Camouflage on Rifles

May 11, 2019

Back in 2017 I provided Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons with some information on the weapons that the Kurdish snipers used in Syria against ISIS (click here to see the video he made on it.*).

One of the things that came out in the comments, somewhat to my surprise, was the interest in the camouflage I applied to my personal weapons, particularly on the AKM I used as my personal defence weapon. I describe it as “dazzle camouflage”, but that is an incorrect term, though the original naval dazzle schemes of World War One were the inspiration.

So I thought it may be of use to those with an interest in warfare and techniques to explain my thinking behind the application of this pattern, how it was achieved and how useful it was in reality.

Anyone reading this probably understands the fundamentals of camouflage – to break up an outline and so make it harder to recognise what it is. This is generally achieved by use of different colours and patterns. An example of this is in how I disguised the SVD Dragunov rifle that was my primary arm in Syria.

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By winding strips of MTP (also known as Multicam) cloth around the barrel, foregrip and scope, the outline of the rifle is broken up and serves as effective camouflage at a distance; perfect for what the rifle was being used for.

Note that I tried several prior schemes on the Dragunov, normally with the favoured “bushy” effect.

This made for a very effective breaking up of the rifle’s silhouette, but the loose strands tended to blow around in front of the scope whilst shooting, causing a distraction. I found the best compromise was the tightly wound cloth, which achieved largely the same effect and did not impede vision.

With the AKM I decided to try something different. This gun was my secondary weapon, for use at night mainly when the SVD was ineffective. In short, if you were in a forward position at night and ISIS launched an assault, you wanted the Kalashnikov, not the Dragunov.

The author’s AK (right) compared to a colleagues.

The effect was achieved by applying several layers of surgical tape to the areas to be covered. Then it was a case of pouring a little water on the ground of whenever you were to form a dry mud paste; too wet and the water would wick through the tape and cause rust, it just needed to be damp enough to rub in.

“Hey! Presto!” you have a colour that matches the local environment pretty much exactly once dry.

Apply to the tape and you have your basic camouflage.

However, the AK has an utterly distinctive shape and look. Even in a dark night, you can tell the silhouette of the weapon in someone’s hands. Therefore, I decided to try something a little more radical in the disguise I applied.

The key to this was to break up the silhouette even more violently. The theory was that the radical difference in the light given off by the different colours would make it extremely hard to make out the shape of the weapon. This is an important consideration when you are advancing in the dark and possibly being observed. The longer you can confuse an enemy as to who you are and what you are doing, the better.

This camouflage I applied especially on distinctive features such as the magazine. Simply covering as much of the rifle and it’s components as possible doesn’t work; in the dark a tan AK looks exactly like a black AK.

This pattern, of very light tan against black metal, was extremely effective. Although a number of my colleagues made disparaging remarks about the look, in the night time the weapon was very hard to make out.

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This was graphically demonstrated when I attended a Kurdish New Year party.

The Kurds celebrate by blowing through as much tracer as they can lay their hands on from every automatic weapon they have. Needless to say, this happens at night and is followed up by a party (plenty to eat, but no alcohol – it’s forbidden in the YPG). As a result, all weapons are stacked against a convenient, out of the way wall.

Afterwards, despite knowing exactly where I’d left my rifle, I had real problems finding it! All the other Kalashnikovs could be made out in the darkness, but mine was essentially invisible.

I guessed that if I had trouble picking it out in the dark from a distance of about 5 feet, any ISIS fighter would have even more.

* And to bang my own drum, a review of my book “Desert Sniper” he later did.

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