When the majority of people picture members of the U.S. Armed Forces, they will usually conjure an image of troops in a certain type of gray, brown, and green camouflage combat uniform. Though a common image today, this has not always been the standard associated with the U.S. military uniforms.

Prior to World War I, the U.S. military did not have any camouflage uniforms, but Top Brass quickly realized that some type of cloaking mechanism would be greatly beneficial. The French had devised camouflaging techniques during the first world war and the British were able to conceal trenches using camouflage as well, but the United States had yet to devise their own strategy.

It was at this point that the U.S. Navy built a team of camoufluers. These were established artists and art students assigned to the Women’s Camouflage Reserve Corps of the National League for Women’s Service, and these individuals began to design the base on which the U.S. military camouflage uniforms would be built on.

Originally, designs were created to reflect images of the battlefield and resembled what the military now considers ghillie suits. Although these beginning outfits were a far cry from the camo used today, they were starting point for camo research and development for years to come.

History of US mIlitary camouflage uniforms

U.S. Military Camouflage Changes Over the Years

The U.S. Army Combat Uniform (ACU) has become synonymous with U.S. army soldiers as well as the rest of the branches of the military. However, camo has not always had the look, patterns, and colors we now know and recognize immediately. The camouflage uniform throughout the years could vary based on the time, geographical location, surrounding environment, and much more, including such things as copyright infringement. Below is a general timeline of how camouflage uniforms have changed in the United States military over the years.

Pre World War I

Pre World War I Military Uniform


Prior to World War I, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines had no camouflage uniforms. They were wearing the then-standard issue uniform in every military operation. These standard issue uniforms were a light brown color that resembles un-dyed wool.

World War I

By WW1, camouflage uniform were far from standard, but some troops were outfitted with camouflage akin to modern-day ghillie suits. If the terrain was particularly rocky, the early camo suits would resemble the rock surfaces that soldiers would inevitably find themselves hiding behind or lying atop of rocks. For greener environments, the outfits would be covered in materials resembling the elements of the environment such as moss and leaves.

World war I camo suits World war I uniforms

World War II

In World War II, the camouflage uniform truly started to emerge. Certain army units were assigned the HBT camouflage. This was short lived though due to the uniforms looking too much like the German Waffen-SS uniforms and friendly fire becoming a major problem.

word war II camo pattern

In fact, by 1943, U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands began wearing reversible beach/jungle coveralls with totally new green-and-brown "frog" patterns, later known as "frog suits". This type of camouflage pattern included speckled and disruptive coloration, similar to a frog's skin. The Marine Corps soon adopted a two-piece uniform made of the same camouflage material and used that same material for a helmet cover during the Korean War.


Camouflage uniforms in a leaf-and-twig pattern (with a four-color combination) were created by the Army's Engineer Research and Development Laboratory and introduced. These had limited usage and underwhelming reviews, and they were quickly phased out.

In 1954, The Army Green Uniform came about as a result of a uniform improvement program and became the basis of the Army uniform and, at that time, was expected to remain until at least 2014.


By 1965, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other Special Forces in Vietnam started wearing unofficial camouflage uniforms. These locally produced uniforms were made with a camo pattern we know today as "Tigerstripe”.

This pattern was called "Tigerstripe" due to the resemblance the pattern bore to the stripes on actual tigers. The pattern consisted of narrow strips of green and brown which look like brush strokes from a painter's brush as well as broader brush strokes in black painted over a lighter shade of olive or khaki.

These brushstroke stripes interlock rather than overlap.

Eventually, the Tigerstripe pattern was replaced by the official ERDL (leaf pattern) pattern in American recon units. With that said, The Civilian Irregular Defense Group (advised by the Special Forces) continued to wear Tigerstripe uniforms from 1963 until it was disbanded in 1971.


The OG-107 was the standard uniform throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The OG-107 was one of the longest issued uniforms by the US Military. The use of this uniform began in 1952 and a poly-cotton blend (OG-507) was introduced in 1975. The name of this uniform came from the US Army's "Olive Green 107" and "Olive Green 507". Both of these were shades of a darker green (OG-107 made with cotton and OG-507 made with poly-cotton). The two shades are nearly identical, but differentiated by the material. The Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) replaced the OG-107 and OG-507 throughout the 1980s. These uniforms were also used by other countries, including countries the United States gave military aid.


In 1981, a new pattern came about known originally as the Six-Color Desert Pattern, but getting the name “Chocolate-Chip Camouflage” and “Cookie Dough Camouflage” because of the close resemblance to chocolate chip cookie dough. The base pattern is light tan with broad strokes of pale green and two different bands of brown. There are clumps of black and white spots laid over that to help blend in with pebbles and shadows.

The M81 Woodland Camouflage Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) was introduced for the entire military. The colors included brown, green, black, and sand, and uniforms in this pattern were utilized by certain units well into the 2000s. The Woodland design was utilized during Vietnam but went through certain changes to more appropriately represent the longer-range environments that the troops would be encountering in the new era.


In the early 1990s, the United States entered into a conflict known as the Persian Gulf War. Throughout this war, marines, army, air force, and navy soldiers all wore the six-color "chocolate chip" Cammie which has come to be associated with General Norman Schwartkopf, the man who led the campaign against Saddam Hussein.

