Isoluminance is our word for the day. Don't know what that means? Don't feel bad; neither does anyone running the armed forces of nations around the world. Can we blame the fall of Afghanistan on bad camo? No, but the old camouflage uniforms used by the United States during the height of the "War on Terror" years suck all the same. The price tag is bad enough; however, the fact that men and women potentially lost their lives because of shoddy camo should be an outrage. It isn't. For whatever reason, everyone (not in the military) still seems to love it. Within a few short years, it had become the fashion du jour for patriotic Americans, millions achieving an erection every time they saw the iconic earth-tone, blocky motif.

Cplbeaudoin/Wiki Commons

Only good if your battlefield is on an Atari in 1981.

Don't let the fancy name Universal Camouflage Pattern fool you; this stuff was crap. The most popular design, the one used in Iraq, for example, was heavy on grays, omitting the color black. Hindsight shows it was doomed from the start. The shortcomings were overlooked in order to gain a distinctive, cool-looking new uni. Today it simply looks dated. Five billion dollars on research and development and the futuristic design is now relegated to future hideously-dressed Iraq War reenactors. Nothing quite screams bad 2000s fad like digital camo. The designers were thinking sci-fi cloaking device ... they developed something more akin to a compression artifact in a JPEG your grandma emailed you in 2006.

LikakiPhotos/Wiki Commons

"Now, how do I download more RAM, sweetheart?"

Dreamed up by Canadians in front of computer terminals who apparently have never stepped outside of hermetically sealed bomb shelters in their entire lives, the core concept was based on an erroneous understanding of how the eye perceived patterns over distance. It was cleverly designed to not specifically fit into any single environment more than another, making it a reasonable choice for one-size-fits-all military training gear, therefore fulfilling the "universal" part of the Universal Camouflage Pattern moniker. 

The United States Army and other branches jumped on the bandwagon, eagerly snapping up the proprietary uniform patterns around 2004, about a year after the launch of the US-led assault on Saddam Hussein. The US Navy adopted blue digital camo, and the US Marines had their own color scheme too. For the next decade, every human on Earth would see this five-billion-dollar pattern on their nightly news broadcasts, on the road, not to mention gaming gear, gimp masks, and sports uniforms. Other countries and even sports teams blindly followed suit and copied the gimmick, thinking it to be the stealth bomber of military kit, in theory, capable of rendering wearers invisible like they were the Predator stalking Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Johnmaxmena2/Wiki Commons

To the disappointment of baseball fans everywhere, the San Diego Padres did not disappear out of view.

Though intriguing in appearance, it didn't fulfill the second word of the abbreviation UCP. Besides the obvious fact that pixels do not occur in nature, it failed at its one job. While blending in equally well in woodland, desert, or urban terrain, the pixel pattern did not blend in well in any one environment to any great degree, whether it was Mosul or downtown San Diego. That's to say, it sucked everywhere you went. It did not break up the wearer's silhouette against backgrounds nor flatten their more prominent features, and an insurgent spotting your butt at 20 yards is the last thing any grunt wants. Instead of concealing the contours of the human body, it made them stand out. Unless you were camouflaging yourself in a first-person shooter video game in 1998, wrapping yourself in gray pixels was useless. All the UCP project proved is that there is no such thing as universally appropriate camouflage.

Call it style over function, marketing over common sense, the military-industrial complex run amok, or sartorial malpractice, just don't call it effective. In 2014, the US Army announced that they were dumping the digital look for a simpler, more effective camo they had been sitting on since 2002. The new pattern of the US military as of 2014, Scorpion, even has a cooler name. UCP had, by all metrics, failed miserably. Though it had acquired a positive reputation among civvies, it was less well-received by those forced to wear it day in and day out and were painfully aware of its strategic vulnerabilities. As one member of the US Army memorialized, "This uniform is so trash, Helen Keller could see you coming from 100 meters away." The supposed future of covert military gear is now bargain-bin rejects in army surplus stores. 

Cast aside by underpaid military personnel under the blistering sun of Iraq, the digital camo is now left to patriotic housewives and office drones playacting as Rambo at the paintball range. Take solace that the shoddy pattern will function more successfully at your Pilates session or local strip club than it ever did on Mesopotamian battlefields. Because there are some very real, desperate times when you absolutely need people to spot your ass at 20 yards.

Rothco

“No hiding that silhouette.”

Top Image: Freddie.rios/Wiki Commons

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