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Saturday, February 24, 2001

Marines' followed Canadians' example
in use of digitally-designed 'cammies'

By Sandra Jontz
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — They might be the few and the proud, but the U.S. Marine Corps isn’t alone in its trailblazing effort to make a distinctively flashy fashion statement.

The Canadian army was there first.

The Marine Corps just started field-testing the computer-generated, digitally dappled "cammies," or camouflage uniforms, while the Canadian forces began field-testing them in 1995.

In fact, the Canadian army has been researching the feasibility of digitally designed uniforms and collecting data since 1988, said Canadian Lt. Col. Jacques Levesque, project manager for the Clothe solider program.

"We’re at the leading edge of this," he said.

Both the Corps’ pixilated uniform and the "new Canadian disruptive pattern," or CADPAT, are designed to blend better with surroundings, while standing out among other services’ uniforms.

"This is working out very well," Levesque said. "In the past, the armies of the world have always been about fashion statements, among other things."

Canadian research proves the pixilated uniforms hide soldiers better, he said. For example, between two soldiers standing side-by-side, one clad in the digitally designed uniform and the other in the traditional battle dress uniform, there is a 40 percent less chance of being detected from 200 meters away in the improved version, he said.

And there’s an entire science behind the production of the uniforms. Different fabrics absorb dyes differently, and the Canadian army has spent five years working with companies to perfect the mix to render the best pattern.

"It’s like cooking a soup," Levesque said. "You add a little of this and a little more of that and cook it for different lengths of time."

The Canadian government holds the copyright to the digital pattern and the Danish company DADCON owns the algorithms and digital analysis that make up the patterns.

Canadian officials shared some of its information and manufacturers with the Marine Corps, but the Canadian design cannot be duplicated because of copyright laws.

The Marine Corps solicited bids from vendors and received more than 100 submissions, Marine spokesman Capt. Pete Mitchell said.

Army Research Labs in Natick, Mass., created the design prototype and American Power Source of Massachusetts was awarded the contract to manufacture 340 uniforms the Corps is using in field tests, said Carlos Patricio, production manager for American Power Source in Fall River.

The company experienced "a certain level of difficulty" in producing the uniforms because of the complexity of the design, but managed it, he said.

American Power Source anticipates being one of several companies to bid for future business, he added.

He could not elaborate on the company’s role because of a confidentiality agreement signed with the Marine Corps, he said.

Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones wanted his service to find new uniforms that would stand out when compared with those worn by the Army, Navy or Air Force. Yet, the uniforms also had to fulfill its original intent of camouflaging a Marine in combat.

The techno guise serves both purposes, Mitchell said.

The U.S. and Canadian uniforms are similar, but nowhere near the same, Mitchell said.

"[The vendor] presented us something unique and interesting and what they presented to us was modified and matriculated over time to what it has become," Mitchell said. "We are enlarging the pattern and instituting a unique color scheme. The end result is something unique to the Marines."

By mid- to late summer, the Corps plans to issue the new uniforms, costing $45 to $50 apiece, to recruits and Marines entering Officer Candidate School. Right now, Marines in Okinawa, Japan, and Camp Pendleton, Calif., are field-testing the woodland green uniforms, and those at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., have the brown desert ones.

Marines at the scout sniper school along with camouflage laboratory technicians, others with camouflage expertise and roughly 36,000 people who responded to an online survey helped develop the pixilated pattern, Mitchell said.


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