Camouflage Patterns of the South Korean Armed Forces
The first camouflage pattern produced by South Korea was patterned after the US M1942 spot pattern of the Second World War. Introduced during the 1960s, variations of this design were worn by the ROKA Special Forces and ROK Marines during the Vietnam War. By the mid-1970s, both units had replaced the pattern, but it would continue to see usage through the 1990s by military programs in public high schools. Early South Korean duck hunter camouflage incoporated five colors and was printed on HBT cotton fabric. Unlike the original US design, the early Korean versions were not reversible, but were printed using a variety of different colors, thus producing several variations.
Late pattern duck hunter pattern camouflage is very similar to that produced during the Vietnam War. In some cases, the only way to differentiate is to date the uniforms by the styling or type of markings and/or insignia. Although worn for a few years following the Vietnam War by ROKA Special Forces and ROK Marines, new patterns would replace the spot pattern for both units by the mid-1970s, meaning most uniforms produced after this would have ended up being worn by military cadets or Reserve Forces.
The ROK Army Special Forces were issued with a new camouflage pattern during the late-1960s. Consisting of black, reddish-brown, olive green & grass green shapes (in various shades) on a pale green background, the pattern has earned several nicknames by collectors and historians, including "swirl," "noodle," and "waves" pattern. Worn strictly by the Special Forces of South Korea until the late 1980s, fabric and uniforms in the same pattern were exported to Ethiopia, Guatemala and Peru. Several variations exist.
The ROK Marine Corps also replaced the earlier "duck hunter spot" pattern in the mid-1970s with their own design. Nicknamed variously as "leopard," "jigsaw" and "puzzle" pattern, the design consists of black, dark olive green & medium olive green shapes on a pale green background. This design was short-lived, and would be replaced with a different camouflage by 1980.
Circa 1980, the ROK Marines Corps adopted another camouflage pattern of their own. Nicknamed "turtle shell," "eggshell" or "geometric" pattern, the design would be worn until 1991 when all the ROK Armed Forces were converted to a single type of camouflage.
Also around 1980 the ROK Navy began issuing its own camouflage pattern to selected personnel. Essentially a copy of the m1948 ERDL pattern using a slightly different colorway, the uniforms were primarily worn by UDT/SEALs and other Navy special operations personnel.
In the early to mid-1980s, several variations of the US m81 woodland camouflage pattern began to emerge in South Korea, primarily among special units of the ROK Army, such as airborne, reconnaissance, and some members of the Special Warfare Command. Some of the designs appear to be mutated versions of the m81 woodland, with the drawings either stretched out or reduced in size by 25-40%. Additionally, a variety of colorways have been encountered. It is possible none of these patterns were ever officially approved, but instead procured in limited quantities for wear during training and or unit ceremonies or parades. Illustrated below are several of these patterns, but many more exist. The last pattern (below, right) was taken from a Marine Corps uniform, and may be an attempt at producing a type of desert pattern.
By 1990, most of the South Korean Armed Forces (including elite units) had adopted a universal camouflage pattern based on woodland designs. Although similar to the US m81 woodland pattern, the drawings are significantly different in size and shape. The pattern has been in general service with the South Korean armed forces since 1992, and has been printed on both poplin and (more recently) ripstop cotton blend fabrics.
The first desert camouflage pattern used by the ROK Armed Forces was locally-produced copy of the US six-colour pattern. Uniforms in this pattern were issued to military personnel serving in the Persian Gulf War, UN contingents, and the first South Korean troops deployed to Afghanistan in 2001.
In 2004, South Korea introduced its own desert camouflage pattern, essentially a copy of the ROK Woodland pattern using a different colorway. This design was first issued to troops sent to Afghanistan in 2003.
In 2006, the ROK Special Warfare Command began wearing a new pixelated camouflage design similar to the USMC MARPAT camouflage. The pattern incorporates black, medium green and khaki shapes on a light brown background.
In 2010, the South Korean Armed Forces adopted a new pixelated camouflauge pattern, reputedly termed "Granite B." The pattern is in use by all personnel of the ROK Army, Navy (although not the Marines) and Air Force, and incorporates black, dark olive green, sea green, medium brown and khaki shades.
Also in 2010 the South Korean Marine Corps (ROK MC) adopted its own digital "tiger stripe" style camouflage pattern. This design incorporates black, olive green, sand and light tan colors, as well as a small ROKMC logo embedded into the pattern.
First observed in 2016, a pixelated desert camouflage pattern has been issued to members of the South Korean Special Warfare Command (ROK SWC).
Korean Army personnel augmenting the Eighth US Army are known as KATUSA (Korean Army Augmentation to the US Army) or 대한민국 육군 카투사. These personnel wear US uniforms with Korean insignia (as well as US sleeve insignia from the unit to which they are assigned). KATUSA personnel have worn UCP into the present area, although this is now gradually being replaced by the US Army Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP).
Multicam uniforms are being worn by ROK Navy SEAL/UDT units now. It is uncertain if this pattern has officially replaced the previously worn Leaf design, but this seems likely. As of 2017, Multicam is also being worn by KATUSA personnel.
Non-military Camouflage Patterns
Service in the armed forces plays a very important and significant role in South Korea, so much that from the 1970s to 1990s all South Korean high school students would receive military training as part of their curriculum. Different high school programs have issued a wild assortment of camouflage patterns to their students to wear during this training, some copies of traditional South Korean military patterns, but most completely unique and very colorful. Each school has its own insignia as well. Of these patterns, the most prolific seem to be variations of the duck hunter spot design originally developed in the 1960s.
A reversible version can be seen here.
Another extremely common pattern is composed of various shapes on a white, pale grey or pale green background. The most common of these have black shapes (often letters or numbers, but other shapes are common as well), but some have colored ones as well. Some sources suggest these were worn during military training classes in South Korean highschools.
An unusual spot pattern variation is seen here, with the shapes having jagged or irregular edges rather than the ordinary smooth ones.
Still another variation is seen here, using very bright colors and square-within-square shapes scattered throughout the design.
The tiger stripe pattern seen below is not a military pattern, but rather is issued to members of the South Korean National Forest Service.
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