Resources

AFV Colors and Camouflage, US Army & USMC

 

Introduction to US color standards for ground vehicles

The first color standard in use by the US armed forces was known as Specification No. 3-1, introduced on 28 November 1919 and including a palette of 24 colors of which only one would still be in use during World War II. This palette was still in use at the start of World War II although the need to homologize the additional colors being adopted by the different branches of the armed forces resulted in an update with 72 colors known as Specification No. 3-1F on 21 April 1943. This would be the color standard used by the US Army and US Marine Corps for their ground vehicles during the remainder of the war, with the US Air Force and US Navy adopting the Army and Navy Aircraft (ANA) system for aircraft later that year on 28 September 1943.

On 12 January 1950, the US published Federal Specification TT-C-595 which superseded the ANA system with a four-digit numbering system. This was short-lived and on 1 March 1956 was superseded by the Federal Standard system, formally known as FED-STD-595. Each color in the palette is identified by a five-digit code. The first digit refers to the sheen of the paint, these being gloss (1), semi-gloss (2), and matt (3). The second digit refers to the color, these being brown (1), red (2), yellow (3), green (4), blue (5), gray (6), all others including whites, blacks, and metallics (7), and fluorescents (8). The last three digits are unique for each color and typically go from darker to lighter. The initial palette included 358 colors although some colors only officially exist in one or two out of the three sheens. Although the hues are identical regardless of sheen, there have been some notorious exceptions such as a later revision of Olive Drab whose semi-gloss version used by the US Army on tanks (FS 24087) was different from the matt version used on helicopters (FS 34087).

The Federal Standard system has gone through three major revisions, starting with FED-STD-595A on 2 January 1968 (437 colors), FED-STD-595B on 15 December 1989 (611 colors), and FED-STD-595C on 16 January 2008 (650 colors), with numerous additional changes to the palette in between. On 17 February 2017, the Federal Standard system was replaced by the Aerospace Material Specification Standard 595, or AMS-STD-595. It is largely equivalent to the Federal Standard system and most existing colors have been carried over with identical numbers.

 

Contents:

External Links:

Color guide basics:

All colors in this page include a color guide with matches or equivalences from 19 different model paint ranges. Paints are considered matches if they are labeled with the intended color (either uniquely on together with another color). Paints are considered equivalences if they are close to the intended color but not labeled as such. The accuracy of any paint is independent of whether it is a match or an equivalence and these are described in the text (there can be poor matches and highly accurate equivalences). The following nomenclature is used in the paint tables and is based on matches or equivalences to US Insignia Red FS 11136:

Paint Match or equivalence type (label)
MP01 Labeled to match one specific color (FS 11136)
MP02* Labeled to match more than one color of same-country standards (FS 11136 / ANA 509)*
MP03** Labeled to match more than one color of different-country standards (FS 11136 / BS 538)
MP04 (!) Questionable accuracy of label match (doesn't look like FS 11136)
MP05 (?) Questionable accuracy of label match, untested (doesn't look like FS 11136 in the bottle or photos)
(MP06) Known close equivalent to FS 11136 (BS 538)
(MP07) (?) Questionable equivalent to FS 11136 (Generic Gloss Red)

* A single asterisk also denotes implicit matches for same-country standards where there is an official succession between standards. For example, H327* would match ANA 509 even if the label only references FS 11136 since ANA 509 is its official predecessor. This does not apply when there are considerable differences between successive paints (ex: Olive Drab No. 41/ANA 613/FS 34087) and this will be described in the text. By and large, however, single asterisk matches should be considered close enough to unique matches as to not be seriously questioned.

The paint charts make no distinction between gloss, semi-gloss, and matt variants of a color if the correct sheen is unavailable (ex: gloss FS 11136 will be a specific match for matt FS 31136 if the latter does not exist in the same paint range). Exceptions are made where there is a known or suspected color difference (ex: FS 24087 and 34087).

 

World War II

Probably no army in history has had a relationship with a single color as the US Army has had with Olive Drab. This color was originally introduced as early as World War I and became the standard color for all combat vehicles until the second half of the Cold War. Olive Drab is a tricky color to understand, being by nature a darkened yellow (technically it is a Munsell yellow) that depending on lighting and fading can resemble a dark olive green or brown. Just slight changes to the saturation and color balance of a photo can make it look vastly different, which complicates any definitive interpretation of what the 'correct' color actually is which is made worse by the fact that the World War II era shade of Olive Drab is no longer in widespread use and does not have an exact FS match, although FS 33070 is believed to be the closest. Olive Drab was one of th paints specified under Specification 3-1 in the pre-war years where it was produced in lusterless (matt) form known as Olive Drab No. 22. This naturally led to excessive wear even by peacetime standards, which resulted in a reformulation in November 1937 into a more resistant synthetic enamel with a gloss finish; this in turn made it look darker than the matt version even though the paint formulation was the same. This was changed yet again into a matt enamel on October 12th, 1940 which became the standard on wartime vehicles. A parallel designation by the Corps of Engineers (which became responsible for camouflage later in 1940) was known as Olive Drab No. 9 but was otherwise identical to No. 22. It should be noted that official pigment mixes for OD were never provided, therefore paint manufacturers frequently created their own interpretations that varied slightly from each other. This became less of a problem from late 1942 when stricter adherences to official standards were enforced, but wartime photos can be found of vehicles standing next to each other with significant differences in their OD shades.

