Roggenwolf - next generation digital camouflage
His Royal Highness Prince Faisal and Jordan's Special Forces supervise youngsters visiting a training area

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His Royal Highness Prince Faisal and Jordan's Special Forces supervise youngsters visiting a training area. The Special Forces are wearing the recently issued KA2™ Special Forces Woodland Digital camouflage. [Image: HyperStealth® Biotechnology Corp., with permission from the Military Office of His Majesty the King.]

the science of digital camouflage design

The recent trend, in military camouflage, toward digital (pixelated) camouflage has seen the introduction of Canadian Forces CADPAT™, U.S. Marines MARPAT™, U.S. Army ARPAT™, Finland Model 2005 and, most recently, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan KA2™ pattern. This trend is not prompted by artistic creativity but scientific fact.

improved MARPAT, the current NATO 3-color pattern and a forest green monochrome target
This graph indicates a very high performance improvement for MARPAT, which typically took more than twice as long to detect.
This graph shows a similar recognition degradation — that is, it also took longer to identify the target shape once the target was detected.

why digital?

Military applications of camouflage principles have traditionally fallen short of their potential, owing in large part to naïve interpretations of natural processes and the scientific basis of camouflage. A lack of confidence in poorly-designed results has led to the continued development of uniforms and other personal concealment measures that use camouflage as a fashion statement, rather than as a tool for reducing personal vulnerability.

A major contributor to this waste of resources is the complex nature of concealment processes. Understanding how camouflage works in the visual spectrum depends on tracing the braided contributions of such seemingly unrelated threads as the biophysics of visual processing, the distinction between detecting a target and recognizing it, signal detection theory, biomechanics and perceptual vector analysis, and the integration of camouflage design, tactical doctrine, and training.

Current work on these topics for the United States Marine Corps and other foreign and domestic customers underscores the need for a coherent strategy to replace the present combination of chaotic objectives, research and development stovepiping, and lack of coherent vision. Enterprises like Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp.™ and United Dynamics Corp.™ provide an alternative theoretical and practical approach based on careful science and common sense.

These graphs show the performance of the improved MARPAT™ (Dual-Tex derivative) compared with the current NATO 3-color pattern and a forest green monochrome target, all adjusted for overall brightness.

This test was run under the Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) contract to the Office of Naval Research in fall 2003–spring 2004 at West Point, New York. Observers were first-year cadets, all of whom had a visual acuity of 20/20 Snellen, or higher, and normal color vision.

In this test, scenes were presented in random order, with one target in each slide. The measure was the time, in seconds, required to make a correct detection, and the time, in seconds, required to make a correct identification of target shape.

The top graph indicates a very high performance improvement for MARPAT™, which typically took more than twice as long to detect.

The bottom graph shows a similar recognition degradation — that is, it also took longer to identify the target shape once the target was detected.

Statistically, the overall effects were highly significant. They were presented at the midyear joint meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and Division 19 of the American Psychological Association in March 2004. Results will appear in Military Psychology in 2004.

Lt.Col. O'Neill adds the following, to conclude:

'Digital' camouflage is actually a misnomer, based on the superficial resemblance of these patterns to quantized or coarse digital images. In fact, the pattern of squares (or whatever shape we use) is employed to model the texture of typical backgrounds using a mathematical function. We could use hexagons or shapeless blobs as well, except that it is easier to render complex patterns by computer using squares. It is easy to misunderstand the purpose and mechanisms of this kind of design, which is why so many measures that try to use the approach without insight fall short.

Copyright © 2005 Guy Cramer and Timothy R O'Neill. All rights reserved. CADPAT™ is a trademark of the Canadian Government. MARPAT™ is a trademark of the United States Marine Corps. ARPAT™ is a trademark of the United States Army. KA2™ is a trademark of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

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