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New Army camouflage: the end of the digital age?

published: 08-04-2012 Journal entry icon

In 2004, the U.S. Army digitized its former camouflage pattern on standard issue uniforms. It was termed “Universal Camouflage Pattern,” or UCP, with the hope that it would serve as a one-print-fits-all for any environment. The theory behind the digital print was not the result of a fashion craze; it started in the late 1970s with two psychology professors at West Point. Neuroscientists divided the human visual system into two parallel circuits. One circuit told us where objects were located, the other what objects were. Officially called the “Dual Texture Gradient,” the idea was that the pixelated pattern would interfere with those circuits and make it difficult to identify objects. More research, based on how our brains processed MRI scans as boxes and rectangles, led camouflage experts to similar conclusions, that this pattern was smart camo. Initially, the Marines adopted the pattern from the Canadians. However, the pattern failed early trials in the U.S. Army, and troops reported that it performed poorly in combat.

In 2009, after a camo detection study, the Army revised the design for ground troops in Afghanistan to the current “MultiCam” pattern as a temporary solution. Currently, four designs from non-government vendors are in a bid to become the next camo pattern. Submissions required that designs include a woodland variant, a desert variant, and a transitional variant for every environment in between. The goal of extensive field tests will be to optimize performance range from 35-400 meters in a woodland environment and 35-500 meters in a transitional and desert environment. Testing of the first pattern, which resembles reptile skin, began in June. Testing of the other patterns could last up to nine months, and production of the new uniforms could begin as early as 2013.