An attempt to update Specification 3-1 and homogenize camouflage colors across all branches of the military in 1943 resulted in a reformulation of the basic color into Olive Drab No. 319. In theory, No. 319 was identical to No. 9/22 although it is often (incorrectly) described as lighter due to its comparison with the USAAF's Dark Olive Drab No. 41 which it used instead of No. 319 due to its superior infrared camouflage properties. In practice, however, improved quality of the paint meant that No. 319 was less prone to fading and wear and consequently looked darker by virtue of its ability to maintain its original color better than its predecessor. It has been claimed that OD 319 came too late in the war to be used on actual wartime vehicles, however this does not appear to be confirmed by any authoritative source. The origin of this myth may be a confusion with the situation of ANA 613, which replaced OD 41 on USAAF aircraft but which was rarely used on combat aircraft due to the switch to natural metal finishes. There is also a belief that US Army and USAAF versions of Olive Drab were significantly different but this is not necessarily the case except when looking at original color chips and freshly painted equipment: although some photos picturing both aircraft and vehicles show variations in hue and shade, many others don't. If anything, Army OD tends to look darker than the 'Dark' Olive Drab of the USAAF, which may be explained by aircraft spending more time under the sun and therefore fading quicker. As to whether one was greener than the other, this is also trivial, as the variations in hue are well within the realm of what be accounted for by color balance. You will just as easily find a US Army vehicle looking brown or green as you will a USAAF aircraft.

As a final point, it is worth mentioning that photos will never do justice to a color with such different interpretations as is Olive Drab the absence of an actual color chip or a vehicle freshly painted to wartime standards (of which there are none by now). Minor variances to a color balance, saturation, and lightness will make OD look greener or browner and many photos found on the internet have now been far removed from the originals, which themselves may have not captured the correct color balance either. As such, basing an interpretation of the correct color of Olive Drab on photos alone is inappropriate and only serves to perpetuate the myriad of modeling myths that persist, often with little evidence to them. The fortunate conclusion from this is that modelers have considerable leeway in how their Olive Drab can look and should rarely feel they got the color wrong insofar as it resembles an existing photograph of this ubiquitous yet very visually problematic color.

Paint guide:

Links:

Color Guide
  No. 9/22 No. 319
Olive Drab Olive Drab
   
Schemes
Early Overall  
Late   Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H78 -
Gunze Mr. Color C38 -
Humbrol 155 -
Model Master - -
Revell - -
Tamiya (XF-62) -
Vallejo Model Air 71.347** -
Vallejo Model Color - -
AKAN (62060) (?) -
AK Interactive AK 4211 -
AK Real Colors RC023 -
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-926 -
Colourcoats - ARUS03
Hataka - -
Lifecolor UA 219* UA 220
Mission Models MMP-026* MMP-024
Mr. Paint - -
Xtracolor - -
Xtracrylix - -
Photos
A brilliant close up of Olive Drab No. 9/22 on an M3 half-track and its crewman posing in action, part of a series of promotional color photos taken in Ft. Knox a few months after the US entry into the war.
A line-up of M4 Shermans and M3 Lees in in the same Ft. Knox photo shoot. Although the detail is fantastic by the standards of the era, the exposure and lighting of most photos in this series is very poor, this being among the better ones.
An M7 Priest of the Armor School Demonstration Regiment at Ft. Knox in 1943. The hull is quite dusty and dirty but the howitzer has its Olive Drab intact.
A group of DUKW amphibious trucks land on the beach at Anzio in April, 1944. Olive Drab is notorious for looking brown or green with minimal variations to color balance and lighting.
Anyone thinking there is a significant visual difference between the US Army and USAAF's versions of Olive Drab in the field, well, I hate to disappoint you as this photo of a jeep and a C-47 at Algiers in 1943 demonstrates.
And finally, the mother of all Olive Drab debate photos. Two ambulances, both in Olive Drab, same camera settings and lighting and clearly not resembling each other in the least. Ultimately, Olive Drab is what you believe it to be (within reason).

 

World War II - Disruptive

Soon after the US entered World War II it became clear that a single color for tanks and AFVs would not be adequate in all environments given the differences in climate, topography, and foliage. Work therefore began on a series of disruptive camouflage schemes, the first of which was FM 5-21 from October 7th, 1942 which proposed separate temperate, desert, and arctic schemes. None of these were applied extensively and instead, many vehicles in North Africa applied ad hoc disruptive patterns using whatever resources were at hand such as dried mud, or borrowed British Army paints which had a more extensive range of sand and earth hues. An early version of disruptive camouflage applied extensively was the use of Earth Yellow No. 6 over the base Olive Drab No. 9/22 on vehicles involved in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Standardized rules for disruptive camouflage would finally appear in FM 5-20B Camouflage of Vehicles, published in April 1944. This included three main camo patterns temperate/jungle, desert, and snow terrains. The temperate/jungle pattern was widely used in Northwest Europe from the Normandy campaign onward and was composed of an Olive Drab base, Black No. 10 disruptive camo, and a White No. 11 undersurface countershade the latter which was rarely applied in practice. The desert pattern consisted of an Olive Drab base and, either Earth Red No. 8 for reddish desert backgrounds, or Sand No. 3 or Earth Yellow No. 6 for other desert terrains. Finally, the snow pattern consisted of Olive Drab and White, although it also specified Black and White which was not widely used (if at all). Whereas the temperate/jungle and desert patterns followed neat disruptive lines, the snow pattern was not applied consistently, with some vehicles painted almost entirely white while others having very crude patterns that were clearly applied in an ad hoc manner in the field. As with many militaries, the use of washable white paint/distemper was preferred as it could be removed easily once the snow had melted. This meant that vehicles painted in the snow terrain pattern had much more extensive chipping and wear. It is also the case that ad hoc patterns remained in use throughout the war using any color that was available to units in the field. An additional color worth mentioning is Light Green No. 1. Although not specified in the FM 5-21 or 5-20B guidelines, it was known to have been occasionally used in an ad hoc manner in temperate/jungle pattern vehicles, either as a two-color or three-color camouflage combined with Black.

