One of the more interesting camouflage patterns developed by the US Military is the Night Desert camo pattern. It stands out for its unique grid design, which looks nothing the classic camo patterns used by the military. In fact, it doesn’t really look like camo at all. And even though it was designed for desert use, it definitely doesn’t look like anything that would blend into the colors and terrain of a desert environment.
So what is the story behind this unique pattern?
In 1967, the Army came up with the idea to develop a means to avoid detection from Soviet NVD’s (night vision devices), and in 1982 began issuing a new type of camouflage, known as Night Desert. Since the images picked up by night vision instruments appeared grid-like, the idea was to design clothing with a grid-like pattern to render it invisible to the Soviet night vision optics.
The camo was issued in the form of pants and a parka, designed to be worn at nighttime over the standard 6-color desert camouflage pattern. Not only did this ostensibly provide cover from night vision, it also gave the soldiers some extra insulation against the chilly desert night temperatures.
But it was not until the Gulf War in 1990 that Night Desert camo actually was put to widespread use. Night Desert was used in the army, and by Special Forces, in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The soldiers liked the uniform, as it was roomy and warm.
However, there was just one problem: it didn’t work. Although it was designed to render the wearer invisible to NVD’s, as we said, by the 1990’s night vision technology had advanced to the point where the grid pattern didn’t help to avoid detection. If anything, the wearer was more easily detected in them than in standard desert camo, as some experiments showed.
By the mid 90’s, Night Desert was discontinued by the military, although its popularity didn’t seem to suffer. Private companies manufactured gear in Night Desert, including BDU jackets, boonie hats, and GORE-TEX suits. One version, a reversible jacket with Night Desert on one side and 3-Color Desert on the other side, was even bought and used by Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pattern began to catch on in fashion as well, due to its unusual, “cool” look.
Nowadays, there is no special camouflage pattern for nighttime, instead uniforms use infrared reflective technology to avoid night vision detection.
But Night Desert still looks cool.