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Military Vehicle Desert Camouflage

The first vehicles deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 were painted in the three-color woodland camouflage paint scheme. Since woodland camo was designed for conditions in Europe, vehicles with the pattern were very conspicuous in the deserts of the Middle East. Two in-theater painting facilities were established to convert all vehicles to desert camouflage colors. By February 1991, more than 8,500 vehicles and other equipment had been painted. Many other vehicles were re-painted in the U.S. or other origins prior to shipment to Southwest Asia.

Marine AAVP-7 Assault Amphibian Vehicle during Operation Desert Shield preparations, 1 September 1990
Marine AAVP-7 Assault Amphibian Vehicle during Operation Desert Shield preparations, 1 September 1990.

Vehicles with mixed colors -- e.g. Desert Tan body with Forest Green doors, canvas or other parts -- were not uncommon as the supply chain struggled to keep up with the mandated color changes.

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Desert Camouflage for Military Vehicles

The three-color camouflage patterns included a desert version with two sandy colors and black. Some vehicles were painted with this pattern, but it was rarely used compared to woodland camo. The USMC AAVP-7 above is painted in one of the desert camouflage patterns that were abandoned in favor of a single color Desert Tan scheme.

When it came time to re-paint thousands of vehicles for the Gulf War, problems developed with the existing desert pattern. First of all, the logistical difficulty of painting huge numbers of vehicles with a complex pattern were too enormous for the rapid mobilization and deployment requirements of the Gulf War. Second, results of testing by the Saudi Arabian National Guard indicated that in a sparse desert environment, a solid color was preferable to the three color pattern. These factors led to the decision to adopt a solid, single color paint scheme for desert operations. Desert Tan was selected for all vehicle painting, a policy that was continued in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters in the 2000s.

Desert Tan painted HMMWVs and other vehicles, aboard the rapid-response vehicle cargo ship USNS Regulus (T-AKR-292) en route to Saudi Arabia where the equipment will offload in support of Operation Desert Shield, 17 August 1990
Desert Tan painted HMMWVs and other vehicles, aboard the rapid-response vehicle cargo ship USNS Regulus (T-AKR-292) en route to Saudi Arabia where the equipment will offload in support of Operation Desert Shield, 17 August 1990.

What is Desert Tan Vehicle Paint?

Military vehicles are painted with water dispersible CARC paint using Federal STD-595B color 33446 "Desert Tan." The performance and composition specification is MIL-DTL-64159 which defines Tan 686A, 33446 with these parameters:

  • Brightness Y 0.360 – 0.400
  • Chromaticity x 0.368, Chromaticity y 0.364
  • Infrared min 62.0, and Infrared max 72.0

The same Desert Tan 33446 color is sometimes referred to as Tan 686 or Tan 686A. As an alternative, if 33446 Tan is not available, Sand 30277 or Sand 33303 are sometimes used. The Desert Tan 33446 paint is available in quite a few types of packaging (from 55 gal. drums to spray cans) and is also formulated as other types of paint than CARC.

Freshly painted M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank, in Desert Tan 33446, 13 May 1992
Freshly painted M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank, in Desert Tan 33446, 13 May 1992.

There are two types of WD CARC. Type I is better than the original CARC but contains silica-based extender pigments that are almost identical to those used in solvent-based CARC. The extender pigments in Type II are replaced by small spherical beads. These beads are the main reason for the paint's improved performance properties and make it the recommended choice. WD CARC comes in two-component kits that have to be mixed before use. The mixing ratio is two parts of component A to one part of component B.

This table gives some of the NSNs for Desert Tan 33446 paints supplied to the U.S. military.

Type Size NSN
Type I WD CARC 3-pt 8010-01-492-6645
 3-qt8010-01-492-6646
 3-gal8010-01-492-6648
 15-gal8010-01-492-6649
Type II WD CARC 3-pt 8010-01-493-3176
 3-qt8010-01-493-3177
 3-gal8010-01-493-3179
 15-gal8010-01-493-3180

The above list is from PS: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly, August 2004. Other forms of packaging for MIL-DTL-64159 Type 2 Water Dispersible CARC in Tan Color No. 33446 include:

  • 8010-01-519-6769: Touch up kits, six foil packed kits of Tan 33446 and two primer kits for a total of eight touch-up kits.
  • 8010-01-519-6769: Case of eight aerosol WD CARC spray bottles

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: desert camo OR camouflage. Then click the Search button.

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