Although the color guide gives the numbers in their original early war versions, note that these later changed with the update to Specification 3-1 in 1943. These were redesignated as follows: Sand No. 306 (formerly No. 3), Earth Yellow No. 305 (formerly No. 6), Earth Red No. 312 (formerly No. 8), and Light Green No. 321 (formerly No. 1). These colors were likely very similar although Sand No. 306 is said to have taken a more pinkish hue closer to FS 33448 rather than FS 30277 as No. 3 is commonly matched to. Given the absence of desert combat in 1944-45, it is likely that the post-1943 desert colors were never used in action.

Paint guide:

Color Guide
  No. 9/22 No. 1 No. 3 No. 6 No.8 No. 10 No. 11
Olive Drab Light Green Sand Earth Yellow Earth Red Black White
             
Schemes
Sicily '43 Base     Camo      
Temperate/Jungle '44 Base Camo (alt)       Camo Under
Desert '44 (1) Base   Camo (alt) Camo (alt)      
Desert '44 (2) Base       Camo    
Snow '44 Base           Camo
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H78 H58 - - - (H2) (H316)
Gunze Mr. Color C38 C27 - - - (C2) (C316)
Humbrol 66 226 - (93) (?) (186) (21) (22)
Model Master (1711) (?) 1715* (1704) - (1701) (1747) (1745)
Revell - - - - - (08) (04)
Tamiya (XF-62) - (XF-57) (?) (XF-59) (?) (XF-52) (?) (X-1) (X-2)
Vallejo Model Air (71.043) (?) 71.137* (71.138) (71.291) (71.293) (71.057) (71.279)
Vallejo Model Color - 70.850* (70.988) (70.977) - (70.861) (70.820)
AKAN (62060) (?) 72004* - (62044) - (78005) (73146)
AK Interactive AK 4211 AK 2303 (AK 4233) (AK 4222) (AK 4223) (AK 719) (AK 2052)
AK Real Colors RC023 RC028* (RC084) RC030* RC031* (RC001) (RC222)
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-926 A.MIG-220* - (A.MIG-138) (?) - (A.MIG-032) (A.MIG-047)
Colourcoats - ACUS09 (ARUS06) (ARUS09) -   (ACUS37)
Hataka - HTK-_211* (HTK-_210) (HTK-_212) (HTK-_213) (HTK-_041) (HTK-_043)
Lifecolor UA 219* UA 004* (UA 019) (UA 305) (UA 306) (LC 01) (LC 51)
Mission Models MMP-026* MMP-059* (MMP-131) (MMP-129) (MMP-130) (MMP-047) (MMP-104)
Mr. Paint (MRP-234) (?) MRP-131 (MRP-395) (MRP-368) (MRP-387) (MRP-137) (MRP-135)
Xtracolor - X117* - - - (X012) (X141)
Xtracrylix - XA1117* - - - (XA1012) (XA1141)
Photos
A group of US vehicles shortly after Operation Torch in 1942. The color of the jeep looks suspiciously like British Light Stone which would not be surprising given the known use of British desert paints early in the campaign.
A Jeep in North Africa has the popular combination of Olive Drab and Earth Yellow (or possibly Sand) that was also extensively used in the early stages of the Italian campaign.
This Sherman, named "Major Jim" in North Africa has reportedly been camouflaged with dry mud. The ad hoc nature of this camo is obvious with this zig-zag like pattern.
The USMC was a bigger adherent of disruptive camouflage than the US Army, with two- and three-color patterns quite common in the Pacific. This two-color Sherman named "Red Bug" is seen at Iwo Jima likely using Sand as its disruptive color.
Shermans after 1944 in Northwest Europe and Italy were frequently seen with a black disruptive pattern, often very subtle-looking in black and white photos as with "Hurricane" here.
One of the best color photos of Shermans, here wearing washable white paint near St. Vith, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. They were not always fully covered in white.

 

Post-war (1945-1960)

The main change in the immediate post-war period was the publication of US Army Regulation 850-15 on 1 August 1945 which introduced a new semi-gloss Olive Drab No. 202 (formulated identically to No. 319) which became the new base color of combat vehicles. This was followed by the introduction of the four-digit TT-C-595 standard in 1950 which resulted in semi-gloss Olive Drab 2430 and matt Olive Drab 3412, the latter being the direct successor to No. 319. This standard was short-lived, being replaced by the definitive five-digit Federal Standard system FED-STD-595A on 1 March 1956 which resulted in the semi-gloss Olive Drab FS 24087 for combat vehicles and matt FS 34087 for helicopters (plus a gloss FS 14087 used on administrative vehicles). Although paint formulations changed which may have impacted their effects upon fading, these versions continued to match their wartime versions with the main difference being the darker shade resulting from the semi-gloss finish. In the field this would have mattered little, as gloss and semi-gloss paint tends to turn matt with sufficient wear which would have happened very quickly under combat conditions. Also, the caveat of Olive Drab looking greener in many photos must again be emphasized is due to even minor changes in color balance and lighting.

