US tanks are getting a small update that signals a big shift to defending Europe against Russia

US M1 Abrams tank green camouflage
An M1 Abrams tank from the 3rd Armoured Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division with a new look, at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, April 7, 2017. US Army photo by Christoph Koppers, Training Support Center Grafenwoehr

Having settled into their nine-month deployment to Europe, members of the 3rd Armoured Brigade Combat Team from the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division are making a slight update to their vehicles.

Earlier this month, the first M1A2 Abrams tank with a woodland green paint scheme appeared in Europe, signalling the unit’s shift to a camouflage scheme more appropriate for its new surroundings than the desert tan colours previously used.

“The reason that we are painting our vehicles is to better blend in with the environment that we are operating in,” said Capt. James England, leader of a company within the brigade. 

“The tan tanks were there because we’ve operated in a desert environment for so long. Now that the terrain has changed, we are painting them green to blend in,” he said.

More than 400 of the brigade’s combat vehicles will receive the new colours, including M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M109A6 Paladin self-propelled artillery vehicles, in addition to the tanks. Support vehicles will keep the tan colour scheme.

Though the unit was told it was deploying to Europe a year ago and arrived there in January, other duties leading up to deployment and in the weeks since left no time for the laborious process of washing, drying, painting, and drying again — which takes three days  — required to change tanks’ and other vehicles’ appearances.

“A lot of the reason why they weren’t done before was because of our high operational tempo leading up to our deployment to Europe,” said England. “We basically had intense training event to intense training event, which led to little room for opportunities.”

The unit’s arrival in Europe was a part of the deployment of about 2,800 pieces of equipment and 4,000 US troops to NATO states in Eastern Europe, stretching from Estonia to Bulgaria, where they are to perform military exercises.

Their presence was meant to “deter Russian aggression, ensure the territorial integrity of our allies, and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous, and at peace,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, deputy commander of US European Command, said at the time.

In the first 100 days of operations in Europe, the Iron Brigade, as it’s known, trained without pause.

Daily live-fire exercises have expended over a half-million rounds, and the unit’s vehicles have covered over 53,000 miles in an operational area the size of the US East Coast, according to the US Army.

Up until now, the tanks had just been draped with camouflage netting, but, over the coming months, all the vehicles will get a new coat of paint — one that will only last until the end of the unit’s Europe rotation in September, however.

“The paint is a temporary paint,” England, the company commander, said. “Once we go back home, we can pressure wash it off.”

Footage of a newly painted Abrams can be seen below:

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