UCP SUCKS (Universal Camo Pattern) RANT:
- For starters I have to breakdown all the acronyms just to make sure you know what the hell I'm talking about. UCP stands for Universal Camo Pattern which is the pattern that the ACU, Army Combat Uniform, uses. Other variants I've seen to aid in confusion have been: ARPAT, AUC for Army Universal Camo or Digital Army Pattern / Army Digital Pattern. Most gear companies label their UCP gear ACU since it is a term most people know. Although ACU is the name of a uniform and not a color, it typically gets the point across. In the spirit of being most correct, I will use the term UCP when referring to the actual camo color.
Now back to my spiteful article, my main grief is with the color of UCP and not the ACU design itself. There is plenty to debate on how it compares to the BDU, but take in all the plusses and minuses and I feel ACU is in the right direction. UCP isn't necessarily a bad camouflage, but it is not qualified to do what is asked of it. I will start the party off with the main ACU press release article to quote: <link>
--"There were 20 changes made to the uniform, to include removing the color black and adapting the digital print from the Marine Corps uniform to meet the needs of the Army, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Myhre, the Clothing and Individual Equipment noncommissioned officer in charge.
Black is no longer useful on the uniform because it is not a color commonly found in nature. The drawback to black is that its color immediately catches the eye, he added.
The color scheme in the ACU capitalizes on the environments that we operate in," Myhre said. "The current colors on the ACU are green-woodland, grey-urban environments and sand brown-desert. The pattern is not a 100-percent solution in every environment, but a good solution across the board.""
First of all, black is only in the forest version of MARPAT. Next, in the right context black is a very useful color for environments such as lush forests and jungles. Don't come to the camo community and put a blanket ban on black and call yourself a genius. Using a little black and other darks helps add depth to camo simulating the overlaping vegetation and shadows. Black may not work for your project, but it works in others. When one uses black it still reflects light, it doesn't become some black hole of light. Hyperstealth camo has a page that explains black even further: <link> You know what else "catches the eye"? The heavy contrast of the light tan you use in UCP against a dark forest.
Lets magically say I'm wrong and PRETEND black is a worthless camo color. What is one of the colors team ACU/UCP chooses for badges and nametapes?....black of course. Nice pick champ, call me crazy but Desert Sand 500 on Foliage Green 504 would have done just fine. Although a whole other can of worms, while you are busy being color-czar it would have been nice to note all the big black guns soldiers have to tote around. It is time we start looking into finishing issue guns with at least an earthy brown or green. Some PEO soldier pics show UCP coats on some of the prototype weapons, so at least someone is thinking about it.
Moving onto the core hate, they clearly show intent to use UCP in forest, urban, and desert environments. Since UCP is mostly grey it makes for a pretty good urban camo hands down. Only draw back there, is we aren't fighting in New York City. Most big cities of countries we are bringing the business to have more tans than classic grey concrete. For Desert, UCP has way too much grey and tends to be too bright, but most deem it tolerable. Some give the argument to just get some dust/dirt on it and it does alright, but at that point so does classic woodland camo. And then finally Forest, in which UCP excels in the suck. Way too bright and not even close color wise. The only chance to work tolerably in the forest is when the floor is covered in dead leaves and a lot of grey bark is around. Even then the colors and brightness are off. So as a recap, we now have a camo that is pretty good at grey urban areas.... where we aren't much, not as good as DCU in the desert, and totally worthless compared to BDU in the forest. Damn right it is not a 100% solution in every environment. UCP fails so hard at forest that the "good solution across the board" comment is downright false. Just in case the wording seemed loose on the original article, intent of using UCP in all these terrains is clearly displayed on this Natick page: <link>
Some of the original release photos have been taken down likely out of embarrassment. You know something is wrong when the new camo you are sporting looks significantly worse in your environment than the old camo.
The main thing that infuriates others keeping up with camo design is that they know Multicam was around during ACU color selection. Multicam, a camo made by Crye Precision <link> , actually is pretty damn good at balancing performance in desert, urban, and forest. Even at its weaker side, forest, it does well. Here are some examples of multicam in different environments and light conditions. Although some of these are airsoft kids, these are still good environment examples:
Furthermore Natick actually did camo trials for the future warrior system from 2002 to 2004. Although the winner of the trials was Desert Brush, the Contractor Developed Mod (Multicam) was in the final four. UCP is amusingly only in the background of the trials powerpoint. Trials Powerpoint: <link> All reports indicate there never were any trials for UCP.
