Skip to comments.US military has 10 kinds of camouflage uniforms: Government duplication at its finest
Posted on 05/08/2013 9:45:42 PM PDT by Jet Jaguar
In 2002, the U.S. military had just two kinds of camouflage uniform. One was green, for the woods. The other was brown, for the desert.
Then things got strange.
Today, there is one camouflage pattern just for Marines in the desert. There is another just for Navy personnel in the desert. The Army has its own universal camouflage pattern, which is designed to work anywhere. It also has another one just for Afghanistan, where the first one doesnt work.
Even the Air Force has its own unique camouflage, used in a new Airman Battle Uniform. But it has flaws. So in Afghanistan, airmen are told not to wear it in battle.
In just 11 years, two kinds of camouflage have turned into 10. And a blessedly simple aspect of the U.S. government purchasing system has emerged as a complicated and expensive case study in federal duplication.
Duplication is one of Washingtons most expensive traditions: Multiple agencies do the same job at the same time, and taxpayers pay billions for government to repeat itself.
Now, the habit remains stubbornly hard to break, even in an era of austerity. There are, for instance, 209 federal programs to improve science and math skills. There are 16 programs that all teach personal finance.
At the Pentagon, the odd saga of the multiplying uniforms has provided a step-by-step illustration of how duplication blooms in government and why its usually not good.
If you have 10 patterns, some of them are going to be good. Some of them are going to be bad. Some of them are going to be in the middle, said Timothy ONeill, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who studied camouflage patterns as a West Point professor. Who wants to have the second-best pattern?
The duplication problem grows out of three qualities deep-rooted in the Washington soul. Good intentions. Short patience. And a lust for new turf.
When a bureaucrat or congressman sees someone else doing a job badly, those qualities stir an itch to start doing the job oneself.
You dont have empirical information on whats working and whats not working, in the profusion of new programs , said Gene Dodaro, who heads the Government Accountability Office. He hopes that the country will now, finally, decide it cant afford this. The fiscal situation . . . will begin to force that kind of decision to be made.
Right now, President Obama and congressional Republicans both say theyre trying to prune back decades of redundant programs. Obama, for example, is now seeking to kill or consolidate more than 100 of those science and math programs. But the problem lives on in many other places.
At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for instance, there is a new congressionally mandated Office of Financial Education. It costs $7.87 million a year and is authorized to employ 14 people.
It is, by the GAOs count, the 16th government program aimed at teaching the public better money management. And that shows.
On the new offices Web site, there are a series of answers to common consumer questions. Things like, How do I dispute an error on my credit report? In that case, however, the Federal Reserve had already answered a very similar question on its site: How can I correct errors found in my credit report? The Federal Trade Commission also offers advice on Disputing Errors on Credit Reports.
At the Pentagon, a GAO study commissioned by the Senate Armed Services committee found that the services have spent more than $12 million on their separate efforts at designing new camouflage patterns. The cost of buying, stocking and shipping 10 different camouflage uniforms is believed to be millions more.
Is anybody trying to fix this?
The Department of Defense continues to look for ways to streamline processes and implement better business practices, a Pentagon spokesman said this week. He gave no details.
Uniform, but unique
This, in brief, is how two kinds of camouflage became 10.
The Marine Corps started it. The Marines spent two years and $319,000 testing different patterns to replace the old green and brown ones. In the end, the Marines settled on a digital design, which used a riot of small pixels to help soldiers blend in.
There was a desert version and a woodland version camouflage patterns No. 3 and 4.
The Marines did not intend to share them.
The people who saw this uniform in a combat area would know [the wearers] were United States Marines, for whatever that might mean, said retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who initiated the uniforms design and later became Obamas national security adviser.
After that, the Army set out to duplicate what the Marines had already done, spending at least $2.63 million on its own camouflage research. The Army produced what it called a universal camouflage, in shades of green, gray and tan. Pattern No. 5.
It was not as universal as they said.
After complaints that the pattern didnt work in Afghanistan, the Army had to spend another $2.9 million to design a camouflage specific to that country. The GAO found that the Army then spent another $30 million-plus to actually outfit troops with the new design, called Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage. Pattern No. 6.
Now, the Army is already working to replace that replacement, with a new camouflage-design effort that has cost at least $4.2 million so far. It has given up on universal.
