Infantry: Looks Matter


September 20, 2009: Under pressure from the U.S. Congress, the Department of Defense is providing U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a new camouflage pattern combat uniforms. This came about because many legislators received letters from troops complaining about how the camouflage pattern that worked in Iraq, doesn't work in Afghanistan. At first, army brass told complaining legislators that this was not true, even though SOCOM was already issuing a different camouflage pattern for their troops in Afghanistan. Is it any surprise who won that argument? U.S. Army troops will begin receiving the 4,000 of the new uniforms by the end of the year. There are actually two different camo pattern uniforms being distributed (MultiCam and UCP-Delta) and troop feedback will determine, by the end of next January, which pattern will become standard.

Over the last eight years, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have adopted a new type of camouflage pattern for their combat uniforms. However, some SOCOM (special operations command) troops had second thoughts about the army choice. The new army camouflage pattern uses "pixels" (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called "digital camouflage." This new 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, than if they were wearing standard green uniforms. 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 are 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.

But digital doesn't rule, at least not when price is no object. The runner-up in the competition was a non-digital pattern called MultiCam. Many in the army preferred this one, but the difference, in tests, between it and the winner, ACU, was not that great. Moreover, MultiCam was more expensive.

However, three years ago, some SOCOM (Special Operations Command) operators were spotted wearing MultiCam, rather than ACU. Now SOCOM has always had a larger budget, per capita, than the rest of the army, and its operators have a lot of discretion to use whatever weapons or gear they thought best for the job. Apparently, on some jobs, MultiCam is considered more suitable than ACU. That said, there have been few complaints from soldiers in Iraq about ACU, which measures up to MultiCam in most particulars, and is a lot cheaper. But in Afghanistan, the superiority of MultiCam over ACU was more pronounced. Thanks to the Internet, the troops still wearing the ACU were able to quickly, and in large numbers, express their dissatisfaction to Congress.





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