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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Family of Patterns Competition for the Future of Army Camouflage

Camouflage Operating Environments Diagram
The vast appeal of a Universal Camouflage Pattern has faded as the U.S. Army looks to a trio or "family" of camouflage options to utilize in the future for proper concealment of their troops. The growing trend seems to consider having two or three choices of camouflage to wear into different areas of operation as the true multi-use solution, opposed to just one singular pattern that is a catch all for all environments. 

MultiCam certainly has been the go to choice for  Armed Forces in Afghanistan as both the Army and Air Force have taken up reins in the decision to implement the popular pattern on their uniforms in Operation Enduring Freedom only. The Marines have seen a need for a dual camouflage choice, as they  bringing in their Woodland MARPAT to complement the Desert option in areas that are more lush, such as the valley regions. With the current developments it seems the Army wants it all. 

The U.S. Army has laid down the challenge and would like to compare three new camouflage patterns working in combination as a family of patterns to utilize where needed, against the existing options used  by the Armed Forces. The final prospect is to determine which is the best choice to carry into the future as a family of patterns. Soldier Systems has reported that there are various stages in this challenge culminating into 3 commercial options and 2 government creations to compete and see if an ultimate camouflage pattern beats out what is already being applied in uniform manufacturing. This is posed as a first of its kind evaluation process and for all purposes seems to be an extensive way to choose what can be the most effective camouflage application for Army Combat Uniforms. 

The Family of Patterns sought after will include a Woodland, Arid (Desert), and Transitional option. Essentially the transitional option is considered to be a combination of the first two choices for a Multi-Terrain option which starts to sound like a synonym for Multi-Use or Universal. One of the choices or a fourth variant will be utilized for supplemental tactical gear, while all four are to be utilized for the Uniform clothing. 

Many companies will be vying for a prized position in being chosen as one of the three commercial competitors. As time goes by and the test is played out, it may be determined that the government creation is determined to be the best choice or the train of thought can completely change as world events and theory on camouflage innovation changes. 

It should be an interesting process in choosing the best camouflage pattern possible as there are limited barriers to entry. It has been noted that if a commercial choice is chosen, they will still be allowed to utilize their patterns for commercial distribution. This aspect alone can be a big draw since being awarded a government contract can bring much success, however just being selected as one of the top three choices could bring a lot of press and adulation from the Military and Tactical clothing community at large.

Some top camouflage design companies have been mentioned as entrants for the competition. Two of the currently most talked about companies happen to be foreign entities, which is bound to bring political intrigue into the process. Roggenwolf based in Australia, is one particular developer that has some success in the private military industry by providing camouflage consultation services and has also reached trial stages for consideration of their camouflage innovations for military use by multiple countries.

Roggenwolf Ettin (Warg Family)
To the left you can see the "Ettin" Transitional camo pattern which is a combination of the Woodland and Desert Variant in what Roggenwolf has termed the "Warg" family of camouflage patterns. They have certainly spearheaded an attempt at having their camouflage considered as one of the top contenders for the Army camo challenge. Roggenwolf has put forth their best options from a grouping of patterns that they already had available for trial and articles have already been written on their potential in the contest.

Roggenwolf has a great scientific approach to the development of their patterns by considering the way the human eye perceives vision and create a computer aided design that conceals the person wearing the camouflage from potential viewing in a given environment. With the Warg family of patterns, they have integrated sample colors from similar terrains of various countries to best create a pattern that is representative of the given terrain targeted. With the transitional camouflage pattern you have two distinct terrains combined, which brings in many different colors to provide a multifaceted camouflage, which can provide concealment in multiple environments when needed.

Hyde Definition out of the UK is another top contender that has provided camouflage consultation and specializes in providing multi-environment camouflage options with their PenCott Multi-Environment Pattern Family. They already had three existing patterns representative of the woodland, desert, and transitional areas of operation, but added a fourth option to specifically be used for the tactical gear entry.

The PenCott and Warg family of patterns seem well fitted for the competition at hand, but possible barrier to consider is the political implications of having a foreign company developing U.S. Military camouflage. This has been very controversial given the legalities surrounding military products being manufactured within the country. We have seen this debate with the Defender M Fire Resistant fabric. This combat fabric is produced by TenCate which is a multi-national company, but is based out of the Netherlands and utilizes a blend of fibers manufactured by Lenzing AG out of Austria.

The controversy of their products being used reached all the way to Congress, where some members debated the aspect that using non-U.S. products means the military is not passing along the economic benefits of commercial manufacturing within the country. Clearly the opposite side of the argument stating that the troops need the best protection possible won out. So, there is some hope for non-American firms being able to compete without prejudice.

A-TACS Camouflage
There are many U.S. companies that are sure to jump on an opportunity like this to get their name in the spotlight. Digital Concealment System is one newer developer that just recently announced the use of their A-TACS Camouflage design on Propper ACU Uniforms to be distributed next year. They have also shown their interest in being awarded a government contract, as any company in their niche would like. They currently just have the arid variant with their Advanced Tactical Concealment System, but it would just take a little re-design to implement a woodland variant, and then combine the two for their transitional submission. Crye Precision could certainly put a color spin on their MultiCam pattern or just develop new patterns for the necessary alternatives needed to contend.

In the end it comes down to what is best for the troops. It is certainly going to take a lot of time and money before something is implemented based on the criteria given. Army soldiers will utilize what is on hand, which may prove to be quite effective. Given the innovation that is possible, combined with technological advancements with computer aided design, I am certain that we are bound to see some very interesting prospects in camouflage design coming down the pipeline.