<XMP><BODY></xmp>Digital and Universal Camouflage.

Posted 23rd December, 2008

        Those of you who have read some of the other articles in camouflage on the Scrapboard may have noticed that a keen contributor has been Nate Turner aka Jade Geko.
        The Scrapboard is pleased to present an article written by Nate on current Digital and Universal Camouflage designs.

Digital and Universal Camouflage

        At the beginning of the 19th century most armies dressed in boldly colored field uniforms. A century later everything had changed. Most armies now took to the field in colors like khaki, feldgrau, or horizon blue. These dull and toned-down colors could blend into the surrounding terrain far more easily.

        Most early uniforms were made from wool. Since printing patterns onto wool garments presented technical difficulties they were typically printed in solid colors. During the Second World War armies began to increasingly make use of cotton garments, making the option of mass-produced patterned garments feasible. Several militaries, like Italy and Germany, began to trial and issue uniforms printed with patterns of irregular shapes and varying colors to make the user harder to distinguish from the background and identify as a target shape. This can be regarded as the first wide-scale use of modern military camouflage patterns.

        A multicolored pattern has several advantages over a flat color. It can help to disguise the depth, outline, and symmetry of the object that it's printed on. When trying to interpret a scene, the brain draws many conclusions about volume, distance, and boundaries by reconciling light and dark areas with the lighting that's present. Dark areas are often naturally perceived as shadows, and darker or lighter areas can be interpreted as being nearer or farther than they actually are. When irregularly colored areas are printed onto a uniform or piece of equipment, and these elements match the surroundings closely enough, the brain stands a good chance of misinterpreting what it sees. It will tend to interpret the elements of light and dark as individual objects, shadows, or patches of light, rather than successfully putting them back together into the shape of the target.

        A tiger’s flank is a good example of this. Though it's solid and convex, the tiger's side is also striped. In a grove of reeds or bamboo, where dark and light stripes are everywhere, the brain will have a strong tendency to conclude that these stripes are bamboo stalks and the lighter areas are the differently-colored ground of a more distant backdrop. It will assume that it's looking straight through the vegetation, rather than at a large predator.

        Two other effects, closely related to this, are the hiding of the target's outline and its symmetry. Since objects are often distinguished by their shapes rather than by their color, random patches of contrasting colors can make the boundary of a shape more difficult to resolve. Similarly, if the shape of a target is regular or highly linear, a pattern that is highly irregular or that cuts across the shape will fight the brain's natural tendency to put the shape back together properly.
        Again, the tiger presents a good example. One notices that the majority of the stripes are not only in a vertical orientation, but that they also invariably cut across the real shape of the tiger. Stripes on its body are vertical while stripes on its legs wrap around them rather than following them lengthwise.

        In both instances the manner with which the colored elements conflict with the real shape of the target serves to thwart an attempt to recognize the shape for what it really is. When the brain is made to pay more attention to the patterning on the object than it is to the object itself, the real shape of the object simply drops away.

        The lesson of our tiger has not been lost on military camouflage designers and many have in fact produced patterns with stripes, snake-shapes, or other horizontal or irregular elements that serve to cut across and thereby disrupt the shapes of symmetrical torsos, upright bodies and long arms and legs. A human body broken apart by properly-scaled shapes will be divided into a series of other, differing elements that don't resemble a human form at all.

        If we look at camouflage that's proven effective in the past, two things become apparent. First is that there is a direct relationship between the size of the color elements employed and the size of the object being camouflaged. Britain's DPM pattern is widely regarded as a very effective personal camouflage. It employs paint-stroke like elements that are slightly larger than a spread hand. However, if we painted a tank with patches of color that are this same size, it wouldn't be very effective. At a distance, the shapes would blur together and resemble one solid color. The only area where DPM might prove effective is on the barrel of the main gun which is, tellingly enough, is about as wide as a human thigh.
        Likewise, if we took a DPM jacket and covered it with disruptive color elements the size of coins we would see the same effect. The wearer's shape and outline would not be disrupted; the garment would blur into one uniform color from a distance of more than a few yards. This effect is usually referred to as “Blobbing out”.

