Roggenwolf - next generation digital camouflage
A spetsnaz senior lieutenant, just after a parachute jump articles

A spetsnaz senior lieutenant, just after a parachute jump. Due to the covert nature of their operations, spetsnaz units wore the uniforms of the units to which they were attached — in this case, the Vozdushno-Desantniye Voyska (trans. Russian: 'airborne forces'). [Image: Leonid Yakutin.]

'Soviet' means 'the best'

In 1950, one-piece deceptive coveralls were introduced, instead of two-piece sets. In 1957, the construction of the coveralls was modified by the addition of scrim tabs — a very useful element. (Old stocks of this combination garment are still used by many intelligence divisions.)

For motor rifles divisions, however, the pattern was printed on special material with a coarse, open weave. The KZS two-piece suit made from this material is supposed to be worn over an ordinary uniform or OZK (which is very smart, bearing in mind that disruptive patterns work very well in forests but are absolutely unsuitable for open spaces, in which you need something dirty yellow or green-grey). The KZS was widely used in Afghanistan and is still popular in the Northern Caucasus (when the temperature regularly exceeds 30°C, you can survive only in open-weave cotton).

An interesting thing is that the Russian two-colour camouflage is called 'computer generated' in the West, even though it was not. The pattern resembles oak leaves and has several colour variations; the two most common are light grey on a dark green background (with the other side being a darker night variation) and yellow spots on a grass green background. This pattern works well in forest undergrowth, when supplemented with pieces of local foliage, but the disruptive pattern repeats too often and the high-contrast spots attract too much attention. As early as the 1970s, it was clear that this pattern was obsolete; but it was not until the 1980s that the Institute began to research new disruptive colours and better materials, in connection with projects 'Ozim'' and 'Levzeya' …

At this point we will digress again, to remark that Soviet camouflage patterns, unlike Western patterns, don't have names; rather, they were distinguished by articles (unique numbers used to identify a particular product). For this reason, the names that are used in discussions and literature — like 'little oaks', 'berezka' or 'amoeba' — often refer to different, unrelated patterns …

In 1984, instructions were issued about using a new camouflage field uniform, which was developed by the Institute during research project 'Butan'. The camouflage pattern produced for 'Butan' functions perfectly to disrupt a human silhouette, when viewed against a forest background; it works very well at ranges so close as five paces and so far as 100 meters; and it works in winter as well as in summer, if the appropriate colours are worn (which, unfortunately, is a definite problem in Russia).

Naval infantry and VDV switched to the new camouflage uniforms toward the end of the 1980s. Unfortunately this pattern is now used only by the VVS, in summer.

In 1994 the pattern was replaced by another, more universal one, which was developed in the same institute. From a distance, the pattern looks like the leaves of young birch trees and disrupts well against backgrounds of cultivated field and heath. However its design isn't modern and it's not particularly attractive.

Toward the end of the 1990s, IVU MO based a new pattern, called 'Flora', on the 1994 pattern. (In it, you can definitely see the influence of the tiger stripe pattern that was used during the Vietnam war — the only really well developed American camouflage pattern.) The developers simply enlarged the drawings used for the previous camouflage pattern and rotated them through 90°, while preserving the established colours. The camouflage works well at a range of 50 meters, when new, and at 100 meters, when washed several times.

Although Flora is kind of ugly, it is nonetheless very effective in central Russia — far more effective than U.S. woodland, digital or Flecktarn. This is due to good research of the brown and green colours used, as well as the distribution of horizontal shadows in forest undergrowth. Because of the stripes, some soldiers call this pattern 'watermelon'.

But what is good for fields near Moscow, which are mostly green in colour, isn't suitable for the Northern Caucasus, where the hills are burnt to yellow, or in the mountains, where clay and bare rocks are visible. The same pattern in soil grey and dirty yellow was never developed. So soldiers prefer to use surplus Soviet mountain uniforms of mixed brown, grey, green and yellow colours, or commercially produced versions of these uniforms. These outfits are also good for use in autumn and winter, because the material is windproof and doesn't rip easily, when going through scrub. American uniforms, by contrast, typically survive only three days of mountain climbing.

Unfortunately, soldiers frequently select camouflage based on how attractive it is — a factor that has nothing to do with its effectiveness. (I doubt that the British would wear foreign costumes that would attract an enemy's attention.) However, Special Forces need effective and durable patterns, and their need can be met only by the production of good patterns by reputable private companies. Even now most Special Forces supplement their issue uniforms with high quality, commercially manufactured uniforms purchased by sponsors or out of their own pockets.

Originally published in Kalashnikov, February 2005. English translation copyright © 2005 Tat'yana Sapol'kova & Brad Turner. All Rights Reserved.

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