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Army Camouflage Uniform Patterns

From clothing to vehicles to aircraft, camouflage plays an integral part in all aspects of the military. However, since its widespread adoption approximately 100 years ago, it has undergone some drastic developments.

The development of modern army camouflage patterns began during World War One, when the introduction of long-range machine guns and aerial reconnaissance planes compelled militaries to better conceal their troops and weapons. 

Perhaps the most important contributor during this early era was painter and naturalist Abbot Thayer, whose 1909 book, “Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom,” was widely referenced by the U.S. Army’s newly established camouflage units.

World War 2 Military Camouflage Patterns

In World War II, camouflage patterns and colors were further developed through extensive collaboration with civilian artists. 

  • Aircraft and naval vessels also adopted camo patterns designed to disguise their silhouettes. 
  • For planes, this often meant painting the topside an olive drab to blend in with the earth when seen from above, while painting the underside a neutral gray to blend in with the sky when viewed from below. 
  • Ships were often camouflaged with large disruptive patterns that were meant to obscure their profiles or help conceal their speed and direction.

In the decades following World War Two, the widespread use of radar led to the abandonment of camouflage paint schemes on most ships and aircraft. However, the development of specialized patterns for uniforms continued. 

Development of Army Camouflage Patterns

Between 1945 and 2014, dozens of camouflage patterns were either fielded or adopted by the U.S. military.  Among the most well-known were:

  • The Tiger Stripe camo pattern worn by Special Forces during the Vietnam War
  • The chocolate chip camo pattern made famous by the first Gulf War
  • The Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which was meant to help troops blend into any woodland, desert, or urban setting, thereby alleviating the need for multiple camo patterns

After several years of use in Iraq, the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) was generally considered a failure.  Beginning in the summer of 2015, the military’s latest pattern, the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP), became available.

History of the MultiCam Army Camo Pattern and its U.S. Army offshoots

Let’s jump right in with MultiCam and its U.S. Army offshoots.

The U.S. Army began experimenting with the universal camouflage pattern in 2002. As part of that testing, defense contractor Crye Precision submitted a pattern simply called the contractor-developed mod. 

It made it to the final four but was ultimately rejected and passed over for UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern).

That Universal Camouflage Pattern, also referred to as Scorpion, was slightly altered and went on to be licensed by Crye Precision under the name MultiCam, which was then made available to the public. 

Adoption of Multicam Camo by Armies Around the World

While the U.S. Army was running around with UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern), MultiCam, both licensed and otherwise, along with variations of it, quickly became a popular camouflage used by various militaries and federal forces around the world. 

The list is a bit long, so I won’t go into too much detail, but three major instances of its usage are 

  • The British military adopted MTP, or Multi-Terrain Pattern, which takes DPM and MultiCam and more or less mixes the two together.
  • Australia’s AMCU, or Australian MultiCam Camouflage Pattern, also takes its older camo pattern and mixes it with MultiCam. 
  • Poland’s newest camouflage pattern family is Suez, which is a slightly altered version of MultiCam. 

But back to Crye MultiCam and the U.S. military. It’s worth noting that the U.S. Navy’s EOD, Units of the Air Force, and Special Operations Command also used MultiCam Pattern, while UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) was the standard issue. 

So How Did The Army Go From Dismissing The Multicam Pattern To Making It One Of Its Officially Issued Ones Within 10 Years? 

Soldiers began to complain about the universal camouflage pattern in the Army Combat Uniform-style uniform. 

So from 2007 to 2008, Natick Labs began testing various patterns. These tests were known simply as Phase II, with Phase I being the initial tests back in 2002. 

The result? The idea of a universal camo pattern was inconceivable, and region-specific patterns were the way to go. 

Seeing this, the House of Representatives passed Bill 2346, which required the army to start issuing soldiers camouflage uniforms that would work in Afghanistan.

After a 2009 study known as Phase III, in which MultiCam went up against Universal Camouflage Pattern-Delta (UCP-D), a temporary fix was found in the army licensing Crye Precision for new MultiCam uniforms under the name OEF-CP, or Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, also referred to as MultiCam OCP. 

Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OEF-CP) or MultiCam OCP

The OEF-CP uniforms kept the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) style cut, changing only minor things such as altering the location of I.R. tabs on the sleeve pockets and replacing Velcro closures for the cargo pockets on the pants with button ones. 

Camouflage Improvement Effort (Phase IV)

In early 2010, Phase IV, officially called the Camouflage Improvement Effort, began. 

Instead of the experiments done by Natick Labs in 2002, this was a competition where various companies and suppliers entered their camo patterns for consideration. 

