A Dearth of Camouflage Patterns: Please sir, could we have more?

If there’s one thing the United States military doesn’t have enough of, it’s camouflage patterns. Truly. Every branch should have one each a woodland, desert, jungle, winter, urban, ghetto urban and garrison pattern and they should never all be allowed to wear the same pattern at the same time, regardless of the fighting environment. If we’re not going to follow that logic , then everyone should adopt the ABU or UCP (one or the other) and we should make a treaty with all insurgents and potential enemies to restrict all fighting to the inside of Army/Navy Surplus Stores and PXs – that’s where our cammie patterns truly come into their own.

Don’t get butt-hurt if you think we’re mocking any particular branch of service. Our team of groveling lackies loyal writers represent every branch, from doorkickers to POGs and all points between. They have a pretty good grasp of what’s good and what’s stoopid.


One of our abject minions loyal friends has written about uniform woes before, here on Breach-Bang-Clear.  He holds many of the same opinions we do when it comes to the plethora of different camouflage patterns forced down the throat of available to our line troops in various AORs around the world. Here’s is take on things as they were just a couple of months ago.

Once upon a time, everyone wore BDUs and DCUs.  This went on from the 1980s all the way to about 2001 or so.

Uniformity! Army: Hooah!  Navy: Hooyah! Marines: Oorah! Air Force: Uh, what?  Oh.  Werd.  Hoody hoo! Coast Guard: Um, guys?

Then the Marines decided they wanted a distinctive looking combat uniform.  Their desire to make “looking distinctive” a function of a camouflage uniform, for branding purposes, started a chain reaction that has gone through the entire defense department.

First, the Marines got MARPAT, their own custom cool-guy fatigues.

These were based on CADPAT, but the colors were modified, and the little maple leafs were replaced with EGA symbols.

Take off, eh!  You bunch o’ copycats.

A couple years later, predictably, the Army had to have their own unique fatigues too.  PEO Soldier wasn’t about to let some defense contractor win the competition, so the in-house design, “universal camouflage pattern”, came about.  Thus soldiers in Iraq, who had been wearing DCUs, which are mostly tan (just like Iraq is, you know, mostly tan), soon started getting the ACU, which is mostly gray.  (Gray is not, you might note, a good desert color.)

Left: “I feel silly.”  Middle: “Do I have to wear that thing?” Right: “You crazy Men of Tomorrow sure dress stupid in the future.  I used to kill Nazis while wearing a tie.”

Take that boonie cover off, soldier.  There is nowhere in the world you’re allowed to wear that.

At some point later, in 2004 or so, General Jumper, who was then the USAF Chief of Staff, mistakenly referred to as a soldier at some PR event.  He got butt-hurt about that and decided the Air Force now needed its own distinctive camouflage uniform.  (FYI, the USAF started wearing BDUs because that’s what everyone else had.  It was mostly for logistical purposes, not because maintainers and comm guys Stateside need cammies.)  So the Air Force did this big study and asked Airmen what they wanted in a new uniform.  The Uniform Board then promptly ignored all of that input and gave us the Airman Battle Uniform.

[Note: despite appearances, this is a separate pattern from any of the Power Rangers. MD]

Sad face.  I’m going to go back to my cubicle, do a CBT, and cry.

If he looks unhappy, it’s because the ABU sucks.  The Air Force didn’t even get shoulder pockets like everyone else.  It not only looks stupid, it’s made of a heavy nylon/cotton twill that’s similar to a winter-weight BDU.  Miserable in warm and humid climates.  It only took them five years to approve a lightweight, 50/50 NYCO version.

That left the Navy.  They were getting along fine with BDUs and DCUs for land duty, but they had a bunch of different uniforms in the Sailor’s sea bag.  Summer weight this, winter weight that, [north of the equator that, south of the equator this] and on and on.  It was a logistical hassle and a burden on the servicemembers.  So they decided to consolidate and come up with a new Navy Working Uniform.  It was to replace a bunch of other duty uniforms in the service, and for that reason alone it was [initially] well-received.

Like everyone else, they too had to come up with a digital pattern.  Except it’s blue.


The blue camo isn’t really to hide Navy guys in the water [though it probably works that way].  It’s for branding purposes.  It also hides paint and oil stains, which apparently happen a lot on a ship.  If nothing else, it looks better than the hideous old dungarees.

I look like a janitor.  :(  I’m really sick of “swabbing the deck” jokes.<


(True story: the custodial staff at NAVSCOLEOD had uniforms that looked hilariously similar to the Navy dungarees.)

Interestingly, the blue Navy Working Uniform actually blends into a woodline better than ACU or ABU. [What a suprise.]

That, however, wasn’t enough for the Navy.  Sailors on the land were still using BDUs and DCUs, and they wanted their own cammies too.  So they came up with the AOR Type 1 and Type 2 patterns, which were a desert and woodland digital pattern.

As you can see, they look similar to MARPAT.  The AOR2 (NWU Type III) woodland pattern got out the door first.  We’ve seen Navy EOD guys wearing it in Florida and Afghanistan.  Despite being green, it actually works pretty well in some parts of A-Stan.

