Here's why some militaries have strange pixelated camouflage

Plate United States Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniforms 2003Marine CorpsAn illustration shows Marines in Woodland and Dessert themed MARPAT camouflage.

Over the last two decades or so, armed forces around the world have abandoned their camouflage patterns in favour of a more pixelated, machine engineered camo, similar to the blocky graphics in the popular online game “Minecraft.”

And while it may seem counterintuitive, the digital print look of the pixelated camos are actually notably more effective than earlier designs that sought to mimic nature.

According to retired US Army Lieutenant Timonthy R. O’Neill, large blotchy patterns work best for long distances and small patterns work best up close.

Pixelated patterns marry the two ideas together.

As the BBC notes, “close up, the small patches mimic natural patterns on the scale of leaves on a tree, but from farther away, the clusters of squares create a macro texture that blends with branches, trees and shadows.”

“Well when I looked at the data I think my observation was something on the order of ‘holy crap’,” recalled O’Neill to the BBC.

Here’s an example of how pixelated camos work in the environment below:

Soldiers wearing the Marine pattern camo (MARPAT) took 2.5 seconds to detect while soldiers wearing monocolor or the large, blotchy NATO camo could be detected in just about one second.

In an armed conflict where the enemy is within visual range, these seconds make all the difference in the world.

However, some pixelated camos have not been as successful.

The US Army’s overly ambitious rollout of a pixelated camo (ARPAT) proved too cookie-cutter of a solution to the various theatres of war US Army soldiers find themselves in.

The UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) adopted by the army in Afghanistan proved a huge mistake, as its lack of brown hues made soldiers starkly stand out in the mostly dessert backgrounds.

US ArmyFlickr/ The US ArmySoldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, work as a six member team to lift a heavy log over their heads 20 times while competing in the Ivy Heptathlon during Iron Horse Week, Jan. 28, 2015. Teams executed seven events in accordance with Army Regulation 7-22 in the fastest time possible. (U.S. Army photo)

Testing has proven time and time again that pixelated camos, as long as they use appropriate colours, are winners.

This lesson was perhaps lost on the Chinese, who unveiled a shocking maritime camo scheme on a variety of armoured vehicles and missile batteries in their September 3, 2015 military parade.

The blue pixelated camo makes little sense for land combat vehicles, even an amphibious vehicle would lose its need for a bright blue camo scheme as soon as it left the water.

Perhaps the Chinese chose the colour scheme to signal a rhetorical shift in the focus of their armed forces on naval strength.

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