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The US Armed Forces, Congress and The Great Camouflage Controversy – the extended remix

According to a story posted yesterday on SoldierSystems.net, the US Congress has now gone another step further in the ongoing conflagration over the camouflage uniforms worn by American soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors.

The 2010 Defense Authorization Bill (which is still undergoing review and revision by the defense committee) contains a section (Section 352) that would require the 3 services to standardise upon a common ground combat uniform.  The wording in Section 352 discusses the problems caused by everything from different uniform designs, to different camouflage patterns and even different types of fabric. Section 352 also points out the problems, and extra costs, that go along with replicating the different camouflage patterns across load-carrying gear and body armour as well.

Whether the lack of a common uniform really causes significantly decreased levels of interoperability of ground forces or increased levels of tactical risk, as Section 352 states, is a bit debatable.  But having all this different kit to do the same job certainly clogs up the supply system and creates inefficiencies and higher costs in the production and procurement channels as well.

The Chiefs of the different services might love having their own distinctive uniforms for “branding” purposes, but maybe they need to be reminded that the US Constitution – represented by the Stars-and-Stripes – is the only Brand they need to promote; so they’d better pull their heads out of their 4th points of contact and get on with doing the job by working together.

COMMON GROUND COMBAT UNIFORM

One way for Congress, and Defense Secretary Gates, to knock some heads together and put this to bed could be to mandate a fire-resistant, Common Ground Combat Uniform with a common camouflage pattern.  What would be wrong with Crye Precision’s Gen.II Combat Shirt and Combat Pants in MultiCam – which are already well-developed, available, and in the supply chain?  There’s no such thing as a truly “universal” camouflage pattern, but as a current, off-the-shelf-option, MultiCam is probably the best there is.Gen II Multicam CP Gen II MultiCam CP 3

Now, I suppose some brass hats might object to MultiCam on the grounds that its not a pixilated digital pattern like MARPAT and UCP – and thus wouldn’t “look” right.  In this case, perhaps UNICAM from Eberlestock becomes worthy of consideration.UNICAM

On the other hand, let’s not forget our old friend the Desert All-Over Brush Pattern, which actually won the US Army’s “Universal Camo for the Future Warrior” trials back in 2002-2004.  According to the Natick Soldier Center’s report from December 2004:  “Pattern Desert All Over Brush was identified and recommended as the best performing camouflage design for multiple environments for the Future Force Warrior Program. Desert All Over Brush’s performance demonstrated its effectiveness in a wide range of terrains. Though none of the four down-selected camouflage designs tested performed poorly in any one environment, neither did any perform optimally, due to the fact that they were designed to ‘blend’ universally across all terrains: Woodland, Urban, and Desert.”

File:Desert Brush Variant 3.jpg

However, it would of course take some time – and require additional spending – to get uniforms and gear in this pattern into the supply chain.  The same holds true for any other limited production / experimental camouflage patterns; such as Eberlestock’s UNICAM, Bulldog Equipment’s Mirage Camo, or MARPAT II, etc.

SPECIALISED GROUND COMBAT UNIFORMS

There will of course be areas of operation – such as open deserts and plains, forests and jungles, tundra and high altitude terrain, and urban environments – where a more optimised pattern would be better.  So, to provide a certain amount of ‘wiggle room’ for operational specialisation, the same basic Ground Combat Uniform design could be produced in Digi-Desert and Digi-Woodland (i.e., AOR1 and AOR2) for use in open desert and forest/jungle environments, and UCP for urban and rocky environments. 

And of course there is also the new USMC Snow Camo shell set that should be adopted as the standard for all brances of the US military.USMC-Snow-Camo

COMMON UTILITY UNIFORM

For garrison/utility duties where a camouflaged combat uniform is not required a Common Utility Uniform (like the Tru-Spec design below) could be be mandated, with service “branding” provided by the Army wearing an olive green version, the Marines a khaki/coyote brown version, the Air Force wearing a blue-grey version and the Navy wearing a dark blue version.

