The Secret Of Camouflage: The Science Behind Military Camouflage

In this blog post:

  • What is military camouflage?
  • The science behind camouflage
  • MILDEC’s today
  • camouflage and tactical clothing
  • How camouflage works
  • The basics of camouflage
  • camouflage methods
  • see through camouflage
  • Non-visual camouflage methods
  • summary

There are several ways soldiers can disguise themselves, either to avoid encountering enemy troops or to use the element of surprise. The least effective disguise is a fake mustache. But one of the most effective disguises is camouflage, the purpose of which is to make soldiers and equipment less visible to the enemy.The Secret Of Camouflage: The Science Behind Military Camouflage

Originally, camouflage in the form of patterns and colors was developed to make soldiers and equipment less visible to the enemy. As you’ll realize as you read this post, modern military camouflage works so well because it’s backed by years of scientific knowledge. While the science is thousands of years old, it is only in the last hundred years that camouflage manufacturers have developed a deep understanding of the physical and physiological laws that enable the remarkable variety of camouflage patterns and colors available to armed forces around the world today .

In a previous post, we discussed the different types of camouflage. And in a separate post, we looked at the differences between hunting and military camouflage patterns. In this post, we’ll focus on the visual differences and the inherent properties of the patterns.

In summary, camouflage is designed for a specific environment or task. We can further break down areas of effect into two subcategories, visual and non-visual.

Now let’s take a look at military camouflage (or camouflage technology as it’s better known today). It is not comparable to the camouflage you wear in the civilian world as a hunter or as someone who wants to be “tactically cool”. But what makes military camouflage “military” camouflage? And how different does it have to be to civilian camouflage to be effective in today’s theaters of operations?

The Secret Of Camouflage: The Science Behind Military Camouflage

What Is Military Camouflage?

Military camouflage is any material or means that can be employed by armed forces to make it difficult, or ideally impossible, to detect them at a distance by opposing forces during tactical operations.

Military camouflage differs from others in the sense that venues and detection methods are changing from natural to artificial, thus shifting from conventional patterns to the multispectral holy grail we all dream of.

Where Does The Camouflage Come From?

The word camouflage stands for the French word camouflage (the actual word is camoufler) and means to make something visible invisible by making it look like something different than what it actually is.

Let’s say you parked an armored vehicle next to a stand of trees. With the right camouflage, you can make the vehicle look less like a vehicle and more like part of the grove from afar.

I see. When you asked “Where does the camouflage come from?” you meant not the etymology? you mean industrial Well, the kind of camouflage worn by soldiers comes from textile mills and other commodity producers who make camouflaged fabrics to sell by the yard to clothing manufacturers like us. The camouflage patterns and colors are usually screen printed or sublimated onto the fabric before the clothing is sewn together.

Fooling The Enemy

Before we continue our discussion of military camouflage, we need to clarify what camouflage actually is. It’s codenamed MILDEC (short for “military deception”), meaning it’s not just a type of material or equipment, it’s also a tactic. This tactic is used to gain advantages in a theater of war.

So basically, camouflage is any material designed to trick the eyes of the enemy so they don’t see you, your gear, or your hideout.

If you need to hide your position, stealth is the way to go.

If you need to remain undetected just long enough to successfully ambush the enemy, stealth is the solution as well.

And when you need to sneak past the enemy without them noticing you’re nearby, stealth will help you achieve the relative safety of your own ranks.

What Is Military Camouflage?

Useful For Attack And Defense

In any offensive or defensive situation where you need to visually trick the enemy to achieve a specific goal, stealth is absolutely necessary. Proper camouflage for the environment you’re operating in can prevent the enemy from finding out what you’re doing until it’s too late to counter your move.

Historically, natural materials were used to camouflage troops, equipment, and buildings. For example, to camouflage an armored vehicle, you could cover it with the branches. To hide yourself, you could wrap tall blades of grass around your olive drab uniform.

That’s over now. Today’s camouflage elements are the result of advanced technologies that are painted, printed or woven.

The Science Behind The Camouflage

History abounds with reports of grand military deceptions. One of the best known is the Trojan horse. You remember it (even if it happened centuries before you were born): Ancient Greece was at war with the walled city-state of Troy. For 10 years the Greeks besieged the easily defendable Troy and repeatedly came to a dead end.

Tired of this, the Greeks eventually devised an ingenious plan to breach the heavily fortified walls and overthrow the city. Step 1: The Greeks retreated as if to say, “We surrender.” Step Two: The Greeks seemingly retreated, leaving behind a giant wooden horse on wheels to honor the city’s heroic defenders. The Trojans cheered as the “gift” was wheeled through the gates, unaware that inside the beast’s belly was a group of elite Greek commandos.

