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Some Thoughts To Ponder Ref Camo

Earlier this week, A-TACS developer Digital Concealment Systems released their new FG variant for use in forest green environments. Immediately, potential users offered their critique. “This pattern is too green.” “That pattern is too tan.” We’ve heard comments running the gamut. But remember, camouflage is an illusion and the point of the trick is to make something disappear. The problem is that the only constant is the camouflage itself.

Regarding camouflage, this is the most general rule. The more specialized a camouflage is, the less utility it provides. What does this mean? It means, camouflage has to be relevant to the environment it is pitted against. For example, you could have the most perfect of camouflage, making yourself out to blend in like a bush in the desert. But the second you move, you no longer blend in. You might have a great desert camo suit but the second you get near water, everything turns green and you stick out.

This was the point of the holy grail of camouflage, the so-called universal camo pattern. Unfortunately, the pattern the US Army decided to call UCP is anything but. Instead, we’ve all seemed to latch on to something that is in fact the great compromise; Crye Precision’s MultiCam. It blends in to every environment at about the 70% level across the board. A true universal pattern isn’t designed to be perfect in any one environment but rather to be “ok” in ALL environments.

The lesson here is that, while well intended, the adoption of multiple specialized patterns guarantees that Soldiers will inevitably find themselves in environments where their uniform becomes a hindrance rather than a help.

The problem isn’t new. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Many may not know this but the so-called ERDL camouflage pattern adopted by the US military at the end of the Viet Nam conflict actually had two variants; a green and a brown dominant version. This is because Viet Nam wasn’t all jungle but rather consists of multiple micro environments. There are the brown dominant central highlands and the verdant jungle areas. Unfortunately, the supply system had trouble making sure that the right uniform was on the right guy for the right environment. In fact, issues with different patterns infiltrated all portions of the supply chain. There are examples of the ripstop poplin jungle fatigues that were manufactured using both pattern variants in a single garment! Unfortunately, this isn’t the last time that has happened (right SJ?)

Then, there’s the recent past. Prior to the adoption of UCP, the US Army relied upon Woodland and Desert camouflage patterns. All Soldiers were issued Woodland clothing and equipment regardless of posting. The 3-Color Desert pattern was considered specialty equipment and only issued to select personnel based on operational requirements. Unfortunately, during 1991′s Operation Desert Storm many American troops wore Woodland clothing due to the shortage of desert issue. Ten years later, this same situation was repeated during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom and what’s worse, once again during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unlike post-9/11 operations, the military had ample time to procure and issue specialized desert clothing and equipment prior to the commencement of hostilities with Iraq, yet they failed to accomplish that task. Consequently, we had troops that wore a combination of Desert and Woodland clothing while some received no desert issue at all. The concept of universal camouflage was envisioned to overcome these issues. One pattern for clothing and equipment so that Soldier’s could deploy at a moment’s notice, anywhere in the world.

Most recently, we’ve seen British troops dying their desert uniforms with green dye in order to blend in better with areas of dense vegetation in Afghanistan. Issues like this have caused the US Army to develop a family of patterns strategy with a base pattern sharing a common geometry of shapes yet with different color palettes for different environments.

While dedicated camouflage patterns are fantastic in the environment they are designed for, they work against the Soldier in other environments. As you can see in this graphic shown at the Industry Day conference, the Army has learned that Soldiers in Afghanistan traverse multiple micro environments during a single mission. If the Army adopts dedicated patterns, Soldiers will potentially be safe as houses in one micro environment, but as their mission progresses, their uniform will do the enemy’s work for him, making them stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Soon we will be hit with a deluge of new families of camouflage patterns. There is going to be a lot of specialization out there. All I ask is that you remember to consider your application. If you will be sitting in a hide or blind all of the time, go for a very specialized pattern but if you will be operating in a wide ranging variety of environments then look for something more generic.

It’s a real quandary isn’t it? Even if you can afford to purchase all kinds of cool patterns, how will you make sure you’re in the right pattern at the right place and time? Can you imagine having to halt during a movement so that everyone can change clothes?

