multicam for usaf

18 09 2010

…. well, for some of them anyway. The article below is reproduced courtesy of Strategy Page. All errors with reference to the ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) and UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) are theirs ;-)

September 17, 2010: U.S. Air force personnel in Afghanistan have been buying (or scrounging from kindly army supply sergeants) the new MultiCam pattern uniforms. That’s because the air force uses a different camouflage pattern for their field uniforms, and when air force air controllers (who call in air strikes) move through the hills with army troops, it’s obvious from a distance who the air force personnel are. Actually, it makes all the troops more visible, because the MultiCam is pretty good at hiding those wearing it, but the difference between the air force camo and the MultiCam is so striking that the entire group of troops becomes more visible. The air force brass eventually got the message, and have started buying MultiCam uniforms for air force troops operating in combat along with army troops.

This was not the first problem of this sort. While the MultiCam was a an improvement on the older ACU pattern uniforms, the troops did not get new packs (which also use camo pattern cloth) at the same time they received the MultiCam uniforms. Thus when troops went off into the hills, the combination of MultiCam uniforms and ACU pattern packs do a lot to ruin the camouflage effect.

The U.S. military has been having a tough decade when it comes to camouflage uniforms. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. Army has changed camouflage patterns for their combat uniforms twice. First it was the adoption of digital patterns, then the current move to MultiCam.

It was SOCOM (special operations command) troops who first had second thoughts about the older digital camo pattern. The digital camouflage pattern uses “pixels” (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called “digital camouflage.” This pattern proved considerably more effective at hiding troops than older methods.

For example, in tests, it was found that soldiers wearing digital pattern uniforms were 50 percent more likely to escape detection by other troops, than if they were wearing standard green uniforms. What made the digital pattern work was the way the human brain processed information. The small “pixels” of color on the cloth makes the human brain see vegetation and terrain, not people. One could provide a more technical explanation, but the “brain processing” one pretty much says it all. Another advantage of the digital patterns is that they can also fool troops using night vision scopes. American troops are increasingly running up against opponents who have night optics, so wearing a camouflage pattern that looks like vegetation to someone with a night scope, is useful.

But digital doesn’t rule, at least not when price is no object. The runner-up in the competition was a non-digital pattern called MultiCam (cleverly designed to hide troops in many different environments). Many in the army preferred this one, but the difference, in tests, between it and the winner, digital ACU, was not that great. Moreover, MultiCam was about three times more expensive.

However, SOCOM operators have their own budget, and had many of their guys out in the field wearing MultiCam, rather than the digital ACU. Now SOCOM has always had a larger budget, per capita, than the rest of the army, and its operators had a lot of discretion to use whatever weapons or gear they thought best for the job. Apparently, on some jobs, MultiCam was considered more suitable than digital ACU. That said, there have been few complaints from soldiers about ACU, which measures up to MultiCam in most particulars, and it a lot cheaper.

Eventually, the services decided that if MultiCam provided even a small advantage over digital, than MultiCam was the way to go. The British Army thought the same thing, and are now sending new uniforms, using a version of MultiCam, to their troops. But for the new MultiCam to work, everything the troops wear has to be MultiCam. And everyone out with the troops, especially air force air controllers, need to be dressed in MultiCam as well.

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8 responses

20 09 2010
BC

Yeah, had a feeling that this was gonna happen.
Aside from just following the leader, and the obvious uselessness of the pattern on the ABU, certain rumors have been circulating.
Well, we can only hope that it will be a quick transition.

20 09 2010
Marc

I’ve found myself rather amused by the various US military services each feeling they must have their own camouflage pattern, it smacks of nothing more than each trying to find some kind of “corporate” identity following the USMC adoption of MARPAT. They each have tried to come up with a unique pattern to represent their service ignoring that that kind of approach was best left on the Napoleonic battlefield. Modern warfare demands something simple that works and performs its primary purpose as camouflage without any compromises. After all that, the only truly effective pattern to appear was MARPAT (imo). Army ACU, Air Force ABU never mind the patterns the US Navy has dreamt up are all laughable, were all the trials teams colour blind? I’ve yet to see any plant life of a US Army “foliage green”, or rather gray to my eyes. The less patterns there are among friendly troops the better and to have different patterns being worn by troops of the same nationality is simply mind boggling. For once the UK MoD got it right with MTP, let’s hope the US forces follow suit, they owe it to their people.

31 10 2010
strikehold

Errors in that piece:

1. “ACU” is the uniform, not the camo (just like “BDU” was the uniform, not the camo).

2. MultiCam was not a runner up in the Army’s camouflage tests, and it never went up against UCP either. In the tests that were conducted, MultiCam actually came 3rd overall (if I remember correctly) while a pattern called “All Over Brush” actually won it.

3. UCP was not included in those tests.

4. Biggest error of all is that MultiCam IS actually a digital camouflage scheme – it uses digitally rendered shapes and colour fades. “Digital” doesn’t just mean pixels…

31 10 2010
Dom Hyde

Actually, Desert All Over Brush was the winner.

26 11 2010
Decent Weasel

@Dom: Didn’t they redo the tests in Afghanistan (as noted on strike-hold) and find that Multicam indeed beat AOB and ACU in Afghanistan’s terrain?
@Strikehold: regarding #4, digital doesn’t just mean computer generated – it also refers to tweaking edges / color proportions / noise levels to match the background, which generally leads to a pixelated or characteristically gritty look.

16 12 2010
Ropiset

The article was obviously written by someone who has never worn camouflage; to claim that UCP and multicam are anywhere close to being equivelant is the height of ignorance. When I first saw the pictures of the new pattern in the Army Times in June 2004, I was sceptical; for one thing, the colors just seemed all wrong (not to mention all that velcro). Here we are six years later and my scepticism was well founded, I have been wearing the uniform now for the last five years around the world and I have yet to find an environment where the “universal” pattern actually works. (I haven’t done any work in a gravel quarry). In fact, I think it likely that the uniform may have contributed to the death of soldiers wearing it, due to the non-camouflaging camouflage. I think the only reason the U.S. Army hasn’t transitioned to multicam fully, is because the U.S. Army’s R&D division and leadership will look like a bunch of idiots for fielding a non-camouflaging camouflage. Hopefully someone with some cajones will change the status quo soon, but I’m not holding my breath.

16 12 2010
Dom Hyde

Strategy Page has never been the best source for accurate, balanced information. They tend to follow the Pentagon line in most stories.

As we all know: there is truth, and there is Government-Issue truth ;-)

16 01 2011
The Armchair Patriot

I think having a single camouflage pattern for the entire military is a good idea. Not only will it lower costs, but you will not be able to tell the difference between members of the different services in the field. The problem is finding the one pattern that is effective in all terrains. I like Multicam. I hear from people that it is good. But then again, I never tested it myself so can’t say for sure that it’s the best. Sometimes people talk because the air is free.

Now I will say that Crye Precision has invented some pretty cool stuff, especially their combat apparel.

One question I want to ask. Even though having full multicam gear is better, if that gear is not available, would green/OD be the best alternative or khaki/sand? When I look at brushy areas where multicam becomes invisible, I would tend to say green since there are green bushes in the vicinity. But khaki is so much closer to multicam and many pictures have people with it…

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