A uniform that is specific to the desert and one that is specific to a woodland environment . . . outperform a single pattern, a universal camouflage pattern, said Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, who oversees the Armys uniform and equipment research, in testimony before Congress last month. Weve learned that.
Camouflage No. 7 came from the Air Force. On the surface, that did not make a whole lot of sense: Only a subset of Air Force personnel fight on the ground, including rescuers of downed pilots and battlefield air controllers. But the Air Force still spent $3.1 million to come up with its own ground combat uniform. It was a tiger-stripe pattern, a throwback to camouflage used in Vietnam.
But it was not well-suited to Afghanistan.
They were not designed to hide anybody. They were designed to look cool, said ONeill, the West Point camouflage expert, giving his outside appraisal of the Air Force design. Its what we call CDI Factor. Which is, Chicks dig it.
Finally, in 2010, the Air Force ordered its personnel in Afghanistan to ditch the Airman Battle Uniform and wear Army camouflage instead. The [Army pattern] provides the higher level of protection and functionality our airmen need, an Air Force spokeswoman said this week.
Lost in the camouflage
The next three camouflage patterns arrived in 2011, from another unlikely source the Navy.
The Marine Corps, Air Force and Army had either all shifted, or were shifting. Which meant that if we wanted to continue using [the two original camouflage patterns] the Navy was going to have to pick up the entire contract, said Terry Scott, who was the services top enlisted man at the time, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. We knew we had to change.
I remember saying, Why dont we just use the exact same thing as the Marine Corps? Scott said. Well, the Marine Corps had embedded . . . their symbol in the actual uniform pattern.
It was true. The Marines had embedded tiny eagles, globes and anchors into the camouflage itself betting that no other service would go to war with somebody elses logo on their pants. It worked.
The Navy spent more than $435,000 on three new designs. One was a blue-and-gray pattern, to be worn aboard ships. That was camouflage No. 8.
Sailors worried it would only hide them at the one time theyd want to be found.
You fall in the damn water and youre wearing water-colored camouflage. What the hell is that? said one active-duty petty officer. He asked that his name be withheld, since he was criticizing a decision by the brass. Its not logical. Its not logical at all to have water-colored uniforms.
For the desert, the Navy came up with another design, a tan pattern that resembled the Marines desert pattern. Except theirs had a small U.S.S. Constitution embedded in the pattern. No. 9.
To the Marines, the Navy pattern was still too close a copy.
We objected to that. We just said, Look, there are plenty of patterns that are out there that are effective, said Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, recounting that complaint during a Senate hearing in 2010. The reason was not battlefield safety, it was Marine pride.
Even though [the Navy] is not using the patented pattern, I guess that its so very, very close, Amos said. Its a point of pride, sir. Its internal pride.
That seemed a good enough reason for the Senate committee: Well, pride and unit elan is certainly an important factor. I appreciate your response, said then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). The next question was about helicopters.
It was also good enough for the Navy. After the Marines objected, the Navy decreed that its new desert uniform would only be given to a select few: Navy SEALs and other personnel serving with them.
The rest of the Navy personnel who might serve in the desert more than 50,000 of them were issued another Navy camouflage pattern instead.
This was camouflage No. 10. It was a woodland pattern. The Pentagons long and expensive search for new camouflage uniforms had previously defied logic. Now it would defy camouflage itself.
It ended with U.S. servicemembers wearing green in the desert.
Hey, wearing Woodland camouflage in the desert is a tradition going back at least to Desert Storm. I didn’t get my desert uniform until I got back on the plane to go home (six-color desert aka “chocolate chip”), and the Army *still* owes me a pair of desert boots.
So the Army has the (horrible) ACU, and is now phasing in Multicam
The Marines have their Woodland and Desert digital
Air force has the ABU and some other pattern
The Navy has their own woodland (land-ops uniform) and their digital blues
Frankly, I don’t see this as a problem. The services have become highly-specialized, and therefore require patterns specific to the environments they have to function in. The only problem is that the DoD followed the *worst* possible path in developing and procuring the patterns. The Marines escape this because they did the job themselves and didn’t let Natick dick them around. The new Multicam pattern is a commercial pattern, and probably shouldn’