Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette and Spacing. (Five S's of Camouflage)
Although most people do not consciously recognize it, brown is one of the most common colours in nature. Even in environments where there is a predominance of green, brown does not look out of place. Green occurs in a wide variety of shades, so there is an increased chance of a green based pattern standing out if you move onto different terrain.
The first widescale use of low visibility clothing in the British army adopted the colour khaki (which is an Urdu word meaning "dusty"). Ironically, its adoption may have been due to improvements in dyes. In Wellington's day British army red tunics soon faded into a dull russet colour. By the Victorian era it may be that advances in industrial chemistry was keeping the colours bright.
"Khaki" is a term used for several colours. In this and other pages it can be taken to mean a brown-yellow colour and this shade may also be called sand, beige or buff. "Khaki" is also sometimes used to refer to a Green-brown shade that was used for British Battledress during World War II. I believe the correct name for this colour is "Khaki-drab" but it was widely called just Khaki. My dictionary defines Khaki as brown-yellow, and this agrees with the word's Urdu meaning but other dictionaries define khaki as any colour from light yellow-brown to olive-brown.
Before discussing camouflage, it is worth recapping on some of the ways the human visual cortex processes information. The brain has specialized centres that are designed to detect straight lines. Similar areas are attuned to the human face or shape. The brain also uses apparent shadow as a visual clue to an object's solidity. Most camouflage involves a combination of blending in with the surroundings and disrupting recogniseable shapes.
One of the camouflage ideas currently seeing a revival is that of double sided camouflage clothing an idea successfully used by the German army back in the 1940s! There is a potential problem here though. Suppose we have a unit moving through the woods, so are dressed with their dark woodland pattern outmost. They reach the edge of the wood and are about to move out into a broad expanse of field, so they reverse their combat dress to show a lighter "field and desert" pattern. That's OK for their jackets, but is any unit in enemy country really going to risk literally getting caught "with its pants down?" So our hypothetical unit crosses the field wearing light jackets but dark trousers. Such a combination will increase the individual's shadow, particularly if viewed from the air. There are few straight lines in nature so human legs are in fact quite distinctive. If we look to nature we'll notice that most animals have their underside and lower limbs a lighter shade to counter this effect.
Can we create a camouflage pattern that not only works in both woodland and open country, but also makes the legs less distinctive? I would suggest a pattern that is mainly made of Grey-green and Olive-drab , with a few lighter and darker patches of sand and chocolate colour. To break up the distinctive shape of the legs arrange this colours as a form of tiger stripe. Because this pattern is overall quite light it works well in open country and breaks up the human shape in woodland by flattening out undershadow. I call this patterm "Field and Forest Tiger."
The second distinctive shape to remove is the webbing. Many armies will issue several types of camouflage clothing but usually the soldier only gets one set of webbing, the majority of it dark green, which he must use in desert and snowfield. Making webbing brown would help, but the straps are straight lines, which the human eye is very adept at picking out. Webbing should be made from a material with a pattern of neutral grey, beige, red-brown and charcoal. To break up the shape the colours should be printed in transverse bands. The pattern used in French "Central European" camouflage may be suitable with a change of colours. The same pattern would also break up the rectangular shape of pouches and rucksacks. This pattern can be customized with white tape for snow operations, green for jungle or black for night operations. I call this "Dispruptive Webbing Pattern" (aka DWP).
Many thanks to Jade Geko for the illustration of how DWP might possibly look worn with various patterns of camouflage (above). The upper row shows Woodland, Three-Colour Desert and Advantage; the lower shows Woodland MARPAT, Desert MARPAT and ARPAT. Webbing illustrated is a modified STABO pattern as suggested on this webpage.
To get a better idea of how well this pattern works the image needed to be viewed "at a distance" (right).
Quick consideration will reveal that our hypothetical soldier is displaying at least three different patterns to the observer that of his webbing, that of his jacket or smock and that of his trousers. This will make it harder to resolve the information into a human shape. In other words, there is less tendency for the camouflage system to "blob-out", as often happens when just one pattern is worn.
There is one final distinctive area that must be addressed that of the head and shoulders.
Double sided helmet covers are one option, but a better one may be the more traditional net, printed in a mix of brown and tree-bark grey. To this are tied small strips of frayed cloth of various colours, and natural vegetation is also added. The shape of the shoulders can be broken up by a coif or mantle with a netting outer, camouflaged with cloth strips in the same way. This can be pulled over the head or helmet for additional camouflage or used as a face veil. The coif is secured by the epaulettes and can be easily removed to make the jacket "garrison".
