THE MULTI-TERRAIN REVOLUTION
One Camouflage Pattern For All Backgrounds
By Bob Morrison
Camouflage uniforms for modern day armies probably have their roots in the wearing of Forest Green garments by German Jäger troops of the 18th Century, and the lesson of the effectiveness clothing troops to blend in with their surroundings was speedily learned by the British who started wearing lower visibility greens rather than high impact red during the French Indian War and the following American War Of Independence in the middle of that century; though the concept would not fully bear fruit until the adoption of Rifle Green uniforms for the Light Infantry of the Napoleonic Era. This was followed by the universal adoption of khaki as the combat uniform colour for the British Army in the 19th Century, based on concealment tactics learned on the North West Frontier of India with what today we know as Afghanistan, and it is operations in this same theatre which has helped bring about the latest revolution in camouflage patterns.
The British four-colour Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) camouflage developed in the sixties and widely issued for temperate theatre deployments from the end of that decade, plus its slightly richer coloured tropical variation, derivatives of the Brushstroke pattern developed in World War Two for parachutist smocks, is an exceptionally good camouflage for operations in a rural environment in Northern Europe or the jungles of the Tropics, but it does not fare well in arid theatres. Its two-colour Desert DPM variant, a hastily conceived modification to the original four-colour Desert DPM camouflage produced for the 1991 Gulf War when there were fears that Iraqi troops might be wearing the same pattern as their British opponents, turned out to be an exceptionally good choice for the dusty and sandy environments of the Middle East, and indeed it fared exceedingly well in both Desert and Urban phases of the Photosimulation Camouflage Detection Test run by the US Army in 2007-8, but in the more verdant Green Zone of Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley it was found to be less than ideal on operations.
At the beginning of the eighties the United States began issuing uniforms in the four-colour M81 Woodland pattern, a variant of an earlier post-WWII pattern which saw limited use in Vietnam, for temperate and tropical theatre wear. Essentially this camouflage used very similar green, brown, tan and black colours to British DPM, though the shades were a little more muted, and in due course the French followed suit with a similar four-colour CE (Centre Europe) pattern. Neither US nor French patterns, however, used the distinctive broad brush-stroke and feathered edges effect combination found on British DPM.
For desert or arid theatre deployments the United States introduced the six-colour ‘choc-chip’ pattern in the early eighties and most, though not all, personnel deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990 for Operation DESERT SHIELD were clothed in this camouflage. By the time that the land campaign to liberate Kuwait, Operation DESERT SWORD, commenced virtually all US troops wore this camouflage but as it had been developed for the type of desert terrain encountered in the western United States it proved to be unsuitable for the Persian Gulf.
A three-colour US Desert pattern, usually referred to as ‘coffee stain’, had actually been developed prior to the ’91 Gulf War but it was not produced in sufficient quantity to be issued to deployed units. Consisting of beige stone on pinkish sand with thin reddish brown tertiary shapes, it was in many ways similar to the French three-colour desert variation of CE (known as Daguet as it was introduced for Operation DAGUET in the Persian Gulf in ’91) but with much less brown. Both US ‘coffee stain’ and French Daguet are generally well-suited to dusty Middle East desert environments and indeed when the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003 most US Army units wore uniforms this pattern.