Modern operations can cover a variety of terrain types, all with different camouflage challenges.
Military uniforms aren’t as exciting as major aircraft or fighting vehicle projects, but they’re still vital. A combat uniform plays a major role in keeping a soldier fit and healthy, by protecting them against the environment. Hypothermia, heatstroke, lacerated knees and elbows, insect-transmitted diseases… these are all things that can take a soldier out just as effectively as an enemy bullet, and a good uniform goes a long way to reduce the risks. Of course it has another function, too – camouflage.
Ever since camouflage uniforms became widespread in the 1960s and 70s every nation has had its own pattern, often with variants for temperate and desert climates. In some militaries it’s become slightly absurd, such as in the USA where every armed service has its own camouflage pattern – and all of them except the US Marine Corps have chosen spectacularly useless ones. There’s a trend starting to emerge, though as the west’s elite units switch over to using a single pattern and whole services follow their example. That pattern is Crye Precision MultiCam.
MultiCam was originally developed in the early 2000s and was almost adopted as the standard camouflage of the US Army. However thanks to the influence of “branding” advocates it lost out to the current Universal Camouflage Pattern, or UCP, which entered service in 2004 despite not having been involved in the Army’s trials. The aim of the trials was to find a single pattern that would work reasonably well in all terrains, and MultiCam was developed to meet that goal. It’s less effective that traditional woodland patterns in temperate areas, and not as good as a standard desert pattern in arid terrain, but gives the best compromise over all terrain types. (It outperforms UCP anywhere except inside a cement factory or, possibly, on the moon.) The need for a good all-round pattern became obvious in Afghanistan, where British troops fighting in the Helmand area found that their standard desert camouflage stood out very clearly in the “green zones” of forest and cultivation around the region’s river valleys. US Army special forces had already found out that UCP stood out very clearly anywhere, and had begun wearing the officially rejected MultiCam instead.
Unlike the “digital” patterns that are fashionable with some people, MultiCam is a disruptive pattern material using seven different colours instead of the normal three or four. Overall the pattern is balanced between two shades each of green and brown, with yellowish and pink blotches, on a tan background. The colours are unevenly distributed, so that the pattern appears more brown in some areas and more green in others. As well as helping to break up the outline of the soldier and his equipment this also means that large areas of it will blend in well with almost any environment. It contains enough green to give reasonably good concealment in forest or grassland, and enough tan and brown to be fairly effective in arid terrain. It’s not so dark that it stands out in an urban setting or too light to be useful anywhere else.
With MultiCam starting to appear in Afghanistan, its effectiveness became obvious. The British Army trialled it against their existing temperate and desert DPM patterns and found that while less effective than either of them in appropriate terrain it was far more effective in inappropriate terrain, such as when troops in desert uniforms had to enter a green zone. The UK bought a license to manufacture a variant of MultiCam using the same colours but a blotch pattern taken from the existing DPM; this is now in service as Multi Terrain Pattern, or MTP. The first deliveries were in 2010. About the same time the US Army authorised MultiCam as the standard camouflage for troops deploying to Afghanistan, due to continued complaints about UCP. In May 2011 Australia announced that they were also buying a variant using similar shapes to their old “jelly bean” AUSCAM uniforms.
Since then MultiCam has become the standard pattern for deployed troops from Denmark, Montenegro and New Zealand, and is in use by at least some units from Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Pakistan is beginning to adopt it, along with several South American nations. Unlicensed copies are in use in Poland and Russia, among others. If this trend continues then by 2020 MultiCam or variants like MTP will be the standard uniform for the majority of NATO or Coalition operations.
A tendency to standardise on MultiCam will have several advantages. Because it works across most terrain types armies can reduce the number of different uniforms they have to stock. It will be easier to identify friendly troops – and avoid fratricide – when everyone is wearing similar uniforms. Of course it will also work out quite nicely for Crye Precision, who hold the rights to the MultiCam design and can either sell lucrative production licenses or supply printed fabric themselves.