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Multi-scale Camouflage
- May 17, 2018 -

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Multi-scale camouflage is a type of military camouflage combining patterns at two or more scales, often (though not necessarily) with a digital camouflage pattern created with computer assistance. The function is to provide camouflage over a range of distances, or equivalently over a range of scales (scale-invariant camouflage), in the manner of fractals, so some approaches are called fractal camouflage. Not all multiscale patterns are composed of rectangular pixels, even if they were designed using a computer. Further, not all pixellated patterns work at different scales, so being pixellated or digital does not of itself guarantee improved performance.

The first issued pattern was the Italian telo mimetico, which was on a single scale. The root of the modern multi-scale camouflage patterns can be traced back to 1930s experiments in Europe for the German and Soviet armies. This was followed by Canadian development of Canadian Disruptive Pattern (CADPAT), first issued in 2002, and then with US work which created Marine pattern (MARPAT), launched between 2002 and 2004.

Scale invariance

The scale of camouflage patterns is related to their function. Large structures need larger patterns than individual soldiers to disrupt their shape. At the same time, large patterns are more effective from afar, while small scale patterns work better up close.Traditional single scale patterns work well in their optimal range from the observer, but an observer at other distances will not see the pattern optimally. Nature itself is very often fractal, where plants and rock formations exhibit similar patterns across several magnitudes of scale. The idea behind multi-scale patterns is both to mimic the self-similarity of nature, and also to offer scale invariant or so-called fractal camouflage that works at close range as well as at traditional combat range.

flounder's disruptive and active camouflage

Animals such as the flounder have the ability to adapt their camouflage patterns to suit the background, and they do so extremely effectively, selecting patterns that match the spatial scales of the current background.

Design trade-offs

Operational Camouflage Pattern, a disruptive but non-pixellated pattern, replacing the Universal Camouflage Pattern from 2015

When a pattern is called digital, this most often means that it is visibly composed of computer-generated pixels.The term is sometimes also used of computer generated patterns like the non-pixellated Multicamand the Italian fractal Vegetato pattern. Neither pixellation nor digitization contribute to the camouflaging effect. The pixellated style, however, simplifies design and eases printing on fabric, compared to traditional patterns. While digital patterns are becoming widespread, critics maintain that the pixellated look is a question of fashion rather than function.

The design process involves trading-off different factors, including colour, contrast and overall disruptive effect. A failure to consider all elements of pattern design tends to result in poor results. The US Army's Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), for example, adopted after limited testing in 2003–4, performed poorly because of low pattern contrast ("isoluminance"—beyond very close range, the design looks like a field of solid light grey, failing to disrupt an object's outlines) and arbitrary colour selection, neither of which could be saved by quantizing (digitizing) the pattern geometry. The design was replaced from 2015 with Operational Camouflage Pattern, a non-pixellated pattern.

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