Infantry: A Pattern Of Distress

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June 14, 2011: The U.S. Army is seeking a new camouflage pattern for its combat uniforms. In the last decade, both the army and marines adopted new, digital, camouflage pattern field uniforms. But in Afghanistan, U.S. troops have noted that the marine digital uniforms (called MARPAT, for Marine Pattern) were superior to the army UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern). There's been growing dissatisfaction with UCP, and it has become a major issue because all the infantry have access to the Internet, where the constant clamor for something better than UCP has forced the army to do something. This is ironic because UCP is a variant of MARPAT, but a poor one, at least according to soldiers who have encountered marines wearing MARPAT. Even more ironic is that MARPAT is based on research originally done by the army. Thus some of the resistance to copying MARPAT is admitting the marines took the same research on digital camouflage, and produced a superior pattern for combat uniforms.

A 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.

The easiest thing for the army to do is just adopt MARPAT. The marines don't like this, but they really can't stop it. The army would use a close variation of MARPAT and that would be that.

But there's another contender; MultiCam. This was adopted by SOCOM (special operations command) after their commandos had second thoughts about UCP. SOCOM went looking for something new and found a non-digital pattern called MultiCam (cleverly designed to hide troops in many different environments). Many in the army preferred this one, but MultiCam was about three times more expensive.

SOCOM operators have their own budget, and had many of their guys out in the field wearing MultiCam, rather than UCP. That proved the superiority of MultiCam.  SOCOM has always had a larger budget, per capita, than the rest of the army, and its operators have 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 UCP and is now used most of the time.

Now the army has to decide between two unpalatable options. They must either select the proven, but more expensive MultiCam, or the proven, but invented-by-the-marines MARPAT, as their new camouflage pattern.

 

 


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