Items such as ponchos could be double sided. Alternately troops retain the issue woodland pattern poncho and are issued with a grey and brown basha sheet. This will have a bold jagged "boulder" pattern to break up the flatness of the sheet.
In temperate climates or jungle the poncho is used as a shelter and the basha as a groundsheet. In deserts, mountains or ruined buildings this is reversed. In the desert the poncho may be rigged beneath the basha to trap a layer of insulating air.
On the subject of ponchos this is a good place to mention one of the many interesting ideas of Carlton Meyer:-
......a combat poncho made of insulated materials to mask body heat. A loose poncho is best since a parka fits tightly around the body where it absorbs heat, while a loose poncho allows the heat to dissipate out the bottom. The outer layer will consist of waterproof Gortex fabric with Mylar insulation, extra thick around the "hot" shoulders and chest. Ponchos also cover web gear and other items to provide superior visual camouflage. Combat ponchos will not make infantrymen invisible ninjas, but they should be able to hide most of their infrared signature so they can only be detected at 50 meters rather than 500 meters.
A disciplined infantry unit in defensive positions can hide under the cover of their combat ponchos from enemy reconnaissance probes. A moving unit will be difficult for aircraft to detect. Faces and hands may be partly exposed, but they produce small irregular images which are difficult to interpret compared the obvious body image of an uncovered infantrymen. Many modern ponchos also double as tents. Since combat ponchos will be thicker, they can be designed for use as tents, and maybe zip up as light sleeping bags too. A thick water-proof poncho can also provide emergency protection against chemical attacks until proper protective clothing is donned.
Two camouflage patterns are worth a special mention.
The first is ASAT, which was created as an all terrain pattern. Many hunters have used this, but I also recall a reviewer commenting "with ASAT you can see something is there, but can't identify what it is" ASAT may work fine for deer hunters, but I suspect that it will provide little defence against keen primate eyes with human brains attached. Enemies will quickly learn to distinguish the ASAT pattern and fire upon it.
The Hunting world does provide us with another pattern that may be of military use. "Advantage" pattern is a predominately brown pattern. Up close it looks gimmicky since actual leaf shapes, right down to the veins are printed on it. At a distance this seems to cause very effective outline disruption and blending with the background, and not just in a woodland environment. My own modest observations indicate that the pattern would be a highly effective urban pattern in European towns such as London, where reds and browns are far more common than the areas the grey, white and black "Urban SWAT" patterns seem to be intended for.
For "Green-temperate" and Jungle conditions I suggest a modified version of British DPM (Disruptive Pattern Material) instead of US Woodland Pattern. Main colours would be Green, Beige and Brown with smaller areas of Dark Grey (eg, Graphite) instead of the full black currently used. This Hungarian pattern of Sand, Red-Brown and Light and Dark Green is a possible choice. On the reverse of this garment would be Advantage pattern, which will serve in most other temperate conditions.
In jungle conditions camouflaged Mesh "bug suits" are a possible alternative to combat smocks.
Winter smocks would be White, with the occasional sprinkle of Dark Grey. On the other side would be Realtree Hardwood or Mossy Oak Forest Floor. This smock might be a pull-over design.
Many Middle Eastern countries use a desert pattern that is simply British DPM without the green added. British Army desert pattern also omits the black. Not only would this pattern be simple to produce, but is also very effective. Lack of the green patches makes the beige areas bigger, increasing camouflage effect in open terrain. Once again I'd replace black with dark grey. The Israeli "snake" pattern shown on the left also looks to be very effective in sandy conditions.
I'm not sure that having a desert smock lined with a dark nightsuit pattern would be very comfortable and may increase the likelihood of overheating. An additional night smock may be more practical since it will help insulate from the chill of the desert night.
Special Forces, ASI Direct Action Teams, Sniper and other units may make use of special night camouflage coveralls. These would have a dark pattern such as that of the desert suit on one side and on the other a lighter night pattern such as "Subdued Urban" or "Sky Blue" pattern. The side most appropriate for the level of illumination and background is worn other most. This may be the same garment worn at night with desert dress.
Camouflage pattern suggestions taken from
Suggested Colours and Their Hex Triplet Codes.
|Green-brown "Khaki drab" ||#9F9F6F |
|Neutral grey/ Silver ||#C0C0C0|
|Red-brown/ Dark chestnut ||#986960|
|Charcoal/ Dark slate gray ||#2F4F4F|
|Green/ Fern green ||#4F7942|
Tony Birchill writes:-
I have been poking around your site and it's very interesting. I happen to agree very much with your conclusions about camouflage, especially the use of grey and the lighter underpainting of areas in shadow.
