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Cramer's Camouflage Helps Troops Stay Stealthy

King Abdullah II of Jordan visits the Royal Military College in Guy Cramer's camouflage.
Yousef Allan
King Abdullah II of Jordan visits the Royal Military College in Guy Cramer's camouflage.

Military camouflage first appeared on battlefield during World War I. Over the years, the pattern of green and brown swirls and patches has evolved to help make soldiers stealthier in combat, whether they're in a Vietnam jungle or an Iraqi desert.

But it hasn't always been well executed.

So when Guy Cramer saw the new camouflage uniforms the Canadian army revealed in the late 1990s, he thought he could make them better.


"The first time I looked at it," he tells NPR's Laura Sullivan, "I assumed they had taken a piece of graph paper and colored in a number of squares in four different colors."

Outraged at the simple design's cost — which fell to Canadian taxpayers — he says he decided to come up with something better. "Within a couple of hours and a $100 graphics program, [I] had improved on what they'd done."

He posted his redesign online to bolster his case for government overspending and a few months later, it caught the eye of the King of Jordan. Cramer now designs uniforms for troops in a dozen countries through his camouflage design company, HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp.

The Slovakian Mig 29 wears HyperStealth's Digital Thunder pattern.
Courtesy of HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp.
The Slovakian Mig 29 wears HyperStealth's Digital Thunder pattern.


Interview Highlights

On how he came up with his designs

"I had read that fractals — which are repeating geometric shapes found in nature — would be the ultimate camouflage to put into a camouflage pattern. These are patterns that your brain and subconscious identify, catalog. And then the next time you go into that environment, it ignores all these typical shapes that it sees in the background.

"And so if you can incorporate those shapes in that environment, you're going to have the adversary glance over your particular camouflage over one of the previous existing camouflages. And so I was able to actually create algorithms within the program. So the programs that we use are very specialized with our company that'll bring in these fractals. And we've now got, I think, 13 different algorithms that we can factor into any particular pattern to come up with a better pattern over what we had previously done."

On what the U.S. Army has, and is looking for

"We have put in a bid and the Army is currently testing it. There's not a lot I can say about it because it is a current solicitation out there. But I can tell you the background of what the Army has put out there. They're looking for three separate patterns: one is woodland jungle, one is transitional and one is desert arid. So the transitional was an in-between pattern. And then they've asked for a fourth pattern which would be for their gear, which is typically made on more expensive material.

"And they want that particular gear pattern to be able to work on all three other patterns. And that comes down to cost effectiveness. This is something that they have looked at their current camouflage with the U.S. Army. They have found it lacking in its ability to effectively conceal the soldier in the current and expected areas where the Army may be fielded in the future. And it — the current one that the U.S. Army is using is not even under consideration for this new program that the Army has in place."

On his design philosophy

"My grandfather had actually told me through the years of me working with him, if you're looking for a solution, don't look for the multi-million dollar technology to come out of a university. Quite often, you can do the hybrid approach and come up — meld something that you've come up with with something that's already out there to meet the requirement."

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