Do We Really Need Another Camo Pattern?

Types of American Camo FSFor most of the 20th century, when US soldiers fought they did it wearing various shades of olive drab. Camouflage uniforms were issued to specialist units and on a limited scale in some theaters. A lot of US Marines in the Pacific theater got early versions, and the ERDL and tiger stripe patterns were used a lot in southeast Asia, but mostly combat uniforms were the familiar olive. By the late 70s that was starting to look a bit old fashioned as the rest of NATO moved to disruptive patterns and in 1981 the new woodland pattern BDUs went on widespread issue. Woodland wasn’t a great pattern – the shapes were too big, and didn’t break up the soldier’s outline enough – but it was OK, and as the emphasis started to shift to desert and arid climates in the 1990s it didn’t matter much anyway. Then came Afghanistan.

The terrain in Afghanistan is extremely varied. Troops can go from desert, to urban terrain, to densely overgrown “green zone” in the space of a single patrol, and that was a challenge for existing camouflage. Desert pattern didn’t work well in the green zones. Woodland didn’t work well in urban or desert environments. Reasonably enough, the Army started looking for a pattern that would work well anywhere. Tests were carried out in 2003 and 2004, comparing a total of 13 different patterns. All of them performed pretty well except for one, Urban Track, which was terrible. The Army then tossed away the trial results, combined the excellent pattern of the USMC’s MARPAT with the useless color palette of Urban Track, made it even worse by removing the contrasting dark colors, and adopted it as Universal Camouflage Pattern. Nobody ever explained why they chose a pattern that hadn’t even been tested, or why a specialized urban pattern had been selected for all-environment use, but the rumor was it had to do with that key element of combat effectiveness, “branding.”

To be fair, UCP is equally effective in most environments – it’s pretty much useless everywhere, with the possible exception of on the moon. Its three colors are all about the same brightness, so at a distance there’s no contrast to break up the shape. The blue-gray and sage green shades are too cold to work well in deserts and the whole thing is too pale to work in a green environment. Special forces deploying to Afghanistan took one look at it and chose one of the rejected patterns, Crye MultiCam, instead. MultiCam is a much more conventional-looking woodland style pattern using seven subdued shaded of tan, green and brown; it’s quickly become very popular and the British have even chosen a modified version to replace their beloved DPM.

[quote_left]”The Army tossed away the trial results, combined the excellent pattern of the USMC’s MARPAT with the useless color palette of Urban Track, made it even worse by removing the contrasting dark colors, and adopted it as Universal Camouflage Pattern.”[/quote_left]It didn’t take long before the Army realized their mistake, and new trials were started. These included field trials in Afghanistan, where selected units were issued with one of the two test patterns as well as standard ACUs. One of the test patterns was UCP with coyote brown added and the gray and sage areas reduced. The other was MultiCam, which predictably won. Since 2010 large numbers of troops deploying to Afghanistan have already been issued MultiCam, under the name “OEF Camouflage Pattern.” Despite having been rejected in favor of UCP, it’s now become the standard for the Afghan mission.

The Army’s next plan is to move on to a new camouflage system, with three patterns available – woodland, desert and “transitional.” Either the transitional pattern or a neutral color like coyote will be used for personal equipment, allowing it to be used effectively with any of the three uniform patterns. The plan is for rigorous tests to be run on each pattern and the winner to be chosen purely on performance.

Hopefully the Army has learned from its experience – it’s estimated the UCP fiasco cost over $5 billion, and replacing it will probably cost at least as much again. It would have been much simpler just to choose MultiCam in the first place.


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13 thoughts on “Do We Really Need Another Camo Pattern?

  1. It’s another way for our Government to waste millions of $ instead of putting it where we need it. Right here for the hospitals, taking care of the soldiers, both active and retired, sick and disabled. I have family all the way back to WWII, and active, my daughter has trouble just getting her monthly pay ck. ? Wow. It’s not where we need to spend it. We need to take care of everyone here that needs it not just seeing if a color looks better My 2 cents well 1-1/4 now.

  2. Well put…but give credit where it’s due; the beginning of the fourth paragraph should read “It didn’t take long before the Army realized their mistake, and almost five years later, new trials were started.”

  3. In all the years that the human race has had combat, especially in modern times, how is it we don’t have a good understanding of camouflage? I think we probably do. So, why spend millions of dollars (euros, etc.) every few years to re-study the problem? I agree with @Robert: SPEND THE MONEY FULFILLING THE PROMISE TO TAKE CARE OF VETERANS. If we have any doubt that our camouflage is less than perfect, THERE SHOULD BE NO DOUBT THAT OUR CARE OF VETERANS CAN USE IMPROVEMENT.

  4. I hope that THIS TIME the Army will let the experience of soldiers in the field make the decision rather than some bureaucrat. UCP is a disaster. This time around, our soldiers don’t need committees making endless variations of “briefing slides,” nor do they need study groups and endless field trials that aren’t. They need their experience LISTENED TO.

    I would like to see ATACS-FG and ATACS-AU adopted. If the Army has learned anything with the abortion that is UCP, I hope it’s “One size (pattern) DOESN’T fit all.

  5. I know this will NEVER happen. But I wish the Army would step up and take the Highlander camouflage from Kryptek.

  6. The sad thing about all of this is that the MARPAT patterns work extremely well in both the woodland and desert versions, but they were not allowed to be used by the other services due to “trademark” violations (the EGA is built into the pattern) by the USMC JAG.

    The Chair of the JCS could have fixed this clusterf*ck in the first place by ordering the Marines to knock off the high school shenanigans and develop and non EGA pattern for the rest of the military’s use.

    I place this blame squarely on the CoJCS at the time Gen. Richard B. Meyers, USAF. He’s been in long enough to know every service doesn’t need it’s own damn pattern.

    As for the ACU debacle, I blame the Army Chief of Staff for not holding the program development office to the fire and testing the pattern in real world environments (though I admit the uniform design is a leap ahead of BDUs I wore).

    And shame on the Pentagon budget office for letting Crye take them to the cleaners for the use of a pattern that they should have developed themselves.

  7. First… Good camouflage is both a lifesaving tool that keeps people out of veteran’s hospitals.

    What we’re seeing is that time and time again, the private sector is more competitive in tech development. Cry multicam saves lives and completes missions. How much is that worth?

    Like Tigerstripe before them.

    And more importantly, these companies have no ego. They want a fiscal reward for their efforts, not an ego one. Army, Marines.. . Embarrassing.

  8. According to ArmyTimes article I read its over 7 billion dollars spent. Come up with one woodland, one desert, one arctic pattern for all branches.

  9. Definitly to much spending on usless camo patterns but sheeple will buy anything im sure the money circles back around they do need to find a good pattern and stick to it. Ask an old vet and and they’ll tell u all u need is od green by the time u crawl out of the sh*t it aint gonna matter!

  10. The need for a camoflauge pattern family that can be adopted for a broad spectrum of environments exist. The Kryptek family of patterns achieves this, and its the best at achieving total concealment. Multicam was cool but Crye got too big for there britches and they’re petty BS is staling the timeline. Dump Crye go Kryptek.

  11. I hate to say it, but the military needs to look into new camouflage patterns. Many commercial offerings are vastly superior.

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