The goal of this improvement effort was to find a new permanent camouflage family for troops operating not only in Afghanistan but all over the world. 

This round of testing called for three camo patterns to be covered:

  • Woodland environments
  • Desert environments, and 
  • Transitional environments. 

The U.S. Army did have a submission for these tests. The three patterns were 

  1. AOR2, or Area of Responsibility II for woodland environments, which would later become the Navy standard camouflage pattern
  2. All Over Brush for desert environments, which, if you remember, was the overall winner of the 2002 Natick trials, and finally, 
  3. Crye’s MultiCam for transitional environments

Of the 22 initial submissions, three ultimately went on to the final stage. 

  1. They were from Crye Precision with their already issued MultiCam. Reports said the traditional MultiCam was to be altered to meet the three environmental requirements.
    1. Kryptek, with their Mandrake pattern for woodland, 
    2. Nomad pattern for desert, and 
    3. Highlander pattern for transitional.
  2. Brookwood Companies with their three Covert patterns, and 
  3. ADS Inc. as prime, which was partnered with Guy Kramer with its three US4CES patterns. 

2014 Defense Authorization Act

Crye and MultiCam were the clear-cut winners. However, after a bit of negotiating, the army refused the licensing fees Crye Precision had proposed for MultiCam. 

In a statement, though, from Crye, they said the fee would have added only 1% to the overall cost of production. Regardless, talks broke down in late 2013. 

The second nail, and the largest one, was the 2014 Defense Authorization Act. This act generally prevented any branch of the military from creating a new camouflage or utility uniform and only limited them to ones already in use or previously used. 

This act pretty much came about because many felt the various military branches had made their search for new camouflage more of a fashion statement than a practical one.

And with price tags in the billions, lawmakers and other government officials decided that a single camouflage pattern would once again be worn by all branches of the military at some point in the future. 

So what did the army do with all these limitations? 

Well, they simply went back to the original Natick trials’ Scorpion pattern and made some modifications, and Scorpion W2 was born. 

Not long after, it would be officially called OCP, or Operational Camouflage Pattern. Though it’s also worth noting that it’s been referred to as Scorpion OCP.

Now, the lingo and terminology of these two uniforms can sometimes get murky. I’ve seen numerous instances of people referring to the OEF-CP MultiCam as MultiCam OCP and the new OCP as Scorpion OCP. 

Scorpion W2 OCP vs OEF-CP (MultiCam OCP)

Here’s a breakdown of how to tell the differences between the two. 

This is a side-by-side comparison of OEF-CP, aka MultiCam OCP, and Scorpion W2 OCP, or just OCP. 

  • You can see there are some differences in the shapes, the main one being the lack of vertical elements in the Scorpion pattern. 
  • As for the colors, there are quite a few differences.
    • MultiCam is made up of seven colors, which are cream 524, tan 525, pale green 526, olive 527, dark green 528, brown 529, and dark brown 530.
    • Scorpion W2, on the other hand, consists of tan 525, olive 527, dark green 528, brown 529, dark cream 559, light sage 560, and bark brown 561. 

Additionally, you can tell the difference by the cut of the uniform. 

The new OCP uniforms have a few major differences, which are the removal of the mandarin-style collar, sleeve pockets that are about an inch longer and closed via a side zipper instead of Velcro, and the removal of the waist string and all Velcro on the pants. 

Now, the difference between MultiCam and Scorpion W2, once you notice it, is pretty obvious. 

But what’s the difference between the original Scorpion from the early 2000s and the new W2 version? 

Well, take a look here. 

The uniform on the left is the early Scorpion pattern. On the right is the new W2. 

Generally, it looks like the army adjusted the sizing of the pattern by a bit in addition to altering the colors.

On July 31, 2014, the U.S. Army announced the new uniforms would be available to deployed troops immediately and to all others starting on July 1, 2015. 

Scorpion W2 was officially patented on July 7, 2015. It’s important to bring up, though, that in the patent itself, there is a table that showcases the effectiveness of a number of different camouflages; UCP, MultiCam, and Scorpion W2 are among these.

You can see that the average numbers show that the new Scorpion pattern is actually less effective than Crye’s MultiCam. 

Conclusion Army Camo Patterns

Finally, the army went on to say that two additional variants would also roll out in the near future. 

A darker one for woodland and jungle terrains, and a lighter one for desert and arid terrains. 

Apparently, these two variants were created during the testing but have not been officially picked up. Not much else has been reported on them as of this post’s creation.

This completes the massive SNAFU that was the U.S. Army’s experiment with the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) and the ultimate creation of the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). 

George N.