        A different cause that leads to a similar effect is when the colors in a camouflage scheme are too similar to each other. Though the elements may be the right size, the brain will still be unable to tell the colors apart from each other, and again, our hypothetical jacket will blob out into one dull color that fails to actually disrupt the shape of the soldier wearing it.

        Recent years have seen several new camouflage patterns promoted and in some cases adopted. One of the latest innovations is to use pixelated patterns, though if we reflect upon camouflages like Germany's Platanenmuster and Flecktarn patterns it will probably become obvious that this idea isn't as new as it seems. Many of these patterns look like 1980’s style computer graphics and since the US army is currently enamored with the word “Digital” it was perhaps inevitable that these patterns are prompted as “Digital Camouflage”.

        While pixelated patterns have been tried before, the current wave of interest started with the adoption of CADPAT by Canada's armed forces. The USMC, always keen to distinguish itself from the US Army, followed suit with MARPAT. As is often the case, the Marine's adoption of something new got the US Army interested. The Army had already been trialing new non-digital camouflage designs, including an entry by contractor Crye Precision that would later be introduced to the public as Multicam,.  The Army was so impressed by MARPAT that they discarded the earlier test results and opted to “leverage” MARPAT to produce their own three-color pattern. Whereas MARPAT comes in several varieties for different environments, the Army decided to adopt a universal pattern intended to work in desert, urban, temperate, tropical, jungle and woodland conditions. Several companies, such as the aforementioned Crye Precision, are now advocating their own patterns as being superior.

        Though limited efforts at developing digital camouflage were implemented as far back as the 1980s with Dual-Tex, the first digital camouflage to go into production and issue was CADPAT. Developed by Canada’s armed forces, it was designed by compiling a large number of photographs of sample Canadian temperate forest and digitally analyzing the shapes and colors present. A computer was then used to develop an “average texture” of what appeared in the woods and a color profile compiling the four most common colors. Hence, CADPAT is designed not so much based on the human form which it has to disguise or disrupt, but is instead designed to provide a close facsimile of an area where it is likely to be used. The pattern is quite small in relation to the body of the person wearing it, and there is no overarching larger pattern, simply a fairly random repetition of small irregular and pixilated elements.
        Australian's AUSCAM was also designed by 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 colors. The Australians seem to have used this approach to just choose the colors, not the pattern, and selected elements of the correct size to distrupt the human form. Rather than using pixelation AUSCAM uses a duckhunter-style pattern with jellybean-shaped elements, and is by all accounts extremely effective.
        Both AUSCAM and CADPAT have used an approach that removes human bias from the selection of colors. 

        The Marine Corps’ MARPAT (or MARine PATtern), developed some years later, is similar in appearance to CADPAT but is predominantly “Coyote Brown”. Coyote Brown was used to blend better with a wide range of woodland environments and seasons, as well as to better disguise a Marine moving through open fields, which tend to be colored in more medium green, gold, and medium brown tones than the chocolate-and-green camouflage used for thick woods. They also developed a desert pattern that is essentially the same camouflage in tones of tan and beige instead. Like CADPAT, it shares roughly the same element size in proportion to the body, with its elements being very small in relation to the Marine wearing the pattern and with no overarching larger patterning integrated into the camouflage. Both patterns seem to have concentrated on depth disruption while neglecting the need to break up the wearer's overall shape.

        Finally, the US Army developed their camouflage, opting for one color scheme for all environments. Believing that black would attract the eye when moving, the army avoided using  the color black in the pattern, leaving only three colors – a medium grey tone, a lighter green-tinged grey referred to as “Foliage Green”, and a very light beige tone. This camouflage is referred to by a variety of names. Given that the uniform it’s printed on is called the ACU (Army Combat Uniform), it is sometimes referred to as ACUPAT, or simply ACU. Others refer to it as “ARPAT,” a term analogous to the Marines’ MARPAT. The current official name is UCP, standing for Universal Camouflage Pattern. Reports of its performance are mixed. Testimonial and experiential evidence, all of it subjective,  indicate that it performs reasonably well in urban areas, poorly in woodland environments (being too light), and its performance in desert can vary from working well in drier, lighter, rockier areas to working poorly in darker and more heavily vegetated regions. By all reports, ACU performs very well at night, but so too does the solid foliage green PCU cold-weather uniform.

