditions. However, there is no universal camouflage. At present, the state of affairs is such that only a change in the weather does not entail repainting of combat vehicles: it changes too quickly and often.

Large-spot distorting camouflage is mainly characteristic of all types of equipment – from ships and aircraft to guns and cars. It is not often used for camouflage clothing. The enemy soldier is subject to observation at relatively short distances, where the effectiveness of the distorting camouflage is reduced. However, there have been such cases in history. During World War II, Soviet soldiers wore similar clothing, the colors of which varied depending on the season and terrain. The shape of the spots was called “amoebic”, in the West it is called “Russian”. This camouflage was typical only for the Red Army during the war. It was later discarded as an unfortunate option.

Into small pieces

Another type of camouflage is crushing. It also distorts the inner contours of the object, but it does this due to the small size of the spots, sharply contrasting with each other. It is crushing camouflage that is preferable for camouflage clothing. At large distances, small spots merge into an indeterminate color that matches the color of the area.

A significant drawback of fine-spotted camouflage is the need to very carefully select clothing to match the overall color of the terrain so that the soldier does not stand out against its background. And this is not always possible. And the change of season requires a quick change of clothes. When it comes to hundreds and thousands of soldiers, this is completely unrealistic.

Crushing camouflage is also used for stationary vehicles, when the latter is camouflaged in bushes or trees. The sizes, colors and shape of the spots are selected individually. But even in this case, when the seasons change, you have to repaint. However, this does not always help. For example, if frost suddenly hits at night and the surrounding foliage turns yellow and black, a tank tower painted with bright green spots in the morning will stand out sharply against a blackish-yellow background. Small-spot crushing camouflage is usually unsuitable for mobile military equipment.


The most interesting, but also least often used is imitating, or adaptive, camouflage. Its task is either to hide the object against the background of the terrain, or to present it at all as it is in reality. Imagine a building with tree trunks and a pathway drawn into perspective on the outside. This is a typical example of imitation camouflage. Such camouflage is possible only for stationary objects of small size, for example, bunkers. The barracks will be given out on a sunny day … a shadow, especially clearly visible from a height.

During the battles near Leningrad in the winter of 1942-1943, a German armored train, which had imitating camouflage, delivered a lot of trouble to our troops. It was painted white, and a drawing of a railway track (rails, sleepers, gravel) ran along the roofs of the cars. A model of an ordinary shunting locomotive was put on the chimney of the armored locomotive. On aerial photographs, the armored train was not detected. The only thing that attracted attention was the appearance of a shunting locomotive where the gunfire was coming from. Only a phrase casually thrown by one of the captured German soldiers (“He is afraid of nothing but his own shadow”) drew the attention of aerial photo decoders to the presence of a narrow rectangular shadow in photographs taken in sunny weather. The commander of the armored train took him out of cover in the middle of the day, when the shadow was at its lowest, or in cloudy weather.

A perfect example of imitating camouflage is a railway station building, painted to look like a destroyed, non-functioning. It is impossible to hide the building itself, but to deceive enemy observers – both air and ground – is quite! Matte black paint creates the illusion of collapsing roof and walls. Brown-gray stripes perfectly imitate protruding beams and boards. The effect of broken glass is created by glued black paper cut in the form of irregular stars. And if you add scattered bricks, dangling wires, protruding telegraph poles at random, then the imitation will deceive anyone.

The Soviet ace Pokryshkin said that in Germany in the spring of 1945, the Germans disguised their runways as roads unsuitable for takeoff and landing – with craters and other damage. One of our pilots described landing on such a lane: “I can clearly see craters in the lane, even scattered pieces of concrete around, a trench that crosses the road obliquely. I know that all this is a linden, but I have to squeeze my will into a fist to force myself to continue landing. Three of the five young pilots in the squadron were never able to do it. ”


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