This website is not affiliated with the U.S. government or military.

Applying recognition factors when camouflaging

Reflectance, Shape, Shadow, Movement, Noise, Texture and Patters

To camouflage effectively, continually consider the threat's viewpoint. Prevent patterns in antidetection countermeasures by applying the following recognition factors to tactical situations. These factors describe a target's contrast with its background. If possible, collect multispectral imagery to determine which friendly target signatures are detectable to enemy sensors.


Reflectance is the amount of energy returned from a target's surface as compared to the energy striking the surface. Reflectance is generally described in terms of the part of the EM spectrum in which the reflection occurs:

  • Visual reflectance is characterized by the color of a target. Color contrast can be important, particularly at close ranges and in homogeneous background environments such as snow or desert terrain. The longer the range, the less important color becomes. At very long ranges, all colors tend to merge into a uniform tone. Also, the human eye cannot discriminate color in poor light.
  • Temperature reflectance is the thermal energy reflected by a target (except when the thermal energy of a target is self-generated, as in the case of a hot engine). IR imaging sensors measure and detect differences in temperature-reflectance levels (known as thermal contrast).
  • Radar-signal reflectance is the part of the incoming radio waves that is reflected by a target. Radar sensors detect differences in a target's reflected radar return and that of the background. Since metal is an efficient radio-wave reflector and metals are still an integral part of military equipment, radar return is an important reflectance factor.

Natural background is random, and most military equipment has regular features with hard, angular lines. Even an erected camouflage net takes on a shape with straightline edges or smooth curves between support points. An enemy can easily see silhouetted targets, and its sensors can detect targets against any background unless their shape is disguised or disrupted. Size, which is implicitly related to shape, can also distinguish a target from its background.


Shadow can be divided into two types:

  • A cast shadow is a silhouette of an object projected against its background. It is the more familiar type and can be highly conspicuous. In desert environments, a shadow cast by a target can be more conspicuous than the target itself.
  • A contained shadow is the dark pool that forms in a permanently shaded area. Examples are the shadows under the track guards of an armored fighting vehicle (AFV), inside a slit trench, inside an open cupola, or under a vehicle. Contained shadows show up much darker than their surroundings and are easily detected by an enemy.

Movement always attracts attention against a stationary background. Slow, regular movement is usually less obvious than fast, erratic movement.


Noise and acoustic signatures produced by military activities and equipment are recognizable to the enemy.


A rough surface appears darker than a smooth surface, even if both surfaces are the same color. For example, vehicle tracks change the texture of the ground by leaving clearly visible track marks. This is particularly true in undisturbed or homogeneous environments, such as a desert or virgin snow, where vehicle tracks are highly detectable. In extreme cases, the texture of glass or other very smooth surfaces causes a shine that acts as a beacon. Under normal conditions, very smooth surfaces stand out from the background. Therefore, eliminating shine must be a high priority in CCD.


Rows of vehicles and stacks of war materiel create equipment patterns that are easier to detect than random patterns of dispersed equipment. Equipment patterns should be managed to use the surroundings for vehicle and equipment dispersal. Equipment dispersal should not be implemented in such a way that it reduces a unit's ability to accomplish its mission.

Equipment paint patterns often differ considerably from background patterns. The critical relationships that determine the contrast between a piece of equipment and its background are the distance between the observer and the equipment and the distance between the equipment and its background. Since these distances usually vary, it is difficult to paint equipment with a pattern that always allows it to blend with its background. As such, no single pattern is prescribed for all situations. Field observations provide the best match between equipment and background.

The overall terrain pattern and the signatures produced by military activity on the terrain are important recognition factors. If a unit's presence is to remain unnoticed, it must match the signatures produced by stationary equipment, trucks, and other activities with the terrain pattern. Careful attention must also be given to vehicle tracks and their affect on the local terrain during unit ingress, occupation, and egress.

Reference: FM 20-3 Camouflage, Concealment and Decoys