17 Responses to “Some Thoughts To Ponder Ref Camo”

  1. Mobious says:

    Very true, shouldn’t be going off on a pattern with a specific purpose, until we get Snake’s Octocamo to blend into any environment an all around good pattern is what’s needed. And also be able to still ID between friend and foe, a collection of patterns could cause problems… or maybe they have before dunno

  2. adil says:

    Camo or not the job gets done doesn’t it. Your folks are there in Irag and the Stan and job gets done. Sooooo. don’t spend any more money on camo go back to OD and just focus on getting the job done

  3. SIGINT says:

    We should have adopted Multicam and called it day a long time ago.

  4. Buckaroomedic says:

    I agree with adil. Somehow the Allies won WWII with nothing but a simple OD uniform (in reality the color leaned more towards brown than a green, just saying’). Now, on the other hand, the NAZI’s had all kinds of cool looking dress and camouflaged uniforms and looked what happened to them. Like Mobious said; a standardized uniform will help improve IFF too. It looks as if the NATO countries are already staring this process with the increasing numbers of countries adopting MultiCam.

    The article said; “But the second you move, you no longer blend in.” This is true across the board with any camouflage uniform. As long as you’re standing still you “blend”, but once you start moving the human eye will naturally zero in on you. So let the snipers have their Gillie suits and the rest of us should just be wearing combat uniforms in a OD/brown hybrid color. Camouflage shelters make sense, since they don’t move.

    What General said that a war is won by logistics? We’ve got to make the fighting in A’stan more affordable if the gov’t wants the people to keep supporting it.

  5. norbis says:

    I agree, there should be specialized camo in the inventory but the Army will hopefully go to to something like multicam or similar for everyday business and save the specialized camo for the guys who NEED it. Hopefully we dont go back to giving guys green who are stationed state side and tell them they will get desert/arid when they get there. When OIF was about to kick off PFC ‘norbis’ 11B watched all the support units on Campbell get issued their desert. Even our own HQ got their desert before us. I ended up going to war in LARGE XTRA LONG top and bottom; the problem is I wore MEDIUM REGULAR. This was the problem for my whole company nobody had uniforms that fit, guys were getting locals to tailor their DCU’s. Sad hopefully somebody remembers this problem in the near future.

  6. Mach1na says:

    does annyone remember the old USMC pacific camo?

    a reversible camo with one tan dominant and one green dominant side either for the beach or for the jungle behind it.

    reversing your trousers probably wouldn’t work out that well but reversing the blouse is just a matter of seconds, one minute max.

    lets say there is a green and a tan dominant version of multicam, you pick the pants you’ll probably need for most of the environment and switch the blouse as you need.

  7. The Dizz Abides says:

    Patterned utilities are a must. Solid color uniforms stick out in NVGs. Our government spends way too much money on the camouflage issue. We should all wear the same and it should be tailored to fit infantrymen.

  8. danbergeron says:

    Eric, this is very well written and addresses the issue right on the money. Thank you. Would you consider writting a similar article specifically on near-infrared reflection and and its effects on signature? I think a lot of people don’t fully understand how it works…

  9. MarkM says:

    Get one thing clear, there’s NO time or opportunity to reverse your jacket on patrol – there’s 85 pounds of vest, plate carrier, hydration, radio, protective gear, ad infinitum to remove and then redon.

    About all that’s left of the visible uniform are the arms and legs – battleshirts are exactly to point, the solid color torso is completely covered. So the dominant pattern will be a mix of Universal Gear Pattern and whatever’s left over – with big square velcro patches on your upper arms.

    We ARE going to a single dominant pattern, just make what’s left of the uniform match and be done with it. I’ve been wearing MC deer hunting this season, and it’s too green for oaks with leaf fall, too tan for open field grass that’s yet to get a hard freeze. BUT – it’s better than a single color, or specific pattern.

    The one constant that all comply with is a blaze orange vest and hat. In the last 25 years the hunter has changed from bluejeans to late fall camo, and the contrast has lessened. Anyone who was issued OD field gear to wear over Desert knows how much that sticks out. The contrast of major straight lines enhances observation.

    We’re dithering over uniforms when we know they aren’t the major item of visibility, it’s the gear over them that is seen. THAT is the universal pattern, already part of the trials to downselect, and what WILL be seen worldwide.

    And, like as not, the next conflict will use snow overwhites. Murphy is just chortling over that already.