Paint guide:

Links:

Color Guide
  FS 24087 (1)
Olive Drab
 
Schemes
Basic Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H52 (?)
Gunze Mr. Color C18 (?)
Humbrol  
Model Master  
Revell  
Tamiya  
Vallejo Model Air 71.043
Vallejo Model Color -
AKAN -
AK Interactive -
AK Real Colors -
AMMO by Mig -
Colourcoats -
Hataka -
Lifecolor -
Mission Models -
Mr. Paint -
Xtracolor -
Xtracrylix -
Photos
Korean War color photos are unfortunately rare, but this is a particularly high quality rear shot of an M26 Pershing which suggests that it may have some disruptive camouflage (Field Drab?) as well.
Another good color photo of a M40 "Long Tom" self-propelled howitzer during the Korean War.
An "Easy Eight" Sherman waiting withdrawal from Korea shortly after the 1953 armistice.
The whole lineup of post-war US armor at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in 1954, with the T43E1 heavy tank (later redesignated M103) followed by an M48, M47, and M41. The photo's color balance is not the best, making the Olive Drab look a bit too brown (though perhaps closer to its freshly painted look).
A somewhat overexposed photo of an M48 tank being lifted into a cargo ship in New York in 1959. This was the last year before the adoption of a new version of Olive Drab clearly different from the wartime version.

 

Post-war (1960-1975)

Continuity of the wartime version of Olive Drab was broken with the introduction of Addendum 2 to FED-STD-595A on 9 May 1960. This replaced the three finishes of Olive Drab with new temporary versions designated X-14087, X-24087, and X-34087. Some sources suggests that these were noticeably darker and greener while others refer to them as lighter and yellower; this author leans towards the former interpretation as nearly every photo during this period shows a deep greenish hue. Further confusion arises from two subsequent changes to the standard. The first came on 2 January 1968 with the introduction of FED-STD-595A. This famously changed the shade of FS 34087 to a lighter version which was optimized for use on helicopters, but left the gloss and semi-gloss versions unchanged. Later on 28 April 1972, Change 3 reintegrated the X- series of 1960 into the standard palette. This should, in theory, not have affected the colors of tactical vehicles which remained based on the semi-gloss FS 24087/X-24087. The fact that the matt version of Olive Drab was now a different shade (which to top it off was represented as significantly lighter in a 1979 revision due to a clerical error) led to the redesignation of all three colors in Change 7 of 1 January 1984, the gloss and semi-gloss versions becoming FS 14084 and FS 24084 respectively while the matt version became FS 34088. By this time, however, Olive Drab had largely been abandoned as a base color for combat vehicles. FS 34087 is provided in the color guide below although it should be clear that it was never used as a main AFV color and, at best, perhaps used very sparingly as a substitute color in the MERDC schemes described below.

An unfortunate consequence for modelers is that FS 34087 is often taken as a catch-all color for post-war Olive Drab. This fails to take into account the changes to the color introduced after 1968, or whether it refers to the original color or the revised X-2/34087. Older paint ranges like Model Master and Gunze tend to represent the lighter post-1968 version, likely with helicopters rather than tanks in mind. As a result, modelers are advised to exercise considerable caution on post-war Olive Drab. It is safe to assume that most vehicles throughout the 1950s still used a version of Olive Drab descended from its wartime variants, and this is evident from the browner shades seen in color photos of the period. From the 1960s onward, a darker and greener version of Olive Drab is advised. Overall, modelers should guide themselves by the hue of the paint rather than the FS color it claims to match; wartime Olive Drabs that err on the side of green may actually be more suitable for X-24087 even if labeled otherwise.

As the next section will describe in greater detail, there is some controversy over whether contemporary US Army and USMC vehicles used a different color than FS X-24087 in Vietnam. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of color photos from US- or Germany-based vehicles during this period from digital archives like the National Archives. As such, the reader is recommended to visit the very extensive galleries of USARMYGERMANY.com (which I have not used here due to watermarking and possible copyright) or consult publications such as Tankograd's REFORGER series (among others) which have plenty of color photos to compare with those from Vietnam, which are much more common online. Another good source of information and discussion on Olive Drab during this period comes from the vintage military vehicle community and it is also recommended to trawl relevant forums for very useful information (some links provided below).

Paint guide:

Links:

Color Guide
  FS 24087 (2) FS 34087 (2)
Olive Drab Olive Drab
   
Schemes
Vehicles Overall  
Helicopters   Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous - H304
Gunze Mr. Color - C304
Humbrol 155 -
Model Master - 1711
Revell - -
Tamiya XF-62 (?) -
Vallejo Model Air 71.043 (!) 71.016*
Vallejo Model Color - 70.887*
AKAN - 62049
AK Interactive - -
AK Real Colors RC026 -
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-081 -
Colourcoats - -
Hataka - -
Lifecolor - UA 222 (!)
Mission Models - MMP-025
Mr. Paint MRP-234 -
Xtracolor - -
Xtracrylix - -
Photos
A pair of M60A1s of the 64th Armor Regiment in 1974, likely in its base at Schweinfurt, Germany. By this time, X-24087 (now redesignated as 24087) was the official version of Olive Drab used on US AFVs. (Source: Flickr)
An M60E1 prototype from above, showing the deep greenish hue of X-24087 in 1973.
A US Army maintenance shop in 1972 showing M48 tanks and their engines getting serviced. Note how the light hitting the turret-less tank in the background make it look greener than the more olive green shade of the other tanks.
An M60A2 rolls out of a landing craft in 1980 but still painted in X-24087, looking particularly dark.

