This month, soldiers will begin testing a camouflage pattern that looks more like reptile scales than terrain as part of the field-trial portion of the Army’s camouflage improvement effort.
The start of the field evaluation comes five months after Army uniform officials announced the finalists that had emerged from the service’s exhaustive Phase IV Camouflage Improvement effort. A handful of vendors were awarded contracts to make camouflage-patterned material for uniforms and equipment. Ultimately, the winner’s pattern could end up replacing the Army’s embattled Universal Camouflage Pattern, known as UCP, which was adopted in 2004.
Last fall, Army uniform officials completed tests that involved 900 soldiers taking a digital picture survey of camouflage patterns under consideration. The computerized survey had soldiers look at dozens of camouflage patterns and then rate their concealment performance.
Four commercial patterns emerged. One of the companies chosen is Crye Precision LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y. Crye invented MultiCam, a camouflage pattern that the Army chose in early 2010 to replace UCP in Afghanistan. ADS, Inc., teamed with Hyperstealth, Inc., of Virginia Beach, Va., and Brookwood Companies, Inc of New York, N.Y., were also chosen.
One of more unusual patterns chosen is made by Kryptek, Inc. of Fairbanks, Alaska. It consists of interlocking shapes that resemble a reptile’s scales, a look that has proven highly effective despite its non-traditional appearance, uniform officials say.
In March, the Army decided to drop the fifth finalist -- which was a government pattern developed at U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass. The pattern was too similar to one of the industry submissions, which scored higher in the initial evaluation, uniform officials said.
Natick officials would not release details of its pattern, but experts say it was likely from the Scorpion effort, a pattern developed by Crye Precision that’s very similar to MultiCam. So far Crye officials have refused to reveal details about the pattern selected for Army evaluation.
Each finalist submitted a family of camouflage patterns for desert, woodland, and transitional along with a single coordinated pattern for individual equipment such as body armor and load-bearing gear so soldiers wouldn’t have to change their kit from one environment to the next. In the past, special-operations units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment have worn equipment in a shade known as “Ranger green.” And Marines chose coyote brown to wear with its woodland and desert camo uniforms.
Soldiers will begin to evaluate each of the patterns sometime in June in field trials that could take up to nine months to complete, said Debi Dawson, a spokesman for Program Executive Office Soldier. The Army will then conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to adopt a new camouflage pattern.
The Army launched the camouflage effort in response to a June 2009 inquiry by Pennsylvania's Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who was then chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Murtha pushed the service to look for a better camouflage pattern after receiving complaints from sergeants about the UCP's poor performance in the warzone.
Murtha died in 2010, but his directive prompted the Army to launch a multi-phase camouflage effort. Many patterns were evaluated in Afghanistan, but MultiCam was the clear winner for the country’s multi-terrain environment. Interestingly enough, MultiCam outperformed UCP in two previous Natick studies, one completed in 2009 and another in 2006.