In 1992 the Cammie was replaced by the tri-color Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). This uniform was similar to the Woodland, and when the BDUs were phased out, the DCUs were as well.

A nighttime version of the DCU was developed as well to reduce visibility by Soviet infrared cameras and night vision goggles during night missions. The nighttime version of the DCU quickly became obsolete due to night vision advancements and the pattern was terminated before it was ever widely used.

Nighttime version of the DCU

Early 2000’s

In 2004, the Army adopted a three-color Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), a digital camouflage design. The camouflage was designed to allow a soldier to perform their duties in any environment without the need for specialized camouflage clothing. Whether it is desert, urban, or woodland/jungle environments, the UCP was supposed to be a truly universal pattern. Unfortunately, this was mostly a failure in just about every environment and is known as a subpar replacement for the previous BDU.

In fact, during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the American Special Forces personnel operating there wore commercially available Desert Tiger Stripe camouflage instead of their UCP uniforms.

This camo design has horizontal stripes featuring dark brown, golden brown, and beige with a sand-colored background.

Multicam was tested during the 2001-2002 Army Combat Uniform trials and then used by personnel in the US Special Operations community. By 2010, Multicam became an official issued pattern from the United States Department of Defense. The pattern features pinkish-tan, earth brown, and light olive green sections with smaller areas of dark brown, sand, and moss green.

What Camouflage Pattern Does the Military Wear Now?

Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) is currently in use by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, the U.S. Space Force, and many special operations forces. This design consists of a muted green, beige, and dark browns. Overall, it has been well-received as a superior replacement for the old digital Universal Camo Pattern (UCP) design.

Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP)

Development of Scorpion W2 & Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP)

While U.S. troops were active in Afghanistan, it became abundantly clear that the Universal Camouflage Pattern was not providing adequate concealment.

In 2009, the original Multicam pattern, a proprietary pattern design by Crye Precision dating back to the early 200’s, was modified by the United States Army Natick Soldier Research and given the name Scorpion W2.

Several important distinctions exist that help differentiate the two patterns. One such distinction in design is the background color. The OCP base changes from light green to light brown in wide, horizontal bands. Secondly, there are actually eight colors incorporated into the OCP design with specific shades having been slightly changed to prevent any type of copyright infringement.

Finally, the original Multicam design utilizes vertical elements, but the OCP design has omitted those elements. Multicam is also a much more dense pattern than the OCP. These changes not only subverted the need to pay royalties to Crye for the use of the propriety pattern, but it also helped improve visual and near infrared performance.

In 2014, the Department of the Army announced the official retirement of the Universal Camouflage Pattern and were seeking to replace the design. They decided the Scorpion W2 pattern as the solution and was officially registered in 2014 with the new name of Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP).

Scorpion W2 OCP Left and Multicam Right from SoldierSystems

The Transition To Operational Camo Pattern (OCP)

In early April 2015, Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno revealed that OCP uniforms were beginning to be issued to deployed soldiers going to Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, and the Horn of Africa. The OCP ACU became available for soldiers to purchase starting 1 July 2015.

Army OCP Uniforms

On 1 July 2015, the official rollout of the Army OCP uniform began, and U.S. Army soldiers could purchase them at 20 locations throughout the United States and South Korea. Even more locations were able to sell them later in 2015. Soldiers who were going to be deployed on missions obviously received their uniforms prior to their deployment, which may have preceded these rollout dates.

The t-shirt and belt worn with the OCP have used the color Coyote 498 rather than Tan 499, as in previous generations. Soldiers could still wear the previous uniforms' t-shirts, belts, and combat boots until October 2019. Likewise, the body armor, packs, and molle pouches of the previous UCP and Multicam patterns would continue to be worn until their replacements have been developed and deployed.

Air Force OCP Uniforms

A transition for the Air Force to the new OCP was announced on 14 May 2018. Beginning October 1 of that same year, members of the Air Force were authorized to wear the new OCP. Additionally, recruits from basic training, cadets in Air force Reserve Officer Training Corps, and those in Officer Training School were issued the new OCP starting on 1 October 2019.

new OCP

After that, the Air Force announced that all airmen would need to officially switch to the ACU uniform in OCP camo pattern by 1 April 2021. One difference the USAF makes concerning the OCP uniform compared to the Army is that brown thread is used for name tapes and rank insignia, and there is also a subdued-color flag patch present on the uniform at all times rather than only when on deployment.

U.S. Space Force Uniforms

The U.S. Space Force, the newest branch of the United States military, has also adopted the OCP ACU as their combat uniform. The only difference between this uniform and the aforementioned configurations is that the USSF version includes navy blue thread for the ranks and name tapes rather than the brown.

US Space uniform


Today’s Army Combat Uniform and Air Force OCP Uniforms are widely known and instantly recognizable. Camo and the usual colors associated with the patterns can generally be described with little to no problem. However, the majority of the public is unaware of the many iterations that the U.S. military's camouflage uniforms have gone through over the course of a century.

The slight differences and variations in colors or patterns make each version unique to its time, and interesting in their own way.

As the years roll on, military uniforms and equipment will continue to develop and enhance. Technology will continue to push forward and the U.S. Armed Forces will continue to adapt and overcome - as they always have.