 

Vietnam War (1964-1973)

As if the lineage of post-war Olive Drab wasn't complicated enough, there is also the question of whether US Army combat vehicles were painted in different colors during the Vietnam War. There are accounts, unverified by this author, that certain vehicles including tanks may have been repainted with a greener color, possibly Green FS 24064, before shipping to theater. From a tactical perspective, this would make sense as a deeper green would be more suitable to the lush foliage of Southeast Asia compared to olive green or brown shades. It is also believed that USMC tanks were painted in an even greener color, possibly Marine Green #23 FS 24052. Despite this, photographic evidence is far for conclusive given that comparisons with contemporary US- and Europe-based vehicles do not show significant differences that cannot be accounted for by variations in a photo's color balance. It is also not the case that FS 24064 or FS 24052 are significantly greener than X-24087; in fact, they are so remarkably similar it begs the question why the additional time and expense was made for thousands of vehicles to be repainted with colors that do not confer a significant camouflage advantage. As such, the idea that Vietnam-based vehicles were painted in a greener color may well be yet another modeling myth, one that does not appear to have supporting evidence from authoritative sources and may be derived from the fact that USMC helicopters in Vietnam indeed used noticeably greener colors than their US Army counterparts. As such, the paint guide below is merely speculative and readers are advised to compare with the photos in the previous section and make their own minds whether Vietnam vehicles were painted in a different color or not.

Many Vietnam-based vehicles, like their World War II predecessors, were painted in an ad hoc manner in various disruptive patterns, none of which were ever standardized. These appear to use post-war versions of similar colors used in World War II disruptive schemes, such as Earth Red FS 30117, Sand FS 30277, and Black FS 37038 (described in the MERDC section below). The famously reddish soil found in certain regions of Vietnam may have also been used in extreme circumstances as dry mud camouflage, as it looks remarkably similar to Earth Red. The prevalence of ad hoc camouflage further suggests that if indeed some vehicles were painted in a different base color than Olive Drab, this was likely done on a limited basis and possibly with specific missions in mind something which appears to be confirmed in comments in modeling forums by ex-servicemen.

Paint guide:

Links:

Color Guide
  FS 24064 FS 24052
Green Marine Green #23
   
Schemes    
US Army Overall  
US Marine Corps   Overall
Color matches    
Gunze Aqueous - -
Gunze Mr. Color - -
Humbrol - -
Model Master - 2025
Revell - -
Tamiya - -
Vallejo Model Air - 71.013*
Vallejo Model Color - 70.979*
AKAN 82046 82015
AK Interactive - -
AK Real Colors RC342 -
AMMO by Mig - -
Colourcoats - -
Hataka - -
Lifecolor UA 119 UA 111
Mission Models - -
Mr. Paint - -
Xtracolor - X109
Xtracrylix - -
Photos
Probably the best photo of a Vietnam combat vehicle, this USMC M48A3 named "Mad Harlot" shows a very dark green but not vastly different from most US- and Europe-based tanks.
Rarely you will get a better close up of a combat color than this picture of a 25th Infantry Division tank driver, courtesy of legendary Vietnam War cameraman Tim Page.
Another US Army vehicle, an M109 SPG, and yet another hue that seems to be indistinguishable from the USMC version although the photo does look a bit oversaturated.
The M50 Ontos was one of the strangest US vehicles of the Cold War and was used exclusively by the USMC. Although the color balance of this photo looks very good, the color of the M50 appears far too blue even for FS 24052 and too light, which might suggest an ad hoc, locally-applied color.
Vietnam disruptive camouflage was applied entirely ad hoc, with whatever colors were available, and likely on a vehicle-by-vehicle or small unit basis rather than homogenized across larger formations. Here are two M113s, one with disruptive camo and the other not.
Vietnam disruptive camouflage could be wild to say the least, as evidenced by this M113 which sports one of the more outlandish combinations.

 

MERDC Schemes

During the early 1970, work on standardizing the myriad of ad hoc camouflage patterns began under the auspices of the US Mobility Equipment Research & Design Command (MERDC). The new schemes were formally specified in December 1975 (TB 43-0147) and were commonly referred to as MERDC camouflage in reference to their developers. The MERDC scheme consists of eight camouflage patterns adapted to different environments all of which shared the common feature of having to main colors each of which covered 45% of the surface area of a vehicle, as well as two contrast colors that covered 5% each. These were based on similar earthly hues as have been traditionally used in disruptive schemes since World War II. These included three greens: Forest Green FS 34079, Dark Green FS 34102, and Light Green FS 34151; four browns: Earth Red FS 30117, Field Drab FS 30118, Earth Yellow FS 30257, and Sand FS 30277; as well as Black FS 37038 and White FS 37875. The different schemes were adapted to a verdant winter (the de facto standard for US and Europe-based vehicles), summer and tropical verdants, two desert schemes (one for gray another for red desert), as well as two snow schemes (one for wood an shrubland the other for open terrain). Another winter arctic scheme was also specified which consisted of overall white and was the only one which did not have any disruptive pattern. There was some leeway in terms of the third color (the earthly contrast color), which was specified to match as close as possible the color of the soil but could be changed if there was a more suitable color in that particular environment.

