The United States spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. You would think that could buy some camouflage that actually works. You be wrong, of course. The Week has the infuriating story of how stupidity, ego, and branch rivalry has garbed our troops in crappy uniforms. The different branches now all have their own camo pattern. It began in the early 2000’s with the Marine Corps. MARPAT digital uniforms:
What makes the Marines’ digital camouflage unique is also its greatest weakness for the military as a whole. MARPAT is patented, and the Corps has proven an aggressive defender of its intellectual property. While it makes sense for the Marine Corps to stop other countries from adopting such an effective camouflage, it does not make sense for the Marines to withhold permission from other branches of the U.S. military. In recent years, it has resisted efforts by the Army and Navy to derive uniforms from MARPAT and its colors. This is an intellectually indefensible position made entirely for purposes of marketing and recruiting.
The Air Force’s uniform decision came down to whether or not it looked cool. Seriously.
One would do well not to follow the Air Force. If the Army’s first effort at a new pattern was idiotic, the Air Force’s go was simply embarrassing. First off, the Air Force changed its uniform not because it had found a superior camouflage, but because its chief of staff wanted something that looked “distinctive.” (Which is, in fact, the opposite of camouflage.) So just as the United States was gearing up for war in Iraq, the Air Force selected a new tiger stripe pattern in blue and gray made of a material too hot for comfortable use in desert environments. Mercifully, the blue color scheme was later shouted down by the ranks for being “a little too distinctive.”
The tiger stripe pattern remained, but the colors were changed to those used in the ineffective Army universal camouflage pattern. (See the photos here.) Today, deployed airmen are issued MultiCam-patterned uniforms. In other words, seven years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Air Force settled on a color scheme that can be worn everywhere except Afghanistan.