Just in case you aren't mad yet, inspect: <link>
--"The patterns were tested by soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga., in August 2002; at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in October; and at Fort Polk, La., and NTC in February 2003.
Uniform officials found what they were looking for with a digitized version of the urban track pattern, minus the highly visible black shade."
In the camo trials powerpoint, urban track is clearly declared the worst performer. Perhaps they thought it would mysteriously beat desert brush once black was taken out?
This one is my favorite: <link>
--"When uniform experts designed the ACU digital pattern, they chose three colors that represent the areas soldiers are most likely to fight in: green for forests, tan for deserts and gray for urban areas.
The colors were then altered after numerous tests involving night-vision equipment. The final colors were chosen because they proved difficult to see through night-vision goggles, according to Myhre, who explained that the pattern absorbed the infrared instead of reflecting back as the woodland and desert patterns on the battle dress and desert camouflage uniforms do."
The trials report states and displays all of the camo entries were extremely equal when seen through night vision. Interesting why they were so worried about night vision color enhancement to begin with considering most of our enemies do not have night vision. A balance is good, but I'd put my vote in for optimal visible spectrum colors before NVG colors. The above quote implies UCP is a pattern with night vision mostly in mind.
So want to judge UCP for yourself? Here are some pics showing a good variety of performance. Rather than being an intel manipulating punk, I've make sure to show some pictures where UCP does well. From what you will see, the best fighting grounds for UCP is gravel..... There are some pics showing decent blending with Desert, so I have added a DCU pic last to show what we have given up. Just in case I have been overly generous, feel free to seach for ACU pictures on the internet and you will see that most of the time it is contrasting with the environment.
And the ultimate UCP environment:
That's right...a specific couch.
All of the public press releases hint towards all of this soldier input into the ACU design, but how come 90% of soldiers think UCP is an inferior camo design? Army Times did an early stage unscientific poll <link> in which urban track ranked 11th. Some don't mind UCP too much, but everyone knows it could be better. Is there really that much savings for one type of uniform? If you plan on issuing two pairs of ACUs to every soldier, why could it not be one Forest and one Desert? Did the Natick reversible BDU idea result in overly thick fabric? <link>
I think the Marines went the right direction using two camo patterns that work great in their intended environment rather than one that is half-assed everywhere. This also brings up the whole make your own uniform mess the Marines started. Not that long ago all the services were using BDU and DCU. Sure each branch had ideas to make one better, but IT WORKED as is. When you pump out contracts of a certain fabric to not just one branch of the military, but all of them, now that is how you get the price down. So the army got jealous and had to make UCP and now the Air Force just had to join in the fun and make ABUs. <link> Going with a urban digital tiger stripe, the end result is similar to UCP. This is another great example of all this talk of input from the common ranks and then when you ask most Air Force personel they think it is the stupidest thing they have ever seen. How much ground urban combat does the Air Force plan to be in? I don't think I'm alone, but I'd like my camo to match the enemy area I'm flying into, not my home base.
Where to go from here? Well clearly the branches are not going to be using the same pattern anytime soon. After all the trouble of making a new uniform, the Air Force doesn't even plan on using ABU tiger stripe for their kit/gear and plan to use UCP. Luckily the Future Force Warrior program <link> / FCS <link> seems to continue to sport multicam and at least has a chance be incorporated into the army if all goes well. How long this will take, who knows, but I suggest for those in the army to give their opinion on UCP vs Multicam to upper ranks whenever the rare occations allow. Reliable intel sources claim a report was to have been issued last year pitting UCP against Multicam. It is said the report will probably never be released since UCP did so poorly against Multicam. Looking at our current and possible areas of operation, the optimal choice of patterns would be one for dense forest / jungle and one for urban / desert, heavier on the desert side. If we are stuck with 1 pattern, lets at least go with a good one. Lessons learned: don't go rogue during expert run trials making up your own camo and not follow up with a new set of trials.
Further links of interest for topics on this article:
<Hyperstealth> Hyperstealth.com's comments on digital camo
<Natick Blend> / An early Natick "next gen" camo development page
<PEO ACU PDF> PEO soldier PDF on the Army Combat Uniform
<PEO ACU PDF2> Another PEO soldier PDF on the ACU
<PEO soldier FAQ> A FAQ page covering some ACU questions