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The End of the Awful Army UCP Camo and a History of US Camouflage

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After years of trying, the pixilated Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) uniform has finally become impossible to see; that’s because as of Sept. 30, 2019, the U.S. Military took it out of service. First introduced in 2004, the UCP camo uniform never lived up to the promise that it would be ideal for all terrain. In fact, the only universal aspect was that it failed didn’t blend into any surroundings.

Standing Out With UCP Camo

Writer Hope Hodge Seck in her piece for Military.com summed UCP camo up best by noting, “It blended in well with grandma’s couch, but had its drawbacks in the combat zone.”

Our friend Richard Hy, a police officer and U.S. Army veteran better known as “Angry Cops,” wasn’t a fan of the UCP camo either. In the above video, he lets his opinion be know. Hy says, “This uniform is so trash, Helen Keller could see you coming from 100 meters away.”

By 2010 the U.S. Army was already looking for alternatives to UCP camo. It spent five years testing the successor: The green-and-brown Operation Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform. As of Oct. 1, the U.S. Army has required all soldiers possess and wear the OCP. This is just the latest transition in camouflage for the U.S. military, one that goes back more than a century.

Army Operation Camouflage Pattern, OCP, UCP Camo replacementCaption: As of October 1, all U.S. Army soldiers are required to possess and wear the Operation Camouflage Pattern. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

The Original “Boys in Blue”

Throughout much of the 19th century, the U.S. military outfitted its troops with blue uniforms, a tradition dating back to the American Revolution. Back then, the Continental Army adopted a color distinct from the British Red Coats. The style and cut of the uniforms changed with the fashions of the day. Blue remained the de facto color until the late 1890s when the U.S. military followed the European powers in adopting a “summer uniform.”

One aspect of the summer uniform was lighter fabrics. For a while the U.S. Army still maintained the blue uniforms. However, after campaigns in the Philippines and Cuba during the Spanish-American War, the decision finally came that blue was hardly ideal as the range of rifles increased.

Khaki Time

Khaki camouflageA pair of U.S. Army soldiers circa the Spanish-American War. They are wearing khaki uniforms – which replaced the standard blue that had been worn since the Revolution. (Photo Credit: Author’s Collection)

Thus, the first “camouflage” uniform might not seem like that much like camouflage. However, the “khaki” uniforms were a true step up from the dark blue worn since the founding of the nation. Ironically, the U.S. military, which sought to adopt a color distinct from the British, actually adopted a pattern of khaki that the British had begun wearing in another of its colonial wars.

The term “khaki” came from the Persian word for “dust” and it roughly meant an ash-color of the sand of central Asia. It was first used by the British-Indian Army Corps of Guides cavalry regiment in the 1840s to help make the troops less conspicuous in their skirmishes with tribesmen on the Northwest Frontier of India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan.

After the Indian Mutiny it was adopted by British units in the subcontinent, and eventually replaced the scarlet uniforms of the British Army when it was on campaign or serving in the colonies of Africa and Asia. By the end of the 19th century the armies of most European nations were outfitted with similar khaki uniforms in their respective colonies. The First World War campaigns in Africa may have also marked the first time opposing armies worn essentially the same color uniforms – khaki!

World War Camouflage

Frogskin, World War CamouflageA soldier of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, 2nd US Armored Division in Normandy wearing the “Frogskin” camouflage. This pattern is widely associated with the USMC, and was only worn briefly in Europe because of the similarity to the uniform of the German Waffen SS. (Photo Credit: National Archives USA, US Army Photograph)

During the First World War the use of actual camouflage was adopted as each side as way for snipers and forward observers to remain concealed, but it was a generation later during the Second World War that camouflage uniforms were widely adopted.

The German military was among the first to see the benefits of patterns that could allow soldiers to blend in with trees and other foliage. However, the United States Corps of Engineers had been working to develop a camouflage uniform even before America entered the hostilities.

In July 1942 General Douglas MacArthur called for the production of 15,000 jungle camouflage uniforms in the Pacific. Who designed the pattern? Norvell Gillespie, a horticulturist and garden editor of Better Homes and Gardens. It consisted of a spot design of greens and browns. It was notable for being reversible to a tan/brown variation that could be used in fall and early spring conditions. The pattern featured five colors in total and its spotty pattern earned it the nickname “frogskin.”

It is worth noting that the U.S. Army had also adopted the pattern, but took it out of service as it was too similar to the camouflage being used by the Germans. The obvious concern was a potential case of mistaken identity for U.S. soldiers.

Cold War Camouflage

During the Cold War the U.S. military once again considered developing a camouflage pattern, but it was determined that no one pattern could be suited to all the potential terrains. As a result soldiers were instead issued with a basic olive green (OG) shade 107 cotton uniforms. By the 1960s, however, the U.S. Military issued helmets with a camouflage cover. Troops used these helmets in Vietnam.

The cover utilized the “Mitchell” pattern, which consisted of overlapping dark brown, russet, beige, light brown and ochre “leaf” shapes on a tan background. This pattern was tested for uniforms. While a similar uniform pattern was tested, only the cover was adopted.

