There was a time when the military forces of different countries wore different colored uniforms. The British army, for instance, wore red uniforms. However, this all changed with the invention of camouflage and the realization that it was a powerful decoy tool to conceal oneself from the enemy and protect valuable equipment as well.
This article offers some interesting insights into how camouflage was invented and how is camouflage fabric made in current times.
How was camouflage invented?
Camouflage was first invented in France in 1914 by Lucien Victor Guirand de Scevola, an artist. A year later, the British adopted it as their uniform for the permanent army. The first British permanent army, established in 1645, was dressed in red uniforms initially. At that time, it was a norm for armies of different countries to have different colored uniforms. While the British were adorned in red, the French wore blue, and the Russians could be recognized due to their green-colored uniforms.
In the late 1800s, the British chose Khaki as their uniform as it was realized that dull and plain colored clothing did a better job at camouflaging than bright red. In 1915, during the First World War, the army adopted camouflage print as the uniform of choice to enable soldiers to blend in with their natural surroundings in a better way. Soon after the British, the Americans followed suit.
The popularity of camouflage fabric as a military uniform increased considerably when the US Forces carried out operations Desert Storm with the NATO Alliances in the Middle East in 1990. Today camouflage is the uniform of choice for most armed forces worldwide, including the land army, navy, paramilitary forces, and air force.
How is Camouflage fabric made?
When it comes to making camouflage fabric, the camouflage patterns or colors are usually dye-sublimated or screen printed on the fabric before it is stitched to form clothing or other items. The key to making a dyed fabric is to use dyes and pigments that are physically resistant and chemically inert when they are applied to a material. Since color permanence has been a key focus in the textile industry, making camouflage with colored blotches was accomplished successfully as well.
Besides the colors and patterns, the choice of material for making camouflage fabric was also a very important concern. Thanks to modern advancements, scientists, researchers, and engineers now have the capability to alter the properties of surfaces and substrates at the molecular level. This gives them the leverage to control specific characteristics of surfaces and materials. Another great area of research in this regard that has contributed greatly to the textile sector is related to the electrochromic characteristics for color modification via electrical stimulation.
One technique used for color change is mechanochromism, which works on the basis of the principles of sensing receptors. Certain compounds undergo a color change when stress is applied to them due to the mechanochromic system that is created via surface alteration of the conducting polymer.
Similarly, if there is a presence of a magnetic or electric field, certain high polarizable systems are subjected to color changes. For instance, if the color of the particular solution is red and a magnet is kept closer to it, we may observe color changing as the solution turns blue.
Other methods for color changes include bond breaking for readjustment of atoms, resulting in color alteration; changes in the oxidation state or changes in polarity or PH of the surface.
The Choice of material for camouflage fabric
Initially, camouflage fabric was produced primarily from heavy cotton twill, which is quite durable but becomes heavy when wet and is too hot to wear otherwise. To address this concern, camouflage fabric was then manufactured from synthetic fibers. However, the limitation of synthetic fiber is that it cannot absorb sweat, which was a drawback as troops often had to work outdoors under the hot sweltering sun.
Hence, an effective alternative was devised with a blend of cotton and synthetic fiber. This resulted in the production of a fabric that was strong yet lightweight. Currently, cotton and polyester blends are common for making camouflage fabric for military uniforms.
How does camouflage help?
Camouflage helps conceal individuals and equipment from the enemy. The fabric creates a unique impact on the individual or equipment by making them look as if they are part of the natural surroundings.
This helps the troops employ more effective offensive and defensive strategies and gives the upper hand over the adversaries during warfare. To achieve the concealing effect, the garment or fabric is dyed in patches of several colors so that the wearer can blend in with the colors of the surrounding environment and is unidentifiable.
Camouflage fabric has multiple applications and is used to produce uniforms for the armed forces. It is also used to protect artillery, boats, and planes and makes the equipment and armored vehicles inconspicuous. Over the years, the demand for the fabric has increased considerably, and the global annual demand for camouflage will surpass 350 million meters.