New Urban Camo Won’t Save British Tanks
'Berlin Brigade' scheme can't make up for a lack of upgrades
The British Army has painted some of its Challenger 2 tanks in a new camouflage scheme that planners hope will help the 62-ton machines hide on city streets. But the government has withheld other, more important enhancements.
The tanks’ blocky, white, gray and brown scheme is actually a throwback to the Cold War, when British tankers prepared to defend West Berlin from the Soviets.
At top and above — Challenger 2s in the new urban scheme. British Army photos
Ajax Squadron of The Royal Tank Regiment applied the “Berlin Brigade” scheme to at least two Challenger 2s in late August 2017. The repainted tanks “will be used for U.K. training as part of an ongoing study into proving and improving the utility of main battle tanks in the urban environment,” the regiment stated.
“Ajax are the urban specialists within the regiment and will be looking to test current doctrine, tactics and procedures whilst experimenting with other techniques from across NATO and the rest of the world.”
The Berlin Brigade scheme originated with the officer commanding the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards tank squadron in Berlin in 1982, Wayne Davies explained in a 1999 article.
Chieftain tanks in the Berlin Brigade scheme in the 1980s. Photo via Wayne Davies
The major “felt that the normal deep bronze green paint scheme of the British Army was incompatible with [Berlin’s] urban environment,” Davies wrote. “Straight lines are hard to find in nature and the standard patterns of black and green are equally unnatural amid the masonry, brickwork, timber and steel window frames of a city.”
According to Davies, the officer experimented with cardboard silhouettes of the Chieftain tank. “He noticed the repetition of vertical lines and by careful placement of different size squares and rectangles was able effectively to disguise the shape of the tank. The colors chosen, gray, white, brown and black, resembled the shades found on buildings, windows and doors.”
The scheme was unpopular with the troops at first. But they grew to accept it after realizing its effectiveness. At a distance of 100 yards, a tank in the Berlin Brigade camo “almost disappeared,” according to Davies. “I can’t see your fucking tank,” a corps commander reportedly quipped. “Must be a good idea.”
Spot the tank. Photo via Wayne Davies
To be sure, the British Army’s fleet of around 200 Challenger 2 tanks needs all the help it can get. While other countries rush ahead with new and modernized tank designs, the United Kingdom has all but abandoned tank development. BAE Systems is upgrading the Challenger 2s to the “Mark 2” standard under a 2016 contract worth $800 million.
The upgrade replaces old components, adds some new equipment and extends the tanks’ service lives to around 2035. But the program doesn’t substantially enhance the Challenger 2s’ firepower or protection. With their new camo, British tanks might be harder to see on city streets. But they’re still getting steadily less lethal.