However, in Vietnam, the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP), as well as U.S. Navy seals did utilize “Leaf-pattern” camouflage uniforms in a limited capacity. In addition members of the Reconnaissance Team Zeta, which conducted covert cross-border operations under the auspices of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam’s Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) often wore private-purchase “tiger stripe” camouflage that was never officially used by the U.S. Army.

camouflage evolution, helmetsThe evolution of camouflage pattern helmet covers from the 1940s to the 1980s; beginning with the World War II era “frogskin” (left), Vietnam War era “Mitchell” pattern, and the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) woodland pattern. (Photo Credit: Author’s Collection)

After the Vietnam War concluded the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) again considered camouflage, and developed a general purpose pattern that consisted of mid-brown & grass green organic shapes with black “branches” on a lime green background. This pattern has been widely copied and is still in use throughout the world.

Desert Camouflage

Then in the 1970s came the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) “woodland” pattern. It was a four color, high contrast disruptive pattern with irregular markings in sand, brown, green and black. Its origin stems from concerns about a war against the Warsaw Pact in Europe. However, by 1990 the geopolitical situation changed and the Middle East became the new focus.

With it so did the need for a desert camouflage.

BDU Woodland camouflage, U.S. Army National GuardsmenU.S. Army National Guardsmen on an exercise in 2000 while wearing Woodland BDUs. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chris Steffen, U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Army actually developed a Desert Battle Dress Uniform camouflage in 1977. It utilized a six-color scheme that became known as the “chocolate chip” pattern due to fact that it looked a bit like cookie dough. DBDU camouflage was in use during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993, but as it was developed in the rocky desert of California it didn’t blend into the sandy desert of the Middle East and East Africa.

As a result the U.S. military developed another pattern specifically for the Middle East, and desert soil samples from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were examined. This three-color pattern camouflage was officially known as Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). It may, however, have been nicknamed “coffee stain” by some U.S. personnel. The October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom both used DCU.

Then Came the UCP Camo

DCU was considered a major improvement over DBDU. However, the U.S. military wanted to standardize the camouflage and move away from different patterns for different regions. This led to the development of the hated UCP camo, which blended tan, gray and green (kind of). The goal here was to have a single combat uniform that could work in woodland, desert and even urban environments. The designers even omitted black as they found it was too visible to the naked eye. Instead, they incorporated different shades of gray.

Soldiers dubbed UCP camo a “digital camouflage,” as the mix of colors resembled computer pixels. Obviously the effectiveness never lived up to the promise. This has since led back to the OCP, which isn’t all that different from the patterns used during World War II.

Army UCP Camo, US Military Camouflage HistoryThe Universal Camouflage Pattern has finally been put out to pasture. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

The post The End of the Awful Army UCP Camo and a History of US Camouflage appeared first on Tactical Life Gun Magazine: Gun News and Gun Reviews.

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It certainly left a lot to be desired for most environments.  Sadly, the Military knew this during the testing phases.  You know how that goes... somebody was likely getting a kick back by using adopting UCP.  


That being said... I believe that it does have some applications that redeem it from the dumpster. 


It seems to work alright in winter woodland environments where you have shades of grey, brown, and evergreen competing with the snow.  It's not as effective as a dedicated snow camo like Multicam Alpine if you live in a heavy snowfall region... but, then again those dedicated snow patterns won't help you much if the snow fall is patchy and inconsistent due to drifting and other environmental factors - in some instances a standard woodland pattern works better in the snow than a dedicated winter camo.  Depends on how much snow fall you have.  I have dedicated winter camo... not that I'll be using it much now that I live down south.  But, I found the UCP pattern to be a good compromise for varying winter conditions up in the northeast.  


It also works fairly well in concrete urban environments in both winter and summer.  While there are likely better options for urban such as the ATACS au line, you can't beat UCP for the price for concrete urban situations.  Obviously, if your area of operation is mostly rural or even suburban it won't do you any favors.  But, if you're thinking urban combat and intend to run a uniform rather than street clothes... aside from running a straight grey uniform, it's hard to beat.  Most urban camo patterns on the market are intended for intimidation and identification rather than blending into an environment.  Just look at Multicam Black... they don't even market it as being a camouflage.  They market it as projecting an authoritative presence.  


It sucked for the theaters our soldiers were in, but, it's not a total loss for us in the civilian sector where there may be some reasonable applications to be found at a friendly price point.  

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Not to get off topic... but:


How do you all feel about wearing the same camo pattern as the U.S. Military?  I do have some molle items in multicam, but, nothing in regards to pants or shirts.  I'm hesitant to wear those patterns as I don't want to be mistaken for U.S. Military - same goes with Marpat.  I only started picking up abu/ucp once the transition was being made away from those patterns by the Military.  Woodland is my primary pattern given the environments that I live in.  I realize that woodland is still in use by some specific units in the Military. 


I do have other patterns that are environment and season specific - including ucp/abu.  But, I've avoided Multicam and OCP for the time being.  

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4 hours ago, SecurityGuy42 said:

I try to avoid if possible using the same pattern being used by the military for uniforms.  For gear who cares.

Field (782) gear aside, here's my take.  If you expect to be working with/attached to US forces, then I think you should look like them as much as possible   If so, they should issue you the uniform required.


Under different circumstances: wear a different uniform, so as not to be confused with US forces.  My personal choice is woodland, although I do use the UCP pattern for extreme cold weather trousers.  Keep in mind that I have seen footage of police units wearing, navy blue, gray, OD, black, coyote, and different camouflage patterns for their operations.  You could be mistaken for the "wrong side" no matter what you wear.


One solution is to wear some easily identifiable marking; a blue? scarf, an orange? armband etc.  Another option might be to wear a specific mix; say a woodland top with OD trousers.  I do believe that any UNIT should be suited out in the same uniform, if at all possible.  If that's not possible, then definitely use the armband idea.

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