A thought about individual camouflage

So the U.S.Army messes up the entire individual camouflage pattern thing. Its universal grey camouflage was a disaster, as it was almost universally poor and actually didn't even look good in the original evaluation. An interim solution was specifically adopted for Afghanistan and now the bureaucracy cramps its way towards adopting the same thing as standard camouflage pattern. Meanwhile, they keep buying poorly camouflaged equipment in the old "universal" pattern.
This makes sticking with grey-olive monocolour clothes for decades (Bundeswehr 60's to 80's) look smart.

The graphic above shows in an abstract way the compromises required if troops need to move through different terrains during a single mission. No matter whether you pick specialised or universal patterns, you're going to be suboptimal in some environment.
It should be a no-brainer that the answer is a reversible overall smock with different camo patterns on both sides. I kid you not; Germany had this already 70 years ago. It's not fully compliant with the approach of overladen infantrymen with load carrying vests all over the upper body, of course.

Here's a different thought, one which takes human nature into account instead of staring at landscape photos and stuff only: Give some universal camo which works at least in shadows (where hiding is easiest) to the non-combat troops and mounted combat troops. Meanwhile, dismounted scouts and infantry should be given only a basic camouflage which nobody would misunderstand as sufficient in itself. These troops are actually (supposed to be) highly conscious about the need to camouflage, and they should do so depending on terrain. Let them add both factory-made and improvised camouflage elements to themselves, in order to be almost always very well camouflaged. This includes especially 3D camouflage elements which can beat any pattern hands down anyway.
The reasoning is that supporters aren't going to do individual camo well anyway, so they should get the best factory-made and universal camo. It takes a disciplined army to ensure that supporters have at least their guns cleaned and are skilled in their use - no army has ever been able to enforce much camo discipline on individual support troops.
Meanwhile, the few troops which are the most exposed individuals (infantry, dismounted scouts, possibly dedicated tank hunters) can be kept camo-aware by a disciplined army. They're also the ones for which a second-best camo is not good enough. So don't fool them into trusting the inadequate patterns when 3D camouflage elements are much superior. Force them into applying these by handing them only obviously inadequate camo suits which are nevertheless a fine basis for additional camo efforts.

factory-made, still fresh and clean ghillie camo suit example

I suppose this approach of basic camo for combat troops and enforced extra camo efforts should be tested. Maybe it's great, maybe not.



  1. Sadly I don't believe the Anglo-American military mind would grasp and accept such a concept. Continental European armies have traditionally shown themselves to be more forward-thinking in this regard, note the official adoption of camouflage elements from 1916-1939 by some European and the Soviet armies. I believe that the current perception of what the Infantryman should be will hinder such a development amongst even traditionally progressive elements.

    Naysaying aside, practical concerns:

    Oversuits and reversible smocks are still workable even with modern overloaded infantry troops. The Soviets cut theirs quite baggy to assist in camouflage, as doing so helped break up the outline. The Russians continue to do this and I know from experience it is effective. The problem becomes tailoring, as wearing such garments under modern equipment leads to the fabric bunching and creating pressure points that can be very distracting. If you're in a situation where you no longer notice them, you may also miss that they can cause blisters which can become infected, which can require medical evacuation if it gets severe enough. Traditionally the reversible smocks and the like have ties or elastics which bunch them up appropriately in areas for use with belts and more traditional LBE, but become difficult to deal with using other equipment. This is a relatively simple thing to fix.

    Some will complain that the oversuit is not integrated with the complex "soldier clothing systems" we're seeing propagated in a big way since approximately 2006. This is simply false, they just don't think the smock is tacticool.

    A complete redesign of combat equipment would be required to facilitate better camouflage for combat troops. The ballistic protection and carrying pouches are the most complicated things to camouflage and some nations have equipment which is so prominent that the patterning of trousers and jacket is almost irrelevant compared to the pattern of the BA and LBE.

    How do you propose camouflage be practiced? I have noticed that in small training areas, having successive training waves using natural cam means that you end up with an area denuded of branches and brush very rapidly and some piles of dead foliage near staging and ENDEX areas.

    1. You really only need to make sure your NCOs understand the issue and then keep them ambitious (which is a junior officer and senior NCO leadership challenge).
      Competitions can help to make the enlisted personnel ambitious and motivated, but they're not a necessity.
      As usual, many free-play exercises, diverse training environments as well as training outdoors almost all the time would help a lot.

  2. Just buy some tonnes of cheap plastic christmas threes to practice with.

  3. This shows only one thing: camouflage patterns have been tried in actually serious wars and have been found to be pretty much irrelevant for objects smaller then 2.5m in diameter. However it's a great incentive to sell new uniform sets again and again once in a while.

    1. They're not irrelevant, but they're not enough to reach the best level of camouflage. Patterns are always going to disappoint in comparison to a 3D camo set using the same colour palette.