  45% 45% 5%* 5%
Winter, verdant        
FG
FS 34079
FD
FS 30118
S
FS 30277
BL
FS 37038
Snow, trees & shrubs        
FG
FS 34079
W
FS 37825
S
FS 30277
BL
FS 37038
Snow, open terrain        
W
FS 37825
FD
FS 30118
S
FS 30277
BL
FS 37038
Summer, verdant        
FG
FS 34079
LG
FS 34151
S
FS 30277
BL
FS 37038
Tropics, verdant        
FG
FS 34079
DG
FS 34102
LG
FS 34151
BL
FS 37038
Desert, gray        
S
FS 30277
FD
FS 30118
EY
FS 30257
BL
FS 37038
Desert, red        
ER
FS 30117
EY
FS 30257
S
FS 30277
BL
FS 37038
Winter Arctic        
W
FS 37825
W
FS 37825
W
FS 37825
W
FS 37825

* could be changed to a more suitable earthly color.

 

Many US Army and USMC vehicles began the switch to MERDC during the second half of the 1970s until the establishment of the NATO three-color scheme in 1984. Nevertheless it has been customary to not repaint vehicles unless needed which meant that many MERDC scheme vehicles were still seen well into the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, there are anecdotal claims of vehicles still in MERDC camo as late as the 2003 Iraq War although, if such is the case, they were probably support vehicles where there was little urgency to repaint them in more modern schemes. By and large, however, new vehicles were no longer painted in MERDC after 1984, and even before this it became increasingly frequent to leave vehicles in their factory finish of overall FS 34079, a scheme described below. That said, the longevity of MERDC is seen in the fact that numerous countries copied one or more schemes and in many cases continue to use them to this day.

Paint Guide:

Color Guide
  FS 34079 FS 30118 FS 30277 FS 34151 FS 34102 FS 30257 FS 30117 FS 37038 FS 37875
Forest Green Field Drab Sand Light Green Dark Green Earth Yellow Earth Red Black White
                 
Schemes
Winter, verdant Camo Camo Camo         Camo  
Snow, trees & shrubs Camo   Camo         Camo Camo
Snow, open terrain   Camo Camo         Camo Camo
Summer, verdant Camo   Camo Camo       Camo  
Tropics, verdant Camo     Camo Camo     Camo  
Desert, gray   Camo Camo     Camo   Camo  
Desert, red     Camo     Camo Camo Camo  
Winter Arctic                 Base
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H309 (H72) - H58* H303 - - H12 H11
Gunze Mr. Color C309 (C22) - C27* C303 - - C33 C62
Humbrol 116 (29) - 226 117 - - 33 34
Model Master 1710 1702 1704 1715 1713 - 1701 1749 1789
Revell - (82) - - - - - 08 05
Tamiya (XF-81) (?) (XF-52) (?) (XF-78) (?) - (XF-61) (?) (XF-59) (?) (XF-64) (?) XF-1 XF-2
Vallejo Model Air 71.294 71.139** 71.138 71.137 71.289 71.291 71.293 71.057 71.279
Vallejo Model Color 70.893 70.873 70.988 70.850 (!) - 70.977 - 70.861 70.951
AKAN 82002 82045 82024 72004 72003 82044 - 78003 78000
AK Interactive AK-2101 AK-4234 AK-4233 AK-2303 AK 2102 - AK-4223 AK-735 AK-738
AK Real Colors RC027 RC085 RC084 RC028 RC-083 RC030* RC081* RC001 RC004
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-206* A.MIG-274 - A.MIG-220 A.MIG-004 - - A.MIG-046 A.MIG-050
Colourcoats ACUS20 ARUS05 ARUS06 ACUS09* ARUS08 ARUS09 - C02 C03
Hataka HTK-016 HTK-209 HTK-210 HTK-211 HTK-021 HTK-212 HTK-213 HTK-041 (HTK-101)
Lifecolor UA 001 UA 016 / 092 UA 019 UA 004 UA 002 UA 081 UA 082 LC 02 LC 01
Mission Models MMP-058 MMP-078** MMP-086 MMP-059 MMP-028** MMP-129 MMP-130 MMP-047 MMP-001
Mr. Paint MRP-101 MRP-145* MRP-395 MRP-131 MRP-102 MRP-368 MRP-387 MRP-5 MRP-4
Xtracolor X110 (X002) - X117 X116 - - X404 X405
Xtracrylix XA1110 (XA1002) - XA1117 XA1116 - - (XA1012) (XA1141)
Photos
This M113 of the 1st Cavalry Division during REFORGER '83 is wearing the winter verdant scheme, which was the most common used on vehicles in temperate regions such as West Germany.
This USMC M109 displays the snow trees & shrubs scheme which was the most predominant among the winter schemes. The open terrain and winter arctic schemes were extremely rare.
The M2/M3 Bradley is not a vehicle typically associated with MERDC but it was not uncommon during their first years of service. Here an M3 shows the summer verdant scheme which is actually brighter than tropical verdant, a fact that often gets them confused (the Sand camo is a giveaway).
The tropics verdant scheme was very rare in US service but it is commonly seen in Thai Marine Corps AAVP7s, in this case clearly with the intention of camouflaging against impressionist paintings.
These USMC M60s are painted in the gray desert pattern, which was by far the most common of the two desert patterns among US vehicles.
The red desert pattern was rare in US service but was used by the New Zealand Army, as seen on these M113s.
This M113 crew is surrendering during exercise Bright Star '82 in Egypt, perhaps also symbolizing the surrender of MERDC to practicality, here with just one base color and no black contrast.