That night, when the city was fast asleep, the men opened the horse’s secret hatch and secretly made their way to Troy’s gates. When they reached their destination, they opened the gates to allow a waiting phalanx of Greek archers, charioteers, and foot soldiers to storm and conquer the city (read about in the literary classics Iliad and Odyssey, written around 750 BC). . were written).

The Science Behind The Camouflage

The Trojan horse-style deception was a concept discussed by ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in The Art of War. He was passionate about how to ensure victory despite being outnumbered by the enemy.

There are countless other famous examples of deception in military history. But to get straight to the point, deception has long been recognized as a powerful tool to turn the tide of battle.

The deceptive doctrines of the US military and its allies include three main tenets.

Magruder Principle

According to this axiom, it is usually easier to get a target to maintain a belief that already exists than to deceive them in order to change their belief.

The Magruder principle was first used during Operation Mincemeat, a ruse used by British forces to cover up the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.

Jones’ Dilemma

Jones’ dilemma states that the more channels of information available to the target, the more difficult it is to deceive, but also that the more controlled channels there are, the greater the likelihood that the deception will be believed.

This was demonstrated in Operation Bodyguard before D-Day – the Allies leaked tons of misleading information to convince the Germans that the June 6, 1944 invasion was not taking place in Normandy but far away on the French coast would.

Avoiding The Unplanned

Following the principle of avoiding the unforeseen, the easier it is to obtain deceptive information, the less likely it is to believe it.

A bit like today’s “get-rich-quick” schemes: it just sounds too good to be true.

Mildecs Today

The table below gives you an idea of ​​what the operational MILDECs currently include.

If you look closely at the chart, you’ll see that there are two crucial aspects to deception. These are the duration of the effect (on the vertical axis) and the type of effort required to implement the method (on the horizontal axis).

Most important to our considerations are the areas of concealment and camouflage. Are they different from each other? If yes how?

Camouflage describes the hiding of objects (i.e., people, vehicles, and equipment) by plants, tarpaulins, and other means that prevent the objects’ distinctive shapes from being discovered.

Camouflage is the use of different shapes, materials, colors, and lighting to prevent objects from being detected while they are moving. Also, camouflage is officially considered a MILDEC subcategory due to its focus on deception.

Mildecs Today

Camouflage And Tactical Clothing

With tactical clothing, the color and pattern of the chosen camouflage must match the environment. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in inferior performance.

In the worst case, the wrong color and pattern can make you more visible rather than less visible.

Ideally, if the color and pattern harmonize with the environment, you should be able to position yourself a short distance from your target and most likely lie in wait or conduct surveillance there for days without being detected.

Unfortunately, no camouflage is truly perfectly matched to the environment of your location. The areas you come through in the course of a mission can differ slightly in geometry and color composition, or in some cases even greatly every half kilometer.

So the camouflage that was effective at the beginning of the mission may become less effective as you advance into the environment. Of course, the opposite can also be true: the more you advance and the more kilometers you cover, the more effective the camouflage becomes.

How Camouflage Works

  • The basic principles of visual camouflage are:
  • adaptation to the environment
  • Disturbing coloring
  • elimination of shadows
  • Diversion
  • self adornment
  • opposite shadow

When you look closely at military camouflage, the first thing you probably notice is the pattern. Camouflage patterns consist of different colors and shapes in different sizes. These serve as building blocks of camouflage.

Humans are programmed to perceive these building blocks, whether it’s a digital, pixelated, disruptive, universal, lizard, or other type of camouflage pattern. The underlying camouflage principles make use of this network in the human brain to achieve effective camouflage.

Also important is the fact that the range of visible light for humans is relatively short compared to the total wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. For humans, visible light lies in a narrow spectral range of around 0.4 to 0.7 microns. On one side of visible light is the invisible ultraviolet, and on the other side is the invisible infrared (the heat your body generates is thermal radiation, which is also invisible and is in the 10-micron range of the electromagnetic spectrum ).

How Camouflage Works

The Basics Of Camouflage

There are three basic elements of camouflage. If any of these are missing, the camouflage will not work as intended.

The three elements are: environmental mimicry, color mimicry, and signal interference between the eye and the brain.

Imitation Of The Surroundings

Suppose you are standing in front of a tree. To hide from an enemy, you could just go behind the tree. While this would prevent your enemy from spotting you, the problem with this is that you hide behind a tree and thus lose the opportunity to observe the enemy.

