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Since 2004, Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) has been the primary pattern for Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs). Both were introduced together as a replacement for the Battle Dress Uniform. The ACU, which has since experienced modifications, featured a jacket, trousers, and patrol cap, as well as a moisture-wicking t-shirt and combat boots, and changes introduced by the new combat uniform included Mandarin collars, Velco fasteners, zippers instead of buttons, sleeve pockets, and knee pouches.
The pattern change, to UCP, a three-color digital pattern, was the most notable change introduced with the new combat uniforms in 2004. Based on the colors of MARPAT but with minor changes, UCP consists of foliage and alpha green, light brownish grey, and grey-yellow brown blocks. The UCP camouflage pattern, before its implementation, was tested by Army Program Executive Office Soldier with soldiers in Iraq and at home. At first it was expected to be effective in all environments, but UCP did not blend in well with the terrain in Afghanistan, and from 2010 to the present, ACUs in MultiCam, also called Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP), began to phase out those in UCP.
At the start of 2011, however, the effectiveness of UCP in all environments appears to be questioned again. The Army wants to replace UCP with “operationally and scientifically validated” camouflage that will conceal soldiers regardless of environment and location, according to the article “Army to Test Marine Camo Variants” in the Army Times. Part of the Army’s plan to find a replacement involves testing three different camouflage patterns: a woodland variant, a desert variant, and one for environments in-between. UCP is not set to be included, but woodland and desert MARPAT and AOR 1 and 2 appear to be some of the potential camouflage patterns that have been chosen. Potential replacement camouflage patterns are now being chosen and testing will follow. Gear in the new identified pattern is expected to reach the field by 2012.
MARPAT presents another set of challenges for creating a new camouflage pattern. Much like the introduction of UCP seven years ago, the speculation is that this new pattern may be a variation on MARPAT. The Marine Corps own the rights to MARPAT and do not want their pattern mimicked.
The implementation of OCP in Afghanistan is another factor contributing to the replacement of UCP. As a multi-environmental camouflage pattern, MultiCam uses a blending effect through brown and green gradients to trick the human eyes’ perception of color. Consisting of a brown to light tan gradient base with drab green dotted by dark brown and pink blotches in between, MultiCam can take an overall green or tan appearance. With terrain varying from mountains and desert to woodlands in Afghanistan, the chameleon-like quality of OCP assists soldiers in hiding in various seasons, lights, and elevations.
Testing for MultiCam began in 2009, and a report by the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center shows that soldiers, when asked about the effectiveness of different camouflage patterns in Afghanistan, favored OCP. With approximately 2,000 soldiers surveyed, the report indicates MultiCam was preferred for combat area Kandahar and other parts of the country.
write by Helga