 

Forest Green (1975-1984)

Simultaneous to the introduction of MERDC camouflage, it was also determined that new vehicles would be factory finished in an overall base coat of Forest Green FS 34079 before later being repainted at depots according to their intended theater of operations. FS 34079 is a dark and slightly grayish green that appears particularly suitable for temperate woodland environments. Compared to Olive Drab, it is noticeably lighter and unmistakably greener. With MERDC schemes being slowly phased out in the early 1980s, the use of FS 34079 became something of a transition scheme with the newer NATO three-color camouflage that would be introduced by mid-decade.

Paint guide:

Color Guide
  FS 34079
Forest Green
 
Schemes
Factory Finish Overall
Color matches
Gunze Aqueous H309
Gunze Mr. Color C309
Humbrol 116
Model Master 1710
Revell -
Tamiya -
Vallejo Model Air 71.294
Vallejo Model Color 70.893
AKAN 72002
AK Interactive AK-2101
AK Real Colors RC027
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-206*
Colourcoats ACUS20
Hataka HTK-016
Lifecolor UA 001
Mission Models MMP-058
Mr. Paint MRP-101
Xtracolor X110
Xtracrylix XA1110
Photos
An original M1 that is removed from POMCUS storage ahead of exercise REFORGER '84. It carries its factory-fresh coat of FS 34079.
A beautiful photo of an M2 Bradley rolling through a West German village during REFORGER '85. By this time, US AFVs had started moving into the three-color NATO scheme.
A group of M3 Bradleys shortly after to arrival in theater in the buildup of Operation Desert Shield. Even as late as 1990, many vehicles had yet to transition to the NATO scheme.
Winter camouflage was also applied to vehicles in overall Forest Green, in an ad hoc manner as in this USMC M60 participating in exercise Cold Winter '83 in Norway.

 

NATO Scheme (1984-Today)

In 1984 a standardized camouflage scheme was developed for NATO countries. This scheme was meant to simplify the complex MERDC patterns into a single three-color pattern that would be suitable for a temperate woodland environment such as Central Europe, the main theater of operations in a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The NATO scheme would also be the first to employ then new Chemical Agent Resistant Coating (CARC) which had protective properties against chemical and biological contamination as well as having reduced infrared signature. For US vehicles, the NATO scheme consisted of a base of CARC Green 383 FS 34094, a lighter and greener color compared to the earlier Forest Green FS 34079. A disruptive pattern of CARC Brown 383 FS 30051 and CARC Black FS 37030, the former being a mildly reddish brown while the latter being a black with a hint of gray, similar to rubber. Unlike MERDC, there was no specific winter or arctic patterns and instead, units reverted to the tried and tested method of using washable white paint/distempter when operating in such environments. The NATO three-color scheme remains, to this day, the standard camouflage pattern for all US AFVs operating in non-desert environments. An exception to this are the Stryker family of vehicles all of which are painted in an overall base color of CARC Green 383, without the disruptive brown or black.

Implementation of the NATO scheme was voluntary, and of the main NATO armies it was adopted by the US, Germany, and France; Britain and Italy notably opted out. No exact specifications were applied across countries either, and each country matched them to the closest equivalents in their national palettes. By and large, US and German vehicles looked very similar given the close match between their FS and RAL equivalents (RAL numbers are provided in the color guide below for cross-reference). French vehicles featured a noticeably brighter green and lighter brown and it is therefore not recommended to use the FS and RAL equivalents. Confusingly, the British Army and RAF used a paint known as NATO IRR Green during the 1980s yet this color is not an equivalent, being a noticeably darker forest green.

Paint guide:

Color Guide
  FS 34094 FS 30051 FS 37030
RAL 6031 RAL 8027 RAL 9021
CARC Green 383 CARC Brown 383 CARC Black
     
Schemes      
NATO Base Camo Camo
Stryker Overall    
Color matches      
Gunze Aqueous - - (H77)
Gunze Mr. Color C519 C520 C521
Humbrol - - -
Model Master 2173 2174 (1592)
Revell 65 84 06
Tamiya XF-67 XF-68 XF-69
Vallejo Model Air 71.093 71.249 71.251
Vallejo Model Color - 70.871 -
AKAN - - (89042)
AK Interactive AK-796 AK-797 AK-735
AK Real Colors RC080 RC081 RC082
AMMO by Mig A.MIG-084 A.MIG-085 (A.MIG-046)
Colourcoats - - (C06)
Hataka HTK-152 HTK-188 HTK-125
Lifecolor UA 303 UA 302 UA 301
Mission Models MMP-034 MMP-033 MMP-035
Mr. Paint MRP-078 MRP-079 MRP-077
Xtracolor - - (X505)
Xtracrylix - - -
Photos
The AAVP7 is one of the best vehicles to identify camo colors since it is clean of dirt and mud when it emerges from the water. A better photo of the NATO scheme on an AFV in action you will be hard pressed to find.
This close-up of an M1 Abrams also displays the NATO scheme well, especially in a vehicle that is clearly showing some wear.
The use of NATO scheme vehicles in desert terrain has been far more common in the 21st century, especially in conflicts where the US has considerable firepower advantages and camouflage is less important. This is evident in this photo, one of the most famous of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The washable nature of the white paint on this snow-bound LAV-25 is evident.
The exception to the rule of the NATO scheme is the Stryker family of vehicles, all of which have been left in CARC Green without any disruptive camouflage.
Here's a rare case of an M1A2 SEPv2 only painted in CARC Green something which is sometimes seen among training vehicles, though almost never in operational ones. Note the sand-colored remote weapons station: switching parts between NATO- and desert-camo vehicles is fairly common.