On the other hand, it’s easiest to keep an eye on the enemy if you keep standing in front of the tree. However, you won’t be seen there as easily if the camouflage you’re wearing consists of variously sized and shaded shapes that from a distance look just like the bark, branches, and leaves of the tree. That’s what environment mimicking is all about: using two-dimensional geometric objects arranged in a specific pattern to mimic the three-dimensionality of the environment you’re in.

Color Imitation

It is not enough to imitate the shapes of the environment. The camouflage must also accurately represent the local colors. Even if the shapes perfectly mimic those of a tree, it doesn’t matter if the tree is a mixture of brown, green, and black, but the dominant camouflage color is light brown. It is therefore important that the camouflage correctly reflects the colors of your area of ​​operation.

Signal Interference Between The Eye And The Brain

As the enemy’s eyes search for you, the images produced by these optical organs are sent to the brain, where they go through an interpretive process. Without camouflage, the enemy’s brain will easily recognize your distant outline or silhouette as that of a human rather than a tree. Conversely, with camouflage, your body cannot be recognized as easily because the brain cannot correctly interpret the information conveyed by the eyes. However, the disruption of eye-brain signals is most pronounced when environmental mimicry and color rendition are optimized.

The Basics Of Camouflage

Camouflage Methods

There are three main things you can do with cloaking: you can disappear from view, blend in with your surroundings, or appear like something you’re not.


There will be moments when you need to hide and not leave even a trace of your presence. To achieve this, you need to use as many camouflage materials as possible beyond what you wear as part of your uniform. An example of this would be digging a deep, wide hiding spot and then covering it with a lid made from grasses, leaves, and twigs you’ve collected from the immediate area.

To Adjust

If you camouflage yourself properly, you can appear as if you are part of the environment, just as many birds and animals do in their natural environment. Camouflage is especially useful when you’re tasked with observing the enemy from a fixed position (it’s much easier to camouflage when stationary).

To Deceive

Stealth can be used to trick the enemy into making fatal decisions. Let’s say you want to trap a small group of enemies by directing them away from the safe spot they’re headed for. For example, you could achieve this by dressing up a dozen tall bushes on the path ahead of the enemy squad as “scarecrows” (you would need to outfit those bushes with monochromatic uniforms and helmets that would be unmissable).

Opponents see the bushes from afar and mistakenly believe that if they move on they will have to fight a superior “force”. That might convince opponents to change direction to avoid the fight. Much to their chagrin, the path they take leads straight to your ambush, where you lie in wait for them. In this example, not only are you cloaked, but so is the environment to allow for deception.

Camouflage Methods

See Through Camouflage

When looking at a camouflage material, what you are actually seeing is the visible wavelengths of light, which are caught by your eye and interpreted by your brain. But camouflage is all about tricking your brain into misinterpreting the wavelength signals your eyes provide.

The evolution of camouflage has advanced obfuscation to the point where the brain can misinterpret the signals. In fact, they are so convincing that it became necessary to develop countermeasures in the form of technologies that can see through the camouflage.

These countermeasures are based on detecting non-visual wavelengths of light.

Invisible Light Waves

In the electromagnetic spectrum of non-visual light are (as mentioned above) the infrared wavelengths. Devices that can receive these wavelengths allow users to see in the dark. For example, if the enemy For example, using night vision goggles, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb when wearing traditional camouflage gear.

Another part of the spectrum (as briefly mentioned earlier) is the non-visible ultraviolet light. Sensors that detect ultraviolet rays ricocheting off a cloaked human body can compare them to the rays ricocheting off everything else in the immediate vicinity, creating an image of that body. This technology is especially effective when you’re standing in a field of freshly fallen snow or in the middle of white sand on a bright, sunny day.

Heat is another form of invisible light. It can also be used to see through camouflage. Thermal sensor technology, detects the temperature of objects and then creates images of them based on changes in the readings collected. For example, if the sensor observes a temperature area of ​​37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) that is about 170 centimeters high and 15 centimeters wide and surrounded by a second, much larger temperature area of ​​21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit), he creates an image that seems to show a grown man next to a group of trees.

And finally, there are radio wavelengths. They can be used to detect objects by bombarding them with emitted signals. That’s how radar works. You direct a radio wave, it hits an object in its path, the wave bounces off that object and returns to the source of transmission, where sophisticated equipment evaluates the properties of the returned wave and provides an interpretation. Today’s radar technology can tell whether the object is human or machine.

