By Christopher Moloney, OutFront producer
The U.S. Army needs new camouflage.
The current design – based on a 1996 Canadian pattern called CADPAT – was re-colored and renamed UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) by the U.S. Army in 2004.
But there was nothing universal about it.
When the Army issued the pattern it used three very different colors to attempt to achieve one color scheme suitable for all environments.
Unfortunately, the color choices actually compromised each environment and the pattern was ineffective in most of them.
This prompted the U.S. government to ask designers to submit bid patterns for each of the three environments (woodland/jungle, arid/desert and transitional), for the field trials this summer, with the winner expected to be announced in October.
The four finalists include a submission from a partnership between ADS Inc. and HyperStealth, a Canadian company.
During their own tests, the two companies found their submission – called US4CES (pronounced U.S. forces) – outperformed the current U.S. Navy Ground Troop pattern by nearly 20% and the MultiCam pattern (used by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan) by almost 27%.
ADS Inc. and HyperStealth first teamed up in September 2007 when they submitted a bid for the Afghanistan National Army pattern. The contract was being handled by the U.S. government, which required the material be printed within the United States for reasons of security and to employ Americans.
So it made sense for HyperStealth, the designer, to team up with an American company for production.
But who is HyperStealth?
It turns out its just one guy.
Guy Cramer, arguably the best camouflage designer in the world, says he was inspired to start designing camouflage for his own personal use.
"I used to play paintball for the top team in Canada," Cramer told OutFront. "We placed third in the World Championships, and if you've ever played paintball, you'll know those balls hurt when they hit. The better the camouflage, the less pain you have to endure, as the other team can't hit what they can't see."
Cramer, whose grandfather is credited with inventing the Walkie-Talkie, kept up with innovations in camouflage. When the Canadian military began to showcase CADPAT in 2002, he was surprised it "looked so basic."
Using lessons he learned from his grandfather, Cramer created an improved CADPAT pattern in a couple of hours using a $100 graphics program. He posted his results on the internet, and it attracted the attention of the world's leaders.
"In 2003, I was called by the military office for King Abdullah II of Jordan," Cramer says. "The king saw the site with the improved camouflage and wanted to commission me to develop a pattern for his Royal Guard."
The king liked the pattern so much he had Cramer develop different color schemes for all of Jordan's military, security and civil defense forces, which they issued in 2004.
Since then he has produced increasingly advanced patterns for more than 40 countries, and the process continues to evolve.
"When I produce something for a military I must be confident that I am providing them an actual advantage and not just a fashion statement,” he says. “I don't look at natural camouflage as something to mimic. This is how camouflage was done by artists in the past. Biology has a limited response; it may be a good starting point but should not be the determining factor. While many people assumed pixilated camouflage was a fad or a trend, I was involved in research that concluded otherwise. The artificial look at 5 feet is not to be assumed at a tactical distance of 30-70 yards."
Cramer uses similar techniques when creating camouflage for the Optifade hunting line developed for W.L.Gore (GoreTex) based on the science of how animals see.
"Gore brought in Dr. Jay Neitz, an animal vision expert," Cramer says. "Together we were able to determine what the different types of animals saw before we found the ones that worked the best."
And what does Cramer see for the future in camouflage?
"I caused a bit of a panic with the U.S. military when I showed the video of Smartcamo uniform changing color to match two different camouflage patterns in the background at a camouflage symposium in Brussels in 2010,” he says. “A representative from the U.S. Army asked me not to show that video again, as I had solved a problem the U.S. military had not yet overcome. I was unaware that Smartcamo was that advanced, but I already had something better coming down the pipe."
That something better could be Quantum Stealth, a material that renders the target completely invisible by bending light waves around it, even removing its shadow entirely.
In the past five months, Cramer has shown members of the U.S. and Canadian military the actual material so they could verify he wasn't just manipulating the video or photo results.
Cramer says no country outside of Canada, the United States and Britain will have access to Quantum Stealth until it is disclosed how it works. But what if an enemy nation approached HyperStealth about acquiring one of these Harry Potter-type invisibility cloaks one day?
"I have to turn down countries that are on the Table of Deny list for Canada. We also adhere to the American State Department table, even though as a Canadian company we are not required to. That is not to say that a country we provide a pattern to now doesn't have the potential down the road to commit violations."