This article is part of a series on the practical aspects of stealth. To see links to all of the articles on this topic, see the main page for The Stealth Fighter.
This article is on a simple, formulaic way to spray-paint gear in order to reduce target indicators.
By now, you should be picking up on a theme: Target Indicators. Eliminating target indicators is the key to staying hidden. When a trained observer spots you, he will not see a man hiding… he will see a perfectly straight, 4 inch line. Then, he and his friends will scour that area (possibly from 1000m away through a scope) in progressively larger circles until they find more target indicators. Consider the following story:
The scouting party stopped on the ridge just across the waddi, about 350 meters into the mid-morning sun. Most of the men drank water and stared at the ground. The trail man scanned your ridge with a pair of cheap binoculars. You sighed slightly as he scanned right over you, down to the bottom of the spur, upon the side of which you had been digging your team’s subsurface hide site about 60 seconds ago. You could hear every thump of your heart, firstly from the hard task of digging in the arid dirt, and secondly from the raw fear of your ghillie suit being critiqued by armed searchers as you lay helplessly exposed on a small hillside. Your ghillie was perfect. You’d spent hours perfecting it in the rear. But in your haste to flatten out, your black E-type shovel lay exposed only a foot to your right side. Did you dare reach out and pull it under your veil?
The trail man snapped his bino’s back toward you. Now the lazier soldiers had stopped murmuring to each other and were staring at your spur. Their movements took on urgency as they fanned out into a line. The man with the binoculars tossed them aside, and his boss was now yelling and pointing. Your chest tightened and you gasped for breath from the adrenaline surge. Should you call out to your two partners and start an immediate action drill? Is it possible the search party still didn’t see you? You felt the sand kicked into your face, and heard the thumping of machine gun rounds on meat before you ever heard the gunner let off his first string. The screaming and firing continued as your bright mid-morning faded to night…
This disaster could have been averted by not only camouflaging yourself, but also your gear. In this case, the searcher never saw you, the sniper, but he did spot a large target indicator in the form of a black, 30″ shovel. Let’s dive right into the solution:
The materials you need are as follows:
- 2-4 flat camouflage spray paint cans. Olive green, tan, brown, and light green are good choices. I typically only use the first three.
- A piece of netting for use in texturing. 1/4″ to 1″ squares is a good density. Don’t use fine mesh.
- Masking tape for preparation.
- Latex gloves, unless you don’t mind getting your hands camouflaged as well.
- Somewhere to hang the item so you can walk around it, and not have to flip it on multiple sides.
- A couple of pieces of vegetation common to the area.
The paint colors are designated as Base, Primary, and Accent. Primary is the general color you want the item to be. In the case of a shovel in an arid, rocky environment with space vegetation, I want it to be tan. Base color is the least important color. It fades into the background, and is really just for diversity. I’ll use green for this arid desert. Accent is what you use to add details to the item. Brown will work in this case
For a mountain situation, I would use green for Base, brown for Primary, and tan for Accent. In the woodlands, I would use tan for Base, green for Primary, and Brown for accent. In the desert, I would use green for Base, tan for Primary, and brown for Accent. For the example outlined below, we’ll assume a desert environment.
And now, the procedure:
- Before painting, you should prepare the piece of kit. In the case of firearms, tape up the sights and stuff an earplug down the barrel. Close dust covers, and consider taping off rubber-like pieces. Some petroleum-based materials aren’t harmed by paint, and some are. Tools should be sharpened. Items that collapse should be extended. In the case of the shovel you neglected to properly camouflage, I sharpened it with a file and extended it out.
- Next, hang the item up, and paint it with your base coat. Don’t be alarmed that this coat doesn’t look much like the intended environment. It will be mostly obscured. I have noticed that a surprising percentage of people cannot properly spray-paint. The correct technique is to make steady passes from about 12 inches away. It’s okay, and even preferred to “dust” the object multiple times in route to achieving the desired coating. If your paint is running down the object, you are wrong. If the item looks wet, you are laying it on too heavy. Back off, and speed up your passes. See my olive green shovel below.
- Now, we will add texture. Hold your piece of netting up to the object as flat as you can get it. Dust it with your Primary color. Be a bit more aggressive. Dust from 8″. You want to get start contrast between the netting and the item. Keep the netting flat, or the paint will go around it and just coat the whole item, without leaving the snakeskin pattern behind. You will have to do this piecemeal. See my mostly tan shovel below:
- Now, it’s time for accents. Grab some vegetation (at least two samples) that is representative of the area you will be going, and at the vertical level you and your equipment will be operating. What that means is that you should not use a grassy pattern for a piece of equipment that will be emplaced in a tree. Likewise, don’t use big tree leaves for something that will be on the ground. Use the Accent color, and spray over the leaves and grass. If vegetation isn’t appropriate, use the Accent color to make a few broad tiger stripes across the item. Those broad stripes will cut it into smaller pieces, making the big target indicator into smaller ones. In this case, I’ll use leaves and grass. Take a look at these brown accents:
- Now, the shovel is just a touch too brown and dark. The final step is to rotate back to your primary color, and finish the piece of kit with a good dusting. Be careful not to simply paint the whole thing. In the case of this shovel, the idea is just to lighten the whole thing slightly. My background is fairly dark, and I don’t want it to be pure tan. This dusting is one last chance to smooth over lines and fix mistakes. See the final result below, after a slight tan dusting:
I cannot recommend enough that you spray paint your kit. It doesn’t hurt anything. It’s cheap, and easy to change. If you mar the finish, it’s easy to fix it. In the case of cloth items, you can use light, broad strokes to help break them up without saturating them with paint. Also, paint protects metal. And, as we saw from the introductory story, sometimes small remaining target indicators can cause major headaches.