Invisible Light Waves

No Place To Hide?

Technologies that can see through your stealth, while impressive, can be defeated to a degree. Unfortunately, simply changing the camouflage pattern is not enough. To counter these techs, you must fight fire with fire (or rather, you must fight tech with better tech).

That’s why military scientists have worked hard to develop garments made from materials that minimize the release of body heat to thwart the enemy’s thermal sensors.

In addition, military scientists are working to put into practice a range of devices to conceal troops and vehicles from infrared and radar detection.

The icing on the cake is the intelligent camouflage. These are clothing equipped with microprocessors that allow the camouflage pattern you start the mission with to transform into a different pattern as you move from one environment to the next. The trick is that the pattern changes automatically when sensors are attached to clothing.

No Place To Hide?

Non-visual Camouflage Methods

The principle of “adapting to the environment” is similar to that of the visual spectrum. However, here the detection methods use another specialized device.

Covering Of The Near-infrared Spectrum

We are often asked if the camouflage patterns we offer are “NIR”. A simple “yes” or “no” seems to be the answer to this question. But if you dig a little deeper and examine the question more closely, you’ll discover more than meets the eye (pun intended).

In addition to the visible red range of the electromagnetic spectrum lies the infrared wave range (0.75 to 1.0 micron). The part of the infrared range that is closest to the visible red range is called the near infrared (NIR). In layman’s terms, the NIR is a low energy electromagnetic wave. You can’t see it, but the detection technology can.

Camouflage patterns do not affect the ability of a NIR detector to detect camouflage material. This is because the detector does not see the properties of the material, but rather the NIR signal emitted by the fabric’s coatings and/or dyes (this is discussed in HyperStealth’s excellent paper on the Phase VI baseline patterns of the United States occupied).

Night vision optics can achieve very different results using the same visual pattern (MARPAT).

Military equipment can only have good NIR performance if it emits less light in the near-infrared spectrum.

Covering Of The Near-infrared Spectrum

Radar Coverage

The term radar does not only include vehicle and aircraft tracking or aerial reconnaissance. Because people on the ground can be identified and tracked just as well.

Therefore, with the advent of the modern battlefield in the 20th century and the introduction of MSTAR man-portable radars, it became imperative that the fabrics used for military camouflage be capable of preventing the detection of troops by radio waves.

In 2007, Milliken and Co. issued a patent called “Radar Camouflage”. The patent application describes the new material as combining a base layer with a conductive layer to significantly reduce the risk of detection by microwave sensors (particularly those that emit microwaves in the same frequency band used by long-range radar systems). The patent was approved in 2011.

Radar Coverage

Thermal Coverage

Arguably the pinnacle of camouflage technology is thermal imaging concealment.

Let’s do a thought experiment to illustrate how different thermal obfuscation is compared to these other technologies. Let’s say you have a buddy who wants to explain to you why all brands other than UF PRO military camo pants are the best out there. Also, assume you’re trying to hide from him because you know how ridiculous that sounds because UF PRO pants are obviously the best. You hide in total darkness but make the mistake of wearing a bright white shirt. This shirt is instantly recognizable when even the slightest light shines on it. So you lie down on the floor and cover yourself with a dark fleece fabric. This should make it difficult for your buddy to recognize your white shirt – and he won’t be able to give you his completely wrong opinion about pants from UF PRO.

But your buddy doesn’t give up easily. So he equips himself with a special camera with which he can immediately recognize everything that is white within a radius of 100 meters. Now your buddy will track you down in no time. Unfortunately for you, you only own one shirt, and it happens to be white.

The same concept applies to thermal imaging. You’re visible to thermal imaging devices because your body naturally emits heat (which is actually a wavelength of light). The only way you wouldn’t be visible to a thermal imaging camera would be if you could drop your body temperature to zero (warning: you can’t).

Could it be that technology will soon offer a way to hide your body’s heat and prevent detection by thermal imaging devices? The following video gives you a little insight into the future.


Modern military clothing, with the exception of full body uniforms, is commonly provided with a camouflage pattern and camouflage color(s) appropriate to the environment in which the wearer operates.

As we have established, the choice of camouflage colors and camouflage patterns for the different types of camouflage material is never random these days. Rather, it is done quite consciously and is guided exclusively by science.

And because it is shaped by science, the field of camouflage clothing is imbued with constant innovation. This pursuit of state-of-the-art technology is so important because technology is increasingly able to penetrate conventional camouflage apparel and camouflage design must keep pace. will it? We think the answer is yes.

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