Advanced Camouflage Face Paint includes insect repellent
Camouflage face paint will soon offer more than simple concealment.
Face paint smeared on the exposed face, neck and hands of soldiers has been used for years to tone down skin highlights and minimize skin shine contrast in various backgrounds to help hide troops from the enemy.
The U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) Product Manager-Enhanced Soldier Systems and U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command are working together to produce a better paint, simply known as the Advanced Camouflage Face Paint. The first generation, scheduled for introduction in late 2001, will offer insect repellent and a fifth color. Then the plan is to add thermal signature reduction in a later version.
“We haven’t been able to come up with something like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Predator’ where you smear mud on your face, and you’re invisible,” said Joe Jones, combat developer at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga.
Still, efforts are ongoing to produce a paint that not only conceals against visible and near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is detectable with Night Vision Goggles, but also the far-infrared spectrum, which is captured through thermal imagers.
Thermal imaging has become widespread with advances in technology during the last decade, said Anabela Dugas, project officer for the Advanced Camouflage Face Paint. Thermal imagers are inexpensive, shrinking in size, more portable and readily purchased, and other countries have a version of the technology.
“Your hands and face glow automatically in a thermal imager,” Dugas said. “It’s a very challenging effort to develop something that defeats thermal imagers. That’s an area that has a lot of room to improve.”
Individual camouflage is a common soldier task, and certain colors blend well in different environments.
Camouflage combinations are green and loam for woodland areas, green and sand for desert climates, and loam and white for arctic regions. Dugas said each element, such as leaves, has a certain reflectance that is matched with the corresponding paint. Soldiers currently use a hard stick encased in an olive green steel tube with a different color contained on each end, or an olive green compact similar to commercial cosmetics that opens and holds a mirror on top and compartments with four colors on the bottom. The stick protects against the visible region, while the more modern compact adds near-infrared protection.
A base of waxes and oil mixed with talc and pigment compose the face paint. Because the paint is applied on the skin, it is treated as a medical product and is tested by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity.
It must meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations, be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and meet cosmetic industry standards. The final clearing agency is the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.
“It’s fortunate that (the Army Medical Department) has overseas labs in Peru and Thailand where we can test the paint in the field,” said Scott Doughty, lead product manager, Pharmaceutical Systems Division, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity at Fort Detrick, Md. “It’s performed well, and we feel it will be an effective face paint.”
The first generation of the advanced face paint will add black paint and include deet that repels mosquitoes for a minimum of eight hours. A version without deet will be available for soldiers who are sensitive to the chemical or are in a bug-free environment, said Jones.
“We wanted to move up from the individual steps of applying an insect repellent and face paint,” Jones said. “When soldiers applied the repellent, it would wash off the paint. Then they would have to wait until it dried and reapply. The new paint allows them to take care of it all at once.”
Repellent is especially important to use in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever or malaria are common, added Doughty. Skin-smacking sounds from chasing away the bugs could also reveal a soldier’s position.
Dugas said soldier surveys and feedback revealed that they like black paint, which brings the shadow effect on the skin and is a color on the Battle Dress Uniform. Soldiers have purchased commercial face paint for the black color, but they don’t meet the military requirements.
The advanced paint will be offered in a compact container. The new compact will be redesigned to hold twice the amount of product, with the heavily-used green, loam and sand colors filling the most space. By increasing the size, the goal is to provide 20 applications of green, loam and sand, and 10 applications of white and black. The plan is to phase out the old compacts as the new products arrive.
The advanced face paint complies with all safety criteria and meets soldier acceptability standards set before testing. Design criteria include comfort in application and wear, durability, appearance, resistance to perspiration, ease of application and removal, and compatibility to clothing and other equipment. Face paint, nearly odorless, will not diminish soldiers’ senses and is non-toxic on the skin or if ingested.
Yet meeting all of the attributes mean nothing if the face paint can’t perform its basic function.
“There’s a general conception: If you can see something, you can shoot it. If you can shoot it, you can kill it,” Jones said.
The advanced face paint will further assist a soldier’s ability to fight unseen and stay alive.