        Digital camouflages can work very well in the proper environments. CADPAT is very effective in Canadian woodlands or, more generally, wet and green woods. Woodland MARPAT works better in drier areas. Desert MARPAT is said to work exceedingly well at close range against stucco or mud brick buildings and the Army’s UCP can work exceedingly well against urban materials like cement or stone.
        However, while digital patterning does confer some advantages, there is the more pressing question of whether these camouflages succeed at hiding the soldier at all ranges and in a wide range of environments -- in other words, whether they accomplish their objective in the first place.

        Unfortunately, current digital patterns confer a real disadvantage as well. As noted before, these camouflages consist of small elements that are not nearly as large as used on proven older patterns, such as DPM. When viewed from a distance all of the digital camouflages mentioned show a strong tendency to blob out at ranges beyond a hundred to two hundred yards. The problem is especially pronounced with UCP, which lacking any dark colours has only a selection of light to medium greys and tans with little contrast between them. With the small pixel patterning blobbed out and no larger pattern present, at a distance the uniform simply appears as a solid color, offering no way to disrupt, disguise, or otherwise break up the shape of the target it’s printed on.

        Crye Multicam is another pattern that is much touted and often proposed as an alternative to UCP. Developed before the digital camouflage craze it consists of large blob-shaped elements of beige, medium brown, olive, and light green fading into each other, with smaller periodic “spatters” of lighter grey and chocolate brown. It’s enjoying an immense amount of popularity, especially given that its direct competitor in the universal camouflage game, UCP, is enjoying little popularity among those wearing it. However, decisions that effect the lives of our troops need to be based on science rather than fashion.
        Although the elements in Multicam are considerably larger than those in the CADPAT/MARPAT/UCP family, the colors have little contrast between them, in terms of differences in hue, lightness and saturation. At a distance these colors tend to blend together, a factor that is enhanced by the fade effect inherent in Multicam. Though the darker and lighter elements are more prominently defined, they occupy very little space of the pattern itself, and nowhere near as much space as the elements in patterns like DPM. The majority of the pattern is the blend of similar medium-value tones.These tones, however, are so close to each other that the eye has a tendency to blend them into each other at a distance. A glance at a photograph of Multicam in action will demonstrate this easily enough. Multicam blobs out. At a distance, a person wearing Crye’s pattern appears overwhelmingly as a solid, homogeneous, person-shaped tan-colored target.
        The original test results for the Army’s camouflage patterns, produced before the Army investigated digital patterning. This contains data on Multicam’s performance against other patterns in the test, designed with fundamental principles in mind, in a head-to-head competition for best all-around camouflage. Multicam averaged at third place.

        It should be considered, while reflecting on UCP and Multicam, that attempts to develop a single camouflage for as wide a range of environments as possible is by no means a new idea. There have been good results in the past with tones like feldgrau and khaki. By drawing upon what has been learned already designing a universal camouflage palette should not present too much of a problem. Many khaki-dominant patterns, like AUSCAM and Advantage®, perform well in a wide range of environments and it should be noted that both of these patterns also incorporate visibly large areas of contrasting colors.
        The pattern itself will need to take fundamental camouflage principles into consideration. It needs to be designed to disguise and disrupt the form of the object it is being used on rather than simply attempting a facsimile of the background with no consideration for disrupting the shape of the target itself , as has happened with digital camouflage. It needs to select a color palette that includes a sufficient percentage of large, contrasting elements to disrupt the target shape, unlike designs such as Multicam. The need for such design features is especially apparent when one considers that a universal camouflage will most often be seen against backgrounds that do not exactly match it, something which will make a blobbed-out pattern even more apparent than otherwise.

        An article about digital camouflage development, drawing from the USMC's perspective and hosted on Militarymorons.com. The article falls under the header “Desert Camouflage Test”.

        Another article about the development of CADPAT, this time from the Canadian perspective.

        An article about symmetry-disrupting camouflage, containing an excerpt from a slide presentation by the developer of MARPAT, Timothy O’Neill. Strangely, it appears that he was well aware of the need for symmetry disruption, but for some reason this was not factored into MARPAT’s design.
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