Thursday, September 3, 2009

Camouflage Effectiveness- ACUPAT

If you are like me, you hear a lot of smacktalk on these intarwebs. While we won't be getting into 9mm vs. .45, 7.62mm vs. 5.56mm, or even Coke vs. Pepsi, today we will discuss the Army's "new" camo, known as ACUPAT (Army Combat Uniform Pattern) or just the ACU.

ACU was developed as an All Environments camouflage, intended to help hide the wearer whether they are in a wooded, arid, or urban environment. Technologists noted that at the time of final development (2003), Army soldiers could be patrolling in a very arid desert area of Iraq and in 1o minutes, go through a palm grove oasis that is almost entirely green and then be in an urban area with very little vegetation of any type.

Modern camouflage operates in 2 different ways to hide its wearer. The first is with color. Earth tones, greens, etc. are much harder to see than bright red or blue and make it where the eye is not immediately drawn to you. This idea goes back a long way. From prehistoric buckskins, to the grey and acorn brown of Confederate Rebels to the best of them all, good old Olive Drab (or Army Green, if you prefer). One of the most radical changes in the color scheme of the ACU was the removal of black from the uniform. It was decided that true black is actually quite uncommon in nature and black tends to make a person "pop" or stand out from their surroundings. The ACU is mostly a tan uniform with Foliage Green and Urban Grey laid out over it.

The second component of camouflage is shape. The human eye has developed to automatically distinguish items of interest from a background.
(Think how far away you could spot a girl in a bikini, for example. I wear glasses, but I am pretty sure I can spot a hottie at at least 200m.)
One thing that is considered important by our brains is other people. The shape and silhouette of a person is one of the most recognizable things in nature. So, to combat that, we came up with the idea of using different shaped patterns on clothing to "break up" the shape of the body. This was first used widely by the Germans, both in WWI and especially in WWII. ACU is what is known as a digital pattern camo, that uses arrangements of pixels rather than amorphous blobs or stripes to break up the human shape.

Now, before we go any further with this, let me put this out there for you. A soldier's uniform is not really meant to camouflage him. It is meant to give him something tough and useful and sufficiently warm to wear. It is an extra benefit if it helps them to not stick out of their surroundings. Please keep in mind that general camo is also not really meant to make you invisible to the enemy when they are 25 feet away. Distance, concealment, light levels, and movement are all about as important when we are trying to hide from someone.If you wish to be invisible to the enemy, digging a hole or wearing a ghillie suit would be a lot more effective. Congress has even started to look into the ACU debate, on account of many people say that the ACUPAT does not camouflage anything, anywhere.

I would also like to say that while I don't think that ACU is useless or horrible, I also do not think it is good at camouflaging in all environments. I have seen many pictures of soldiers in ACUs in temperate wooded areas (GA and NC mostly) that seemed like they were glowing. But in the mostly arid areas of Central Asia and the Middle East where we are now engaged in fighting, it seems like it works pretty good. There are many who say the the ACU works fine, but only when it is good and dirty, and some of these pics reflect that and some do not.

You want proof? Check out these pics, including some from Afghanistan and Iraq and then tell me what you think in the comments section. To clarify, I am only requesting comments on the camouflage of the ACU, not its durability (terrible) or its new features (pretty good).

Stryker Brigade in Iraq

ACUPAT and German Flecktarn

USMC Desert MARPAT, Woodland, ACU, and Flecktarn

Count the soldiers you can see

This is the current " best" camo, known as Multicam, being tested by Army Rangers way back in 2003, and yes, the one on the left is using a Xbox 360 controller.

So while I feel I have vindicated the Army's ACUPAT, for one final thought, check out what some soldier did before deploying to Afghanistan. The one behind the other is original ACUPAT and the front has been modified.
He simply put a little brown dye in the wash and made a much better overall color. Of course, he was yelled at and threatened by his superiors, instead, of you know, given a medal and a job at DARPA.

So what do you think?


  1. Yes, in those environments, they do tend to blend in. I concur.

  2. I must say, in these photos, ACu works quite have to give it that, I also believe that the brown die works extremely well. But at the End of the day im hands down for Multicam...but I cannot ignore the fact that ACU does work very well in low/no light situations and urban/rocky enviroments.

  3. perhaps you havn'e seen the tests alongside british dpm, its not even digital, but beats the crap out of ACU in woodland, AT FIVE METERS.

    To say we've been using British dpm since 1968, it still competes with the newest patterns, and doesn't fade like ACU, im sure that after two washes ACU would be a lovely shade of plain grey...

  4. Hey what can I say? I mow the lawn in DPM hot weather pants once a week. I also have a DPM para smock that I go camping in. So count me in for DPM for forested environments. There will be a another post w/ comparisons of camo patterns soon.

  5. I took the pictures of the ACU comparing it to other camo posted here. I think clean ACU sticks out even in Urban. I have got some ACU dirty and it seemed to work better. It appears to work as a woodland camo when in shadow or tree canopy. It also appears to do an ok job in desert ok in woodland and the best in Urban.

  6. yes the ACU is effective in the pictures shown but the army only has the one type of camouflage. In a truly wooded area ACU's would stick out like a sore thumb but the Marines have two different camouflages for the different terrain such as forest or desert

  7. I used to make fun of ACU until I saw it past 300 meters! Here is how ACU really works. In close with no shadow it appears almost blue matching urban perfectly! When it's behind cover or under tree canopy (shadows) it looks darker and becomes hard to pick up compare to darker camo that becomes too dark. For desert/open field it requires depending on light condition 300 meters for the eye not to see the blue/green in it and appears to match everything around it. Multicam appears to work best in woodland/desert mix but fails in Urban/Pure dessert

  8. Why the Ranger Guy is using a XBOX360 joystick??

    1. They have robots they control with it to disarm a bomb etc

  9. He is controlling a small UGV like the PackBot.

  10. I have been reading up on ACU in preparation for a Paintball game in Australia. I have seen a lot on the Internet about this, many from US military people who have first hand opinions. There seems to be an overwhelming disdain for ACU. One that sticks out is a comment about it only being good as a camo in an "alfalfa field." The underlying motivation for the US Army in adopting ACU seems to be that it was the "cheaper option" over MULTICAM, despite being a poor performer in tests. And ego prevented the Army from adopting the better MARPAT camo used by the USMC. See a few tests that people have done on YouTube. Give me MARPAT or MultiCam - my vote goes to those.

  11. The thinking behind ACU/UCP is that soldiers can be fighting in the desert and in the space of a day, also fight/patrol/whatever in a palm oasis, then in a city. I think that the ACU pattern is flawed, but workable.

    BTW I would skip the ACU for paintball. ACU pants have a reputation for crotch tears and paintball is mostly covering behind barricades and trees and such. You can probably get some mil surplus (either Aussie cam or BDUs) cheaper and they will last longer and work just as well. Also, a cup and gloves. :)
    Those little motherfuckers hurt.

  12. I think the military camo patterns are crap, and they should turn to the companies who make camo for us hunters and they could get something 10 times more effective. Kings Desert Shadow, Predator Spring Green, Mossy Oak, and Realtree could give our guys something a lot more useful than the crap the contractors put out for them.