Dazzle camouflage was used extensively on ships during WWI and WWII. With random lines, contrasting shapes, and weird colors, it wasn't meant to hide ships, but rather to confuse the heck out of anyone looking at them, and a new study shows that Dazzle works well enough that it might actually worth be using again.
Back in WWI (and through the beginning of WWII), ships and submarines relied on optical systems to aim their guns and torpedoes. The direction, distance, and speed of a target would be estimated by looking through a special scope, and Dazzle was developed specifically to combat this by making it difficult to tell which parts of a ship where which. The crazy lines and patterns weren't at all random: they were painstakingly created by artists who painted tiny wooden model ships while looking through a periscope. Each was created to provide the observer with no reference points to tell what kind of ship they were looking at, how big it was, what direction it was traveling in, or how fast it was going.
Or that was the idea, anyway. Dazzle was thought to be effective up until radar rendered such visual tricks more or less obsolete, but the British Admiralty concluded after WWI that Dazzle had more of a positive effect on crew morale than it ever did protecting ships from submarines. It's only taken half a century or so, but a new study from the University of Bristol has recently concluded that Dazzle camouflage actually does work.
The reason why this is relevant now is that one of the primary threats to vehicles on today's battlefields, RPGs, are aimed optically by someone looking at their target and estimating speed and range. Anything that throws off these estimates has the potential to cause a miss, potentially saving lives.
The study compared groups of participants who were asked to estimate the speed of moving vehicles painted with different types of camo, including Dazzle. It turned out that Dazzle caused people to consistently underestimate the speed of the vehicle by about seven percent, which is enough to make a significant difference:
"In a typical situation involving an (rocket-propelled grenade) attack on a Land Rover, the reduction in perceived speed would be sufficient to make the grenade miss where it was aimed by about a meter (3.3 feet), which could be the difference between survival or otherwise for the occupants of the vehicle."
So Dazzle camo helps lower perceived speed and it boosts morale? Why aren't we doing this already? In fact, forget military vehicles, we should all start painting our cars with it. And don't let the fact that it looks all black and white worry you: most of that can be blamed on black and white film, not drab color schemes. Dazzle actually incorporated a lot of color, including blues, yellows, greens, purples, and even reds. Check out a bunch of dazzling pictures in the gallery below.