LINE_Shirt-Tact_LSLine_G2PolBDU

The advantages of this approach are several:

  • all branches of the military would share a common “US” identity and a simplified supply chain
  • common items, stock numbers and design specifications would generate significant efficiencies and cost-savings
  • the troops would finally have a proper combat uniform – optimised for the job it needs to do (not a bastardised, designed-by-commitee compromise like the BDU or ACU)
  • the common design platform of the utility / garrison uniform would also enhance a common “US” identity and simplify the supply chain – whilst the different colours for the different services would still provide a cost-effective option for visible “branding” and esprit de corps
  • MultiCam would seem to present the easiest, most cost-effective, and most accepted / proven option for an easy to adopt off-the-shelf solution for a common Ground Combat Uniform
  • and finally, retaining the AOR/UCP patterns for specialised use ensures a return on the energy and money spent on their development and production, and the fact that they’re also already in the supply chain helps to minimise disruption and ensure greater cost-effectiveness

Job done.

Strike-Hold!

P.S.  Eric from Soldier Systems has called my attention to a letter he wrote to Infantry magazine almost 15 years ago(!) that outlines a similar approach to having a seperate garrison duty and field/combat duty uniform.  Even when I was in the Army almost 23 years ago(!!) a lot of us thought that the BDU was a dumb design and that the Army should have kept the old OG107 fatigues (even as ugly as they were) for garrison duty, and provided a better designed uniform for field/combat duty.  When you consider how many REMFs and desk jockies there are in the military, it makes a whole lot of sense.

related posts:

US Congress and Camo Uniforms – more to the story

New US Army Combat Pants, Part 2

US Army Camo Uniforms – rumour control

Congress Tells US Army To Get New Camo – ASAP

US Soldiers Get New Army Combat Pants

US SOCOM News:  New Camo, New Rifle

 

10 Comments

  1. I am Enlisted Army, Combat support MP. First time I remember seeing the ACU was on a National Guard General on TV after Hurricane Katrina. I remember thinking “What on earth is that stupid thing he is wearing” And when I was in basic fighting in the woods on FTX on FLW. ACU blended into nothing. From my exposure to MARPAT, and Multicam in my hobby of Airsoft; I am not too impressed with either. I would take MARPAT over Multicam, but I would like to obtain the root digital camouflage which was not a rush to ‘update’ a uniform into a new style, but was in the making from 1988 – 1997.. That Camouflage is CADPAT. There are four different styles to CADPAT, as they realize it will not be universal, just aid in becoming part of the environment. I like many things about the Canadian Forces(CF) for one, they only have a single nametape with branch symbol before your last name, nice cloth rank slide, smaller flag on left shoulder and very great array of Pockets. The fabric is bretheable, if you hold it up to the light, you can almost see through it, but is very tough and durable. I have used issue CADPAT, and it is the finest uniform I have ever tested. I like the CF’s headgear of choice, a booniehat, as it breaks up the human shape more than a patrol cap can. I do not like the all the velcro on my current issue uniform, the fragility of it, or the color scheme, nor having unit patches and the service tag, Put crossed swords for Army, EGA for marines, eagle for Airforce, anchor for Navy as a symbol before the name. I am sure that little thing saves money and simplifies the uniform that much more. This is my take on it, we need one service uniform, as we should not work to individualize the branches, but ID us as one force, the United States Military, not competing fast food chains. As we are like a sports team, but the branches are different positions on it. They all wear the same uniform,

  2. figured i’d add this.video isnt the best but army ucp, multicam, and marpat are all in it.check it out kind of says it allhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOcsAN3ZqqY

  3. I think the obvious is that no one uniform can match all or even most terrains. Congress passing a bill without determining if one “universal” camo that can be effective or is even possible for all enviroments is careless and nieve. I understand the need to unify as helping different branchs to gain recognition of their own troops on the battle field and to make distribution easier…but one outfit for every terrain?…nutsI think the best option is MARPAT in both woodland and desert or the AOR1 & 2 would be effective enough.Desert camo is fairly easy…lots of tan. Woodland camo is trickier. Thats why the MARPAT or AOR2 make good choices. They just simply work. Especially the MARPAT.Last thing is, the MULTICAM SUCKS!!! in desert enviroments. there is too much brown and green that are not as common to the desert. Is it the worst? No. But do we have patterns that would work better in desert? yes.Make it easy. MARPAT woodland and desert, standardize it for all miltary, stop producing these failed attempts and “universal” camo and move onto more important things like GETTING THE TROOPS OUT OF DANGEROUOS PLACES THAT THEY CANNOT EFFECT OR HELP WHATS WORNG THERE ANYMORE.

