There’s no hiding it. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, or DEVCOM SC, has long been a leader in camouflage development.
Camouflage plays a key role in Soldier lethality and survivability, as it protects warfighters and equipment from being seen or detected by human adversaries and optical sensor technologies.
Donald R. Lee II, team leader of the Disruptive Materials and Fibers Team in the Soldier Protection Directorate at DEVCOM SC, explained how camouflage works.
“So basically your eye is trained to recognize shapes,” said Lee. “Your brain recognizes shapes and objects, including the silhouette of a human. One of the main ideas behind camouflage is visual obscurity to break up the pattern of that silhouette. So if the colors you’re wearing match the background, then the eye doesn’t pick up on that shape. By breaking up that pattern, we increase survivability and lethality by enabling our forces to get closer to an objective before they are seen. Hopefully, they will not be seen at all.”
Prior to the Vietnam era, uniforms were solid colors.
“Special Forces and Marines started looking at multi-colored, patterned camouflage when they were in the jungles of Vietnam,” said Lee. “Early versions of camouflage, jungle camouflage specifically, were first used in Vietnam.”
In 1979, DEVCOM SC became involved in the development of the second generation of multi-colored camouflage which became the woodland pattern used on the Battle Dress uniform. DEVCOM SC went on to lead the development of two desert camouflage patterns for Operation Desert Storm and later the Operational Camouflage Pattern that is currently fielded.
“You have to look at the environment and try adapt the colors and patterns to match,” said Lee.
Most camouflage development continues to be done at DEVCOM SC, a leader in both camouflage expertise and capabilities.
“We not only have the knowledge, we have the facilities,” said Lee. “We do all our evaluations in our Camouflage Evaluation Facility, which is a state-of-the-art laboratory that has calibrated lighting which enables us to simulate difference phases of the sun and moon. This versatility enables us to manipulate the light conditions to help characterize the performance of the camouflage. Also, we use live plants which have their own natural spectral reflectance. When light is hitting the plants, they give off certain reflectance that we try to match. This way a silhouette gets absorbed into the background so that it does not stick out like a sore thumb.”
The lethality and survivability of the warfighter drives camouflage development at DEVCOM SC.
“Today, we are leading several multi-service programs to develop improved camouflage because we are the go-to people,” said Lee. “The baseline threats today are the human eye and optical sensors. We are trying to mitigate the performance of the naked eye as well as emerging sensors threats. It’s a privilege to work with my peers and my team, as well as to work collectively with other services and PMs to improve lethality and survivability of the warfighter.”
About DEVCOM Soldier Center: The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise is combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers is also an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.
DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.