BDU - Battle Dress Uniforms

Urban Camouflage

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). Whether fighting in general war, regional conflict or operations other than war, the soldier will need the best technology and tactics available to survive in this environment.

Effective concealment is key to soldier protection and survivability. The payoffs are significant and include reduced soldier vulnerability because of the decreased likelihood of enemy detection and targeting. Effective camouflage also enhances the soldierŐs ability to use surprise tactics. It is one of the most important battlefield materiel requirements for the force projection Army of the 21st Century. At SSCOM, scientists and engineers are developing camouflage materials for the soldier fighting on the urban battlefield.

Fighting in the Urban Environment

Human population continues to grow rapidly throughout the world and in undeveloped countries the growth is exponential. Also, because of the infusion of new technologies into urban areas, increased job opportunities have been created leading to high rates of migration into the cities. The result has been an explosive expansion in size and number of urban areas throughout the world. According to some estimates, 75% of the world will live in urban areas by the year 2000.

The urban battlefield is like no other because of its crowdedness, large variety of challenging features, and wide variability from location-to-location throughout the world.

Developing Effective Urban Camouflage

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. Near infrared (NIR) camouflage for urban areas would generally mimic NIR spectral reflectance of road and building materials, asphalt, concrete, gravel, steel, brick, wood, stucco, etc. This would be in contrast to woodland NIRs requirements that mimic the chlorophyll curve of vegetation and the NIR requirements of desert camouflage which mimics the curves of various desert sands.

SSCOM's current Science and Technology program has the objective of providing effective broadband camouflage protection to the user in urban locations. SSCOM's efforts towards accomplishing this objective have utilized a computerized spectral terrain data collection system known as the Terrain Analysis System (TAS). Using the TAS, terrain data were collected at various local urban sites. SSCOM also relied on existing spectral data on urban terrain elements, such as rock, gravel, concrete and asphalt. From the gathered and existing terrain data SSCOM developed experimental urban camouflage patterns and colors . Two 2-color patterns were developed based on TAS data. One 3-color pattern was developed based on existing data. An urban grey monotone was also produced.

Following the development of urban camouflage patterns and colors, prototype uniforms were made for evaluation.

The uniforms were developed based on the principle of using existing data as well as measuring and collecting reflectance data from urban backgrounds in the visual area (what you see with the naked eye) 400-600 nanometers (nm), visual spectrum and NRI area (what you see through passive night vision devices, image intensifiers, i. e. starlight scope) 600-860 nm and closely approximating this reflectance produced on textile fabrics. Proper dyestuff selection and color matching contribute greatly toward achieving the ultimate goal of providing the least amount of contrast between the soldier and his background when viewed by the enemy.

Field Evaluation of Concepts

Experimental urban camouflage BDU's were informally evaluated locally and more formally evaluated during a baseline urban camouflage effectiveness study performed in May 1994 at the MOUT training site at Ft. Benning.

The baseline urban camouflage effectiveness study included the following seven camouflage BDU's: two 2-color experimental disruptive urban camouflage uniforms, a 3-color experimental disruptive urban camouflage uniform, a monotone grey urban camouflage uniform, an experimental monotone black NomexTM flight suit, a standard three-color desert camouflage uniform, and a standard woodland camouflage uniform.

The uniforms were evaluated to determine their camouflage effectiveness at five locations within the MOUT Training Center. The locations included three day sites, one inside site and one night site. All test subjects and observers were previously exposed to MOUT training and were drawn from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Ft. Benning. All observers had at least a corrected visual acuity of 20/30 and normal color vision. The observers were asked to evaluate the camouflage effectiveness of each uniform across all five sites based on forced comparisons. At each test site the observers were asked to select the one camouflage uniform that blended best with the surrounding urban background. Each observer made 21 best blend comparisons at each test site for a total of 252 decisions by 12 observers at each location. All observation data were recorded, collected and statistically analyzed.

The results of the baseline urban camouflage effectiveness study were as follows: the lighter colored patterned uniforms blended best across the stucco and cinder block buildings which comprised the three day sites. These were the two 2-color light grey and medium grey urban patterned uniforms, and the 3-color desert camouflage uniform. The darker uniforms - the black flight suit, the woodland camouflage uniform and the monotone grey urban camouflage uniform- blended the poorest across the three day sites. As would be expected, the darker uniforms, and the 3-color urban camouflage uniform blended the best when viewed by observers from outside looking inside at a test subject within a building. Camouflage effectiveness tests performed at night at one site where observers were looking through a third generation passive night vision device revealed that the black flight suit performed well because of its high reflectance in the NIR against a painted urban background. The two color medium grey urban camouflage uniform, and the monotone grey uniform also performed well in this setting. The woodland uniform and 3 color urban camouflage uniform did not perform well at the urban night site.

Study results suggest that a reversible uniform would offer maximum concealment to the soldier fighting in an urban environment. Such a uniform might have a desert or a 2-color developmental pattern printed on one side for daylight operations, while the other side would be printed in black with appropriate NIR properties for night or inside maneuvers. The technologies to produce such a uniform exist today. SSCOM has developed a process to print on both sides of combat clothing fabrics and has designed and fabricated reversible BDU prototypes from these durable fabrics incorporating innovative features such as unique stitching techniques, double-faced buttons and closures and double-entry pockets.

Future Trends

In addition to reversible urban camouflage, the future soldier may have available site-specific, rapidly deployable urban camouflage. Using special algorithms, an ink jet system will rapidly and accurately design the appropriate disruptive pattern, select the optimum color combination and print the fabric for the specified urban terrain. The technology for urban spectral terrain data gathering and quick fabrication is mature and here today. Computerized ink jet printing systems are currently available on a very limited basis; however, the technology is consistently evolving and should be applicable and widely available in the near future.