  10. MBaker says:

    MarkM has it right in that PPE and LBE that have to be produced in a versatile pattern, since all but the most specialized operators are only issued a single set. I’d also echo his sentiments about reversing one’s jacket on patrol. There’s no time, and that’s what ‘universal’ (ie 70% effective everywhere) camouflage is for; operational areas where soldiers traverse multiple micro environments. Afghanistan, especially Helmand and the Green Zone, is a perfect example and certainly frames this debate.

    However, I’d argue there’s another reason to adopt a family of patterns, especially with family’s universal/70% solution as the default for PPE/LBE and general clothing issue: seasonal variation. Many parts of the world don’t have micro environments that contrast so acutely as Afghanistan’s. Lots of places feature green vegetation for many months, before things turn largely brown during fall/winter. To me, this seems like a much more sensible reason to have a family of patterns, and for most parts of the world only two of the three patterns will be necessary: ‘universal’ for some parts of the year and green/tan dominant for others.

    Let the ‘universal’ pattern do its work in highly varied environments, and keep it as the baseline for all troops so they at least have that 70% effectiveness wherever they deploy. However, this shouldn’t rule out the utility of flexible but still ‘dedicated’ patterns for lots of other potential operational areas around the world.

  11. tigerblue says:

    camouflage does’nt make you invisible..it only makes you less visible.when it’s done right. done wrong and you look like las vegas. anouther thing to remember..no matter how effective the pattern..the uniform is ‘disposable’..it gets used up and thrown out. if you think a good set of camos is pricey..just think about equipping millions of troops with it. lastly..camo seems to be more of a ‘brand wrapper’ these days, each nation wanting a unique ‘look’. a uniform made to conceal is also used to ‘set the troops apart’..talk about contradictions. oddly..the austrians are now issuing a green and a brown ‘monotone’ uniform..one for green and one for ‘dry’ environments. forget about ‘adaptive’ or ‘chamelion’ sci-fi uniforms..not in our lifetimes. maybe instead in ‘the world of the future’ uniforms will be printed up ‘on demand’ with ‘near enough’ patterns. think ‘venda-camo’ from a machine prior to deployment..provided the machine works,that is.

  12. NC says:

    I have some thoughts on this, based on what I’ve seen in my little corner of Afghanistan. The camo patterns I see regularly are Multicam, mint chocolate chip (ANA Hyperstealth camo), and the Hyperstealth desert camo the ANCOP guys use. There are still some interpreters running around in ACUs as well.

    It’s funny. Beyond a hundred meters or so you can’t make out the pattern. You just see the color that the colors blend into. Multicam turns into a greenish-brown color that is effective in the local terrain. It’s not tan enough for the open desert, but for the more populated places it works well.

    Here’s the thing, though. The OCP uniforms in use look somewhat different from the crisp new duds you see in the Crye catalog. The Propper FR uniforms fade badly with use (they’re not very durable either). THey’re a noticably lighter shade of Multicam than normal, and you can’t go anywhere without getting covered in moon dust on top of it. So basically, a goodly portion of every GI is moon dust tan, and the rest of him is faded Multicam, except for his white face, since no-one does camo face paint anymore.

    From a short distance away, you can hardly tell the difference between a guy with a Multicam IOTV and a guy with a Coyote Tan plate carrier. The colors blend.

    I’ve been shot at, from a goodly distance away, even though there were trees interposed between us and the enemy. They saw us through a gap and opened fire. Mulitcam doesn’t blend particularly well against a kolot wall (which is tan), unless you’re covered in moon dust (which is also tan).

    But then, the people we’re fighting are as often as not running around in white civilian clothing.

    You can’t really tell any of the patterns apart under night vision goggles. I don’t think it’s fair to say that one works better than another in that situation. The only thing I’ve seen that’s particularly shiny under NVGs (not NIR compliant I guess) is the good ol’ woobie. That thing looks pretty bright when you have your NODs on. But then, so do the IR strobes and IR chemlights everyone is running around it, so whatever.

    I’ve got to say, Multicam is a good pattern for this AO, but it’s not the be-all, end-all that the Crye fanboys think it is. It’s not particularly suited for, say, the Arabian Peninsula, or the jungles of Central America or Southeast Asia (places American servicemen have fought before). I think it’s too brown for Korea as well.