We’ve only seen one guy, a Navy SEAL, wearing the Type 2 desert, though, and that was at the board walk at KAF.  Apparently (this is one thing we’ve heard) since Type 1 looks so similar to MARPAT desert, the Marines got pissed and the Navy mandated that AOR1 fatigues only go to Naval Special Warfare types.  Everyone else, like SeaBees, got DCUs, and that’s what they were still wearing the last time any of us were in Afghanistan (a little less than a year ago).

Thankfully Woodland BDUs are still being employed in some areas (both by the Navy and by SOF types blending in with Afghan or other foreign forces wearing the same), so it wasn’t lost completely.

That’s not the end of it [and doesn’t take into consideration all the regular OD and tan flightsuits and whatnot various aircrew and tankers and others are wearing inside and outside the wire).  Going off of repeated complaints from the troops [who were understandably upset about having to wear something that effectively made them a contrast target in many places], Congress basically forced the Army to come up with a new camouflage pattern for Afghanistan.  They picked Crye Multicam, which they dubbed OCP.  OCP is a compound acronym for Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern.

Why YES, Sergeant Major, these commercial mountain boots ARE authorized.  In your FACE.

Troops in Afghanistan started getting the new uniforms in 2009 and loved them [the pattern, not their abiltity to withstand combat aerobics and other outside the wire type shootin’ yoga].  They’re made by Propper and constructed of Defender-M fire-resistant material.  The downside to this is that they look faded and worn when they’re brand new, and they tend to wash out pretty badly with use.  They’re also not especially well constructed.  I saw many young soldiers with the crotches blown out.

Aside: before fire resistant fatigues were common, many troops were issued solid tan flight suits to go outside the wire with.

Up until that same time, Air Force guys going to Afghanistan were either given standard ABUs, or the fire-resistant ABS-G ensemble.  The latter is still in the digital tiger stripe pattern, but was at least more comfortable.

The lack of head gear and the missing flight patch are a good start.  He really ought to have his hands in his pockets and a terrible mustache.  Then he’d look like a REAL EOD tech. Add a beard and he could be SOF…actually, no, because the AF SOF guy know better than to wear these.

Problem was, for Air Force TAC-Ps, JTACs, and EOD guys embedded with Army units, they once again didn’t match.  Back in Iraq, they’d be the only guys with DCUs surrounded by ACUs, so they got the ABU which looked similar to ACU.  (Acronym overload,  :vomit)

Now the Army guys were wearing yet another uniform and the Air Force guys stood out, so the USAF decided that all “outside the wire” airmen were to get OCPs too.  (AFSOC was one of the first units to authorize Multicam, but they’re cool guys and get to do what they want.  They had it years before we did.)

Who’s THAT sexy guy?

Interestingly, USAF EOD teams in Helmand province, like my buddy was, are living and working with Marines.  They are also issued OCPs, regardless of the fact it makes them look different.  (Truth be told, much has been made of very little with that.  Afghanistan isn’t full of skilled snipers.  From a long way away, they just see movement and know you’re American.)

Of course, EOD guys never worried about it.  They always looked different anyway.  They always had a goddamn robot on their backs everywhere they went.

Domo arigoto, Mr. Roboto.

Navy guys in Afghanistan, who are embedded with Army units, get OCPs too. There was a Navy dog handler with an AF EOD team who didn’t have a helmet cover one time…he attempted to paint his helmet and it wound up looking like a robin’s egg (which wasn’t any worse than a UCP cover anyway).

The madness has not come to an end.  The Army has authorized Multicam ONLY for Afghanistan.  Everywhere else the ACU is still standard.  This has been deemed unacceptable, and the Army is currently in the midst of another camouflage program, Camouflage Improvement Effort.


Let’s start out by revisiting the baseline requirement. The Army’s Phase IV of its camouflage project is seeking a Family of (camo) Patterns (FOP) consisting of woodland, desert and, transitional (sometime called universal) color schemes. Additionally, a pattern for personal equipment (such as body armor, ammo pouches and rucksacks) may be required to work effectively with the other camouflage patterns. The FoP must provide camouflage in the visual, NIR, and SWIR spectrums in each of the respective environments. Each of the individual patterns will not only be evaluated in the environment it was designed for but will also be assessed for its capability into the transitional environment.

The idea is for a family of camouflage patterns that have varying colors but the same pattern.  You have a woodland pattern, a desert pattern, a transitional pattern, and a fourth pattern for gear like wet weather stuff, vests, chemical suits, etc.  (Buying multiple sets of these items in different colors dramatically increases the cost of acquisition and tends to lead to mismatched gear anyway.)

A winner hasn’t been decided yet.  One example of this is Hyperstealth’s “US4CES” camouflage.  US4CES Link

It hasn’t been decided yet.  Crye is another contender in the program but as if this writing they haven’t yet released what they’re working on.

That’s the long and short of it [more long than short, sadly – the symbolism lies on several levels].  Regular OD and tan aside, the US is presently issuing out ten different camouflage patterns (UCP, OCP, ABU, MARPAT Desert, MARPAT Woodland, AOR 1, AOR 2, NWU, US Woodland, US DCU).  It’s a good thing all US forces have at least standardized uniform wear to include branch tape over the left pocket because sometimes it’s hard to tell who is who anymore.

So – if you were starting a military from scratch, is this how you’d equip them?

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