  4. Travis (another stupid civie)

    September 18, 2009 at 12:25 AM

    What was wrong with our previous woodland and desert patterns in the first place (besides the fact that it wasn’t shiny and new, if you consider that to be “wrong” with it)? I mean… they worked… right?

  5. Gator – I hate to break the news to you bud, but MARPAT is already being used by other services (and even countries!) – the US Army’s UCP pattern is just a 3-colour re-coloration of MARPAT, NAVPAT is a blue-and-gray re-coloration of MARPAT, and lots of forces in other countries are now using recolourations too (like Iraq, Bosnia, Georgia, Lebanon, and on and on).Also, you might want to read this: http://strikehold.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/%e2%80%9cthe-marpat-myth%e2%80%9d/

  6. As the name suggests, I’m just a civilian with no military experience. But, as a Kentucky native, we’re kind of raised with at least a passing interest in military camouflage. I’ve followed the last several years’ camo redesigns from afar.MARPAT is the one pattern I’ve never seen any complaints about at all, and the woodland variant available to civilians has become a huge hit among hunters in my area. Even the vaunted MULTICAM hasn’t found as ready an audience out here.But everyone, including some service members in my extended family, has been totally mystified by the ACU/UCP pattern. I own a pair of ACU pants that I wear to work around my house and property in. But I stand out like a sore thumb. And images I’ve seen of the unis in theater (I know photos aren’t always the best gauge) suggest it doesn’t really work that well in desert environments, either. Once I read a little concerning the testing and procurement process, some marked questions came to my mind. The Army can swear there is green in there, but it looks like varying shades of gray to my eyes.I have to say, it didn’t take a genius to see that someone might look at the proliferation of patterns and say, “Wait a minute…” Even beyond the debate about UCP’s effectiveness, the supply and logistics for different patterns and styles of uniform has to be a nightmare, especially now that the combat variants have made their way in alongside regular utilities. In the USMC and Army alone, you’re looking at, what, as many as six different uniform sets…? Factor in different load-bearing and equipment sets… Sheesh.But, I have to ask: what’s the difference between your suggestions re: solid colored utilities versus those patterns already in use? I understand standardizing the cut and design of the utilities. But is the change to different-but-solid colors simply a cost cutting measure? Is it really that much cheaper to produce an olive drab uniform than a UCP one? I know they’re much more expensive to buy on civilian market — but as with anything new…On a side note, I really like the Mirage patterns you’ve posted a couple of times. I hope those make it to the civilian market.

    • Hi “civie” – always good to hear from a Kentucky rifleman. ;-)Regarding your question about whether the forces would really achieve a significant cost-savings: Yes, I reckon it would. One reason being that plain coloured fabric is noticably cheaper than camo. But the most savings would come from the fact that there are a hell of a lot more non-combat arms troops in the military than there are combat arms (something like a 10:1 ratio I seem to recall having seen once). And when you whittle it down to just the troops that are really out there on the sharp end of ground combat, then you’d really start to see a difference. Now, some of that difference would be lessened by the fact that they could then produce a more sophisticated and role optimised uniform for the ground combat forces – but I reckon it would still produce an overall cost savings, and improve the fighting ability and survivability of the troops at the sharp end.

  7. I doubt this will survive. Not only is it a total waste of money (in the billions) to do another redesign. It ignores the needs and wants of each individual branch.I’m more than happy with MARPAT and no I wouldn’t want that to be adopted by all the other services either.

    • Didnt the US marines and Army share the woodland bdu before? why not share marpart?

      • MARPAT was adopted specifically becuase the USMC wanted a distinctive look that was different from the Army. I guess those years of sharing the same BDU left a bad taste in their mouths.At any rate, MARPAT has the embedded EGA logo – so the Army couldn’t use it.

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