The concept of camouflage design is well known and used in a variety of ways by the U.S. military and even by civilians. Although ships have been camouflaged since the Gallic Wars, camouflage for troops as we know it today was not widely used until the Seven Years’ War, which started in 1756. At that time, the unit known as Rogers’ Rangers wore gray or green to blend into the leaves.
British soldiers continued to used drab colors to blend into their environment for several years, and it wasn’t long before other countries began to adopt the idea. In 1898, United States troops smeared mud across their uniforms to gain some concealment from snipers during the Spanish-American War. Just four years later, the U.S. adopted the British khaki color for its summer uniform and in the winter used a greenish-brown uniform. By WWII, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had developed a “frog” pattern that was created into reversible coveralls, and the types of camo uniforms that featured multiple swatches of color evolved from there.
Military Camouflage for U.S. Troops
Of course, when someone says “camo,” the first thing everyone thinks of are the uniforms designed to make troops blend into their surroundings. Each branch of the military has its own camo uniforms that are designed for combat.
The Army’s main pattern of camo is called UCP, or Universal Camouflage Pattern, and was designed to camouflage a soldier anywhere and everywhere. The only problem with UCP is that it did a very poor job concealing soldiers in Afghanistan, so another pattern called MultiCam was created specifically to address this problem. This design is also used by Air Force ground units and Special Operations Forces deployed in Afghanistan. In addition to these, the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform has two variants—one designed for woodland use and the other for the desert—and the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard each have just one of their own standard uniforms.
Types of Military Camo
Not all camo is meant to deceive the eyes. There are many non-visual ways that the military conceals personnel, weapons, and vehicles.
Olfactory camo is meant to camouflage the scent of a concealed troop, but this type is pretty rare since most forces do not rely on the sense of smell to detect opposition.
Auditory camo works to reduce noise and is used in a variety of ways. For example, submarines are often equipped with rubberized hulls, which absorb sonar waves. Many helicopters are designed to have reduced engine, rotor, and transmission noise. Even most uniforms are fabricated with noise reduction in mind, using buttons instead of zippers and velcro.
Magnetic camo is a little difficult to understand, but the basic concept is that horizontal coils called “degaussing coils” are placed around an object (usually a ship) to disrupt and cancel magnetic field disruptions to avoid magnetic mines. This method has been used since WWII.
Among camouflaged military weaponry and vehicles, the dazzle design is probably the coolest. In 1903, Norman Wilkinson (a British marine artist) had the brilliant idea to paint ships in dazzle patterns. Some had offset stripes and others had false bow waves painted on. Many dazzle ships were patterned after animals, such as the zebra, tiger, and leopard. In the U.S., these patterns were often called “razzle dazzle.” The idea was that the crazy designs would make it difficult for the enemy to detect the outline of the ship, where guns were located, and what the ship’s bearings were. When implementing this concept, several different dazzle designs were used, which made it difficult to find conclusive data on which designs worked best and whether or not the designs worked well enough to be cost efficient and worth the effort.
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