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).
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?