 

Desert Scheme (1984-Today)

The introduction of the NATO three-color scheme coincided with the specification of an overall base color to be used in desert environments, CARC Sand FS 33303 (now known as Sand Camo). However, the decision was made to use CARC Tan 686A FS 33446 as the main base color for combat vehicles during the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm). CARC Tan is a sand brown that ends up looking more like a lighter, sand yellow in the desert sun. The majority of combat vehicles that participated in Operation Desert Storm were eventually painted in this color which immediately became associated with some of the US Army's most celebrated AFVs from that war like the M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradley, although some support vehicles remained in their NATO schemes. CARC Tan was eventually replaced by another base color for desert environments, Sand FS 33531 (sometimes referred to as CARC Middle Stone, although I have seen no evidence of this outside of modeling paint labels). This color is lighter and features a subtle pinkish hue when freshly painted but also ends up looking like a sand yellow which makes both colors hard to distinguish in the field. Although the exact date of introduction is unknown to this author, FS 33531 became the main color of combat vehicles used in Afghanistan in 2001 (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq in 2003 (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and remains the standard desert color of US Army vehicles to this day.

After ODS, many new vehicles were painted in tan or sand fresh off the factory if their intended mission was expected to be in a desert environment. However, many vehicles ended up in different theaters than expected resulting in many tan/sand vehicles operating in Europe or other temperate regions. Furthermore, many vehicles used spare parts which were painted in any one of the two schemes, which resulted in many three-color scheme vehicles with the occasional tan/sand parts and vice versa. This was most noticeable in Iraq where the heavier attrition suffered by US forces required spares that could not be repainted in time.

Paint guide:

 

Color Guide
  FS 33303 FS 33446 FS 33531
CARC Sand CARC Tan 686 Sand
     
Schemes      
1984-1990 Overall    
ODS   Overall  
OEF/OIF     Overall
Color matches      
Gunze Aqueous - - H313
Gunze Mr. Color - - C313
Humbrol - (237) (!) -
Model Master - 2136 1706
Revell - - -
Tamiya - - -
Vallejo Model Air - 71.122 71.327
Vallejo Model Color 70.821 - -
AKAN - - -
AK Interactive - - AK 122
AK Real Colors - RC079 RC226
AMMO by Mig - A.MIG-025 A.MIG-200
Colourcoats - ARUS01 -
Hataka - HTK-238 HTK-090
Lifecolor UA 426 - (UA 742) (?)
Mission Models - MMP-038 -
Mr. Paint - MRP-080 MRP-226
Xtracolor - X812 -
Xtracrylix - XA1812 -
Photos
A USMC M1A1 shows the desert tan hue of FS 33446. This is what a freshly painted ODS vehicle should look like.
In practice, however, most ODS vehicles appeared closer to a sand yellow color like this closeup of an AAVP7, the product of different lighting conditions, camera settings, and fading.
This photo, considerably less saturated than most of the photos taken during OIF, does reveal the slightly pinkish hue of the current desert color.
Still, the differences to how the color appears in photos is remarkably similar due to photo conditions and fading. Good luck telling the difference between FS 33531 and FS 33446 in most photos of vehicles in the field.
Dozens of desert-colored vehicles (and a few NATO schemes here and there) arriving at the not-precisely-desert-like port of Gdańsk, Poland in 2017. Different shades of FS 33531 can be clearly seen, proving that this color does vary.
To mess further with your color perception, here's an M1 arriving at exercise Bright Star '89, sporting the pre-ODS desert standard of FS 33303 which looks just like the other two colors. Also note some different colored parts (looking suspiciously like FS 33531) attached to the turret bustle.

 

Paint Charts

 

Federal Standard FED-STD-595B
  Spec. 3-1
  FS 30051 CARC Brown 383 NATO scheme (1984-)  
  FS 30117 Earth Red MERDC scheme (1975-84) No. 312
  FS 30118 Field Drab MERDC scheme (1975-84) No. 303
  FS 30257 Earth Yellow MERDC scheme (1975-84) No. 305
  FS 30277 Sand MERDC scheme (1975-84) No. 306
  FS 33303 CARC Sand Desert scheme (1984-90)  
  FS 33446 CARC Tan 686 ODS-era desert scheme  
  FS 33531 Sand OEF/OIF-era and current desert scheme  
  FS 24064 Green US Army Vietnam (speculative)  
  FS 24052 Marine Green #23 USMC Vietnam (speculative)  
  FS 34079 Forest Green MERDC scheme and overall (1975-84)  
  FS 24087 (1) Olive Drab Overall (1950-60) No. 202
  FS 24087 (2) Olive Drab Overall (1960-75), a.k.a. X-24087  
  FS 34087 (1) Olive Drab Helicopters (1945-68) No. 319
  FS 34087 (2) Olive Drab Helicopters (1968-85)  
  FS 34094 CARC Green 383 NATO scheme (1984-)  
  FS 34102 Dark Green MERDC scheme (1975-84)  
  FS 34151 Light Green MERDC scheme (1975-84) No. 321
  FS 37030 CARC Black NATO scheme (1984-)  
  FS 37038 Black MERDC scheme (1975-84)  

* Hex values adapted from XYZ Illuminant C values at 2° provided in FED-STD-595C (where available).
Resulting Hex color will show slight variation depending on sheen.

Last modified: 11 May 2023