I'm ex-Australian army, and I managed to get hold of an old para smock back in my time, and lived in it in the field. Your comments on smocks described my time in the bush perfectly! I used to keep all sorts of things in my two huge pockets that hung below my web pouches, and it was so easy to maintain personal camouflage in that thing, as well as comfort.
One thing that's interesting about the new australian uniform (AUSCAM) is that it makes your eyes sore looking at it, almost compelling you to look away. It does however work extremely well, especially after the liberal application of the local dirt. I have had patrolling soldiers stand on me because they couldn't see me! Yes, the uniform is mainly brown, in shades lighter than initially looks right. The old OD uniforms were too dark, especailly at night.
The uniform was designed after averaging out the results of about 10,000 photographs of the terrain australian soldiers normally operate in. No human input was made in the choice of colours, and intially everyone thought the pattern was wrong, until it was made up as a uniform. Now aussie soldiers are in love with the pattern.
PW: AUSCAM or DPCU uses a Greenish-Sand coloured background with randomly arranged spots of Light Brown, Red-Brown, Dark Green and Medium Green. DPCU is said to work well in areas from arid bushland through to tropical jungle all over Australia. Be interesting to know how it works in more temperate climates.
Desert Auscam (DPDU) has gone through several versions, earlier patterns apparently being too light. Current 3rd Issue DPDU uses Brown, Grey, Very Light Blue (almost Gray?) and Purple on a Yellow Background. Other sources call the colours Brown, Light Green, Light Grey and Medium Grey on a Tan Background.
Jade Geko writes:
Got to test the ACU out in the bush. The interesting thing is that outdoors, the pattern has this weird, undefinable green tinge to it. My dad and I went up to Chaco Canyon for Thanksgiving. As I liked how my ACU pants were tailored, I wore them. While ACU does work quite nicely in urban areas (at least the stucco-and-cement urban I live in), in the high (rocky) desert it is useless. As it was cold at night, we slept in our clothes, and I wasn't interested in getting my pants coated in dirt, so for all I know ACU might work better when it gets dirty. Honestly I doubt it. Desert MARPAT might've been better, but I suspect it'd be too light. (A Marine I know once told me he found desert MARPAT to be of no use in the desert, but that it was fantastic in light urban areas.) The colors at Chaco were pretty dark--they were closest to the lightest color on my Tropentarn (desert Flecktarn) backpack. An overprinted boulder type pattern would've been nice, maybe in a greyish or charcoal tone to blend with the dry scrub on the canyon floor. Coyote might be good, but the rocks were a little pink for it. And yes, I'm pretty sure Advantage would've done the job well.
Captain John Wilson has proposed the idea of an "Adaptable Combat Uniform" (ACUs):
I advocated long ago going to a straight beige BDU (no pattern) and beige TA50 (webbing) gear.
Then, develop a temporary "spray-on" ink set (similar to Bowflage) and camouflage pattern templates for various regions.
When the soldiers deploy (to the training area or to the theater of operations), they spray on the template (color-by-numbers with some adult supervision) that is dictated by the region (METT-TC).
Once they redeploy, they treat the BDUs with a solution to cut the ink and wash them in a standard washing machine. The inks should work on BDU cloth as well as TA-50, gortex, etc.
PW: A better pattern of camouflage could be made using the stencils already in existance for the current Woodland pattern.
Use a base cloth of beige, and for woodland pattern print this with Dark Green, Brown and Graphite Grey. An alternative would be Green, Brown and Mid-Grey printed on beige. The AUSCAM colours of Dark Green, Medium Green, Red-Brown and Light Brown are also worth trying. I'm not too taken with the duck-hunter blob pattern of AUSCAM and would prefer something more like DPM. Pixelated patterns are fashionable but to my mind many make the colour areas too small to disrupt the overall shape of the wearer. The Australian approach to selecting colours is worth trying for other parts of the world.
For a more brown based pattern, use the same stencils and base cloth but replace the Dark Green dye with mid-grey, so the pattern is beige, Mid-grey, Brown and Graphite.
The same beige cloth on its own would make be very effective in desert conditions. If desired patches of Medium brown or Grey can be added.
As an alternative to John's DIY idea, large stockpiles of beige smocks or field dress could be built up and screen printed with the appropriate colours prior to shipment to the unit.
Many thanks to Jade Geko for these interesting links on clothing and camouflage.:-