July 21, 2020:
China is introducing a new camouflage combat/work uniform. The new camo pattern is called Xingkong (starry sky) it will be used, in different color combinations, for camouflage work uniforms used by all services. Unlike the U.S. military, there will not be separate color styles for each service just five patterns used by all services based on time of year or job location.
Patterns are Woodland (dark green), Jungle (lighter green), Desert (sand colored), Arid (dark sand) and Urban (dark grey). The Xingkong camo is more than a new pattern and standardization throughout all services; the new camo design responded to all the troop feedback since the first modern (Type 7) camo uniforms were introduced in 2007. Like their Western counterparts, China found that any new camo uniform has some unpopular features or lacked items that seemed obvious only in hindsight. China also paid attention to the experience of other nations using new camo uniforms in combat after 2007 and added those suggestions to their list of features for Xingkong. Many of these changes seemed minor, like the number and placement of pockets or attachment points for webbing or small items of equipment. For a soldier on the job, all these little improvements make a difference.
This all began in 2007 when China spent over a billion dollars to buy new combat uniforms for its troops. The new. Modern style, Type 7 camo uniforms used a digital camouflage pattern similar to the one used by American soldiers and marines since 2003. That digital pattern was later replaced by something that worked better called “multi-cam”, but China stayed with the digital camo for Xingkong, making only minor changes. As a result, from a distance Western and Chinese troops look alike in terms of uniforms, protetive gear and weapons.
Digital camouflage uses "pixels", which are little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely. This replaces the previous splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called "digital camouflage" when it was first invented back in the 1970s. 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. 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 were 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.
China required about two years to get nearly two million troops equipped with the original Type 7 camo uniforms. These came in four camouflage patterns (urban, forest, desert and ocean), although the woodland pattern also worked in urban areas, just not as well as the special urban pattern. The Type 7 uniforms had a lot of other improvements, based on feedback from the troops. The Type 7 uniforms were also sturdier, and are able to survive 700 washings, versus about 140 with the pre-2007 uniforms.
The U.S. Army developed digital camouflage in the 1970s. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. O'Neill, a West Point professor of engineering psychology, had first noted the "digital camouflage effect." It was not initially considered for use in uniforms, but was instead used for a camouflage pattern on armored vehicles of the U.S. Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Europe from 1978 to the early 1980s. Why hadn't the army adopted it for uniforms back in the 1970s? It seems that the key army people (uniformed and civilian) deciding such things in the 1970s could not grasp the concept of how digital camouflage worked on the human brain, and were not swayed by field tests. Strange, but true, and it's happened before. In 2003, the U.S. Army decided to use digital camouflage patterns for their new field uniforms. A few years after that, China expressed an interest in the concept for their new field uniforms.
Now the Chinese, like their Western counterparts, have come up with an improved second-generation Type 7 camo. One Chinese innovation was to have all service use the same camp uniform, with personnel using a color pattern that fit the jobs they did. This simplifies a lot of things and the U.S. forces could learn from this Chinese innovation.
The new Xingkong was not designed by the military but by a civilian firm; Jiangsu Casdilly Dress Company. The “dress” refers to “dress uniform” in Western terms. Jiangsu Casdilly was founded in 1994 to design and produce uniforms of all sorts and became successful because of its innovation and responsiveness to customer needs. It is now a major global supplier of uniforms. Jiangsu Casdilly came up with the wining Xingkong concept in 2016 and by 2010 groups of Chinese troops were trying out the new uniform. Some Western troops noted it in 2019 because Chinese personnel in the new Djibouti (northeast Africa, next to Somalia) Chinese naval base were wearing it. The entire Chinese military will switch over to the Xingkong type uniforms during the next two years.