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Better blend

Camouflage patterns for future uniforms undergo evaluation

Variations of “all over brush”, “shadow line” and “track” patterns in four combinations of colors, along with the all-purpose “Crye”, are in the running for the next generation of Army camouflage clothing.

These patterns for woodland, desert, urban and a combination of desert and urban terrains are undergoing evaluation by the Materials Integration Team at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. If selected and approved, up to four new patterns will help conceal soldiers wearing the Army’s future Advanced Combat Uniform and the Objective Force Warrior’s Scorpion uniform.

Existing designs have been around for years, and changes are in order.

Woodland camouflage has been fielded since 1981, with desert camouflage arriving about a decade later. The Army has never fielded an urban camouflage uniform but is interested in adding that capability.

All Over Brush design
The “all over brush” design is shown in desert colors on the manikin. The other types are woodland (left), desert/urban (front) and urban.

“Woodland camouflage is still based on the European threat of the Cold War. There are new threats today, and there’s always room for improvement,” said Anabela Dugas, a textile technologist. “Until we do an evaluation, we don’t know if there’s a better alternative.”

Camouflage allows a soldier to blend into his environment. Better matching of the color and pattern to the background yields better concealment.

“Trying to get one uniform that blends for everything is the toughest part of the job,” Dugas said. “It really is background dependent. What gets lost in one background stands out in another.”

She said the Army had a goal for its next generation uniform to be one pattern, but it would be difficult to develop because vegetation has a reflectance that’s off the scale compared to rocks and sand. Instead, Dugas along with Kellie Zupkofska, also a textile technologist, and Richard Cowan, a chemist, are working on the best compromise across the variables.

“Woodland camouflage is the easiest because you can hide in vegetation,” Dugas said. “Desert is complicated because you are out in the open, but urban is really complicated because you’re so close.”

In all the designs, soldiers can expect to see a common color so that the gear is interchangeable with the uniform.

To generate fresh ideas, the team contracted a designer to draw new patterns on paper using information based on decades of camouflage research at the Soldier Systems Center.

Seven initial designs in color printouts were reduced to three after benchtop testing in the Camouflage Evaluation Facility at Natick.

“It’s a quick way to eliminate the least effective patterns before field testing,” Zupkofska said.

“All over brush” has swirls of shapes and colors, and strays from the more conventional “shadow lines,” which has horizontal lines and “track,” which has vertical lines to its elements. “Crye” is the camouflage intended for all environments that’s now being modeled by Objective Force Warrior and was included in evaluations.

Each of the three designs was printed on a nylon and cotton blend fabric from an ink jet printer. Enough material was printed to fabricate a helmet cover and Battle Dress Uniform shirt and trousers for the first field evaluation at Fort Benning, Ga., in August.

The final designs could be selected for recommendations as soon as April 2003.

“Shadow line” is shown on the leftside photo with “track” on the right. In each, the desert colors are worn on a manikin. Woodland (left), urban/desert (right) and urban colors lie in front for the shadow line pattern. Woodland (left), urban/desert (front) and urban colors lie in front of the track pattern.
Woodland-shadow line pattern Urban/desert-track pattern

Urban camouflage evaluation was conducted at the McKenna Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site while woodland patterns were evaluated in the adjacent woods. Twelve trained military observers evaluated soldiers posing in the experimental uniforms against different backgrounds at a range of distances and in several positions. The observers then answered a questionnaire rating blending, contrast, shape and pattern.

The best four out of nine woodland and four out of 13 urban uniforms were selected. The same process for the desert uniforms was conducted at several locations at Fort Irwin, Calif., in October. These desert sites were carefully selected and were analogous to locations in the Middle East. Of the 10 choices, four were selected.

“We wanted to look at every possible yet realistic combination of color and pattern, including the current patterns,” Dugas said.

After the Product Optimization and Evaluation Team at Natick analyzes the data based on the surveys, Dugas said the next step is to fine-tune the shape and color before examining infrared properties. Night testing with evaluators wearing night vision goggles is scheduled for February at Fort Polk, La., and at Fort Irwin.

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