Friday, April 4, 2014

Camouflage Patterns Don't Matter Past 50 Meters

This is the reasoning going into the latest round of camouflage testing by the U.S. Army, which will continue this month in Fort Benning, GA, Fort Polk, LA, and Yuma Testing Ground, AZ. After multiple tests with the patterns currently available to the U.S. Department of Defense, they have decided to give it another go under new guidelines. This time around they are under the assumption that the pattern makes a difference when less than 50 meters away, but after that it is merely the colors that plays a factor for different environments. Hence, they are still looking for a family of patterns, but with this new "revelation" among other factors, further evaluation is needed. 

We reached out to some camouflage designers to get there opinions on this matter. Guy Cramer from HyperStealth got back to us with some information on the subject. His collaboration with ADS Inc. brought forth the US4CES family of patterns, which were a finalist for the Phase IV Camouflage Improvement Effort. Those results have still not been revealed, but details from prior testing does give some insight. We have provided his full response below.

It could be that they are referencing The Picture in Picture technique which determined that a 6 foot tall person at 46 yards equaled 96 pixels high which equals 16 pixels per foot or just over one pixel per inch. So I hung a Multicam jacket on a fence and went out 46 yards and took this photo which is about half the size of a 6 foot person and comes out to about 48 pixels for the jacket. (Can you tell that the jacket is Multicam) If you go much farther than 50 yards with this technique then you can't tell patterns apart. The problem is that the general populations average visual acuity is much sharper than this as my own eyes could see the Multicam pattern clearly from 50 yards.

Now at 50 yards with the sun hitting AOR2 (Left), Multicam (Center) US4CES Charlie-2 (Right) 

Another issue here is that due to the pixelation of the pattern, you have now removed any advantage that a pixelated pattern such as US4CES has (if what our past research has shown us) as now all the patterns being tested are pixelated against the exact same pixelated  background. Now it comes down to color blending with the background 

So if this 50 yard limit were true in real vision, a football player kicking to the opposing team would not be able to make out the numbers on the opposing teams uniforms from beyond 50 yards or being a spectator at a PGA game standing behind the golfer at the tee shot, would not be able to make out a golf ball after a 250 yards drive. 

Now with magnification devices, such as scopes and binoculars we can see many times farther and much more detail, so even a camouflage uniform 1 mile or more away could have a direct benefit to the soldier wearing it against these scopes.

Human visual acuity is able to make out two objects 6 feet apart at 3,000 meters (3,280 yards).

Human-scale objects are resolvable as extended objects from a distance of just under 2 miles (3 km). For example, at that distance, we would just be able to make out two distinct headlights on a car: 

In theory using a proper pattern you could disrupt the human shape into four segments from 1,500 meters (30 times farther away than the Army is discussing) 

The 2002-2004 U.S. Army test found that 90 meters was a good distance to conduct the final tests for day time testing and those were all similar multi-environment patterns:

We appreciate the insight from Mr. Cramer. It is understandable that finding a budget friendly and effective testing procedure may prove burdensome, but there are several variables that may be missed. The use of optics is a clear argument as an object 1000 yards a way becomes much closer with the use of minimal technology Now one may say that if a pattern is effective at less than 50 yards then it will be effective at 100 yards, 200 yards, and so on. However, there are certainly distinctions in how different patterns are designed to be effective at great distance. It is hard to ascertain that even if proper testing is conducted that the Army will move forward with the right choice, given over a decade of opportunity, we have not seen any gains other than some momentary clarity with the use of MultiCam in Afghanistan. Perhaps it will come down to necessity driving a proper solution. Its the decision gaps inbetween where the soldier loses a crucial tool in the overall spectrum of protection from the enemy.