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Advanced Combat Uniform (ACU)

Variations of "all over brush", "shadow line" and "track" patterns in four combinations of colors, along with the all-purpose "Crye", are in the running for the next generation of Army camouflage clothing. These patterns for woodland, desert, urban and a combination of desert and urban terrain are undergoing evaluation by the Materials Integration Team at AMC's U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. If selected and approved, up to four new patterns will help conceal soldiers wearing the Army's future Advanced Combat Uniform and the Objective Force Warrior's Scorpion uniform. Existing designs have been around for years, and changes are in order.

Woodland camouflage has been fielded since 1981, with desert camouflage arriving about a decade later. The Army has never fielded an urban camouflage uniform but is interested in adding that capability. Woodland camouflage is still based on the European threat of the Cold War. There are new threats today, and there's always room for improvement.

Camouflage allows a soldier to blend into his environment. Better matching of the color and pattern to the background yields better concealment. Trying to get one uniform that blends for everything is the toughest part of the job. It really is background dependent. What gets lost in one background stands out in another. The Army had a goal for its next generation uniform to be one pattern, but it would be difficult to develop because vegetation has a reflectance that's off the scale compared to rocks and sand.

Woodland camouflage is the easiest because you can hide in vegetation. Desert is complicated because you are out in the open, but urban is really complicated because you're so close. In all the designs, soldiers can expect to see a common color so that the gear is interchangeable with the uniform. To generate fresh ideas, the team contracted a designer to draw new patterns on paper using information based on decades of camouflage research at the Soldier Systems Center.

Seven initial designs in color printouts were reduced to three after benchtop testing in the Camouflage Evaluation Facility at Natick. "All over brush" has swirls of shapes and colors, and strays from the more conventional "shadow lines," which has horizontal lines and "track," which has vertical lines to its elements. "Crye" is the camouflage intended for all environments that's now being modeled by Objective Force Warrior (now called Future Force Warrior) and was included in evaluations. Each of the three designs was printed on a nylon and cotton blend fabric from an ink jet printer. Enough material was printed to fabricate a helmet cover and Battle Dress Uniform shirt and trousers for the first field evaluation at Fort Benning, Ga., in August.

The US military does not currently have an official urban camouflage uniform. The 21st Century soldier will face battlefield challenges that are more complex and greater in number than ever before. One of the greatest challenges is to conduct Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). The technical challenges in developing effective urban camouflage are many. Camouflage colors and patterns (shapes) in a combat uniform fabric must provide the least amount of contrast between the soldier and his background. Part of providing low contrast to the background is the ability to break up or distort those recognizable features of the soldier, his silhouette and his outline. Urban camouflage combat uniforms must be effective across the widest variety of urban environments. Camouflage requirements for urban areas present a different challenge from those of woodland or desert terrains. For one thing, in most cases, the tactical ranges would be closer in urban fighting than in woodland or desert warfare. This would translate into smaller designs with closer merge distances. Also, urban backgrounds generally require more straight edge camouflage, vertical and horizontal designs to blend with home, buildings and other urban structures, etc.

Urban camouflage evaluation was conducted at the McKenna Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site while woodland patterns were evaluated in the adjacent woods. Twelve trained military observers evaluated soldiers posing in the experimental uniforms against different backgrounds at a range of distances and in several positions. The observers then answered a questionnaire rating blending, contrast, shape and pattern. The best four out of nine woodland and four out of 13 urban uniforms were selected. The same process for the desert uniforms was conducted at several locations at Fort Irwin, Calif., in October 2002. These desert sites were carefully selected and were analogous to locations in the Middle East. Of the 10 choices, four were selected.

Although the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) provides camouflage and environmental protection, it may also become a wearable electronic network that transports data to and from the soldier's wearable computer. Like a Local Area Network (LAN), soldiers would have their own Personal Area Network (PAN), which opens new opportunities for battlefield lethality and survivability. The network could perform functions such as chemical detection, identification to prevent casualties from friendly fire and monitoring of a soldier's physiological condition. The first step in developing the PAN was also the program's first success. Natick and SBIR partner Foster-Miller Inc. in Waltham, Mass., developed a textile-based version of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) cable. Researchers picked the USB, which is used with desktop computers, because it is a commonly used item. The normally stiff and heavy plastic-coated cable was manufactured into a thin, flexible and wearable cable with flat, low-profile connectors. It can be integrated into clothing and is currently under consideration in Product Manager-Soldier Equipment's Advanced Combat Uniform program.

On October 8, 2002 the Phase ID contract for the U.S. Army's Advanced Combat Uniform (ACU) program was awarded to Exponent. Exponent had been working on Phases IA-IC of the ACU program with the U.S. Army Product Manager - Soldier Equipment (PM-SEQ) to provide a solution to the soldier's combat uniform needs through the use of currently available off-the-shelf technologies. Exponent netted approximately $400,000 of the $547,000 Phase ID contract, which ran through March 2003. Throughout the Phase I effort (IA-ID), Exponent's task had been to quickly identify available technologies for use in the ACU and develop prototypes for an integrated set of clothing and individual equipment that integrates the best available commercial and government off-the-shelf (COTS and GOTS) technologies. The ACU concept configuration is a five-layered system composed of an under layer(s), a battle-wear layer, a chemical/biological protective layer, an insulation layer(s), and a cold/wet protective outer layer.










Other Camouflage Patters

Although a wide variety of other camouflage patters are commercially available, these are not standard issue with the United States military forces.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:41:47 ZULU