    I understand the rationale behind the universal camouflage concept. I don’t think it works especially well, but in the big picture it doesn’t matter. As long as you have an outfit that’s some variation of green, brown, or tan, whatever is closest to the background of your AO, you’re three-quarters there. I daresay that Americans could be running around Afghanistan with brownish-tan solid color uniforms and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. It’s hard to be sneaky when you land in a Chinook or roll up in a column of Strykers or MRAPs.

    So I guess this is an argument both for and against a universal camouflage. Take that for what it is. The Marine Corps will never give up MARPAT, though. Personally, I think it’s silly that the United States is fielding anywhere from eight to ten camouflage patterns for its personnel, in both garrison/training uniforms and fire-resistant field uniforms. It’s insane.

    But we’ll see. Big cuts are coming to the military, one way or another. They’d best get this situated before that happens. I’d like to see, if nothing else, UCP and ABU disappear. A solid color coyote or ranger green uniform would be more effective in more places than either of those patterns, and would look less stupid on top of it.

  13. Jimbo says:

    I am on my fifth combat tour. I have worn DCUs. I have worn BDUs. I have worn chocolate chips (MFO Peacekeeping ’95). I have worn OG-107s for a few years in Panama. I have worn desert tiger stripes running recon. What do they have in common? They all blend in to one place or another (the chocolate chips not so much). Some much better than others. I 100% refused to wear the UCP anywhere near combat! This trip we all have OCP. Most of us have Cryes. The guys with the issued FR uniforms have worn through all four sets and most have sewn them up multiple times. Our Cryes are going strong and blend in great. I have worn them in Eastern Afghanistan. I have worn them in Southern Afghanistan. I have worn them at Camp Mackall. I have worn them in Texas. I have worn them in Arizona. They work!!!! Are they the best and the latest greatest? There will always be something else. There will always be companies coming up with the next best thing. We all know that. But what do we all have over here that works? Multi-cam. Will the Army quit spending money and just go with it? No. Let’s spend millions!!! Today, like any other day, I was in the open desert, large open wadis, pomagranate orchards, dead grape trenches, qalats, an overwatch on a rocky hill, and then a long hump back through the hills/mountains to base. No matter where we were or what color the terrain/backgrounds, our camo was effective. Isn’t that what counts in the long run? We have it, let’s quit wasting time and money.

  14. AJ says:

    I have been in many moons now and I agree we won WW2 with nothing more than green. I have seen the logistical nightmare that is the US military and am uneasy about all this testing. Unfortunately the US Gov will go the most nonsensical and expensive route insread of using something easy like multicam. To me multicam is as universal as it gets. Just some thoughts…

  15. AJ says:

    I agree with you jimbo. Hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately it seems not to be the working/operational guy who makes these kind of choices. I think on the leadership level it is all about contracts, money and whos end is being served…political crap. Take UCP for example how did that even get picked. We don’t always need the latest and the greatest just something that works and is uniform to all.

    Sincerely,
    A guy who has worn it all also!

  16. Greg says:

    Thats is actual kind of put off, out of the 100s of photos ive seen most of the marines and troops back in stom had the widely but still limited DBDU or chocolate chip by some. But the primary reason you saw woodland on some of them was because of their NBC suits and PASGT vest they had to wear in case of gas or chemical attack those where woodland and not the camo of the majority of the uniforms worn, now Fast Foward ahead to 01′ and 03′ both soldiers and marines had long already traded in their 6 colors for the new 3 colors and when you saw them i remember greatly seeing them wearing all “coffe stains” and their PASGT vest and newer IBA as well as the NBC suits were in woodland only, Thought that would clear up the confusion.

  17. UVR says:

    One thing they had right with the UCP, perhaps the only thing, was the near-IR camouflage capability. See http://uvrdefensetech.com/index.php?distancezooms for photos in dry grass and greenery at 25m, 50m, and 100m; using visible light, near-IR, and near-UV.

    For what it’s worth, the OCP is better at distance against most backgrounds in the visible than the UCP, excellent in the near-IR, but very poor, still, in the UV (despite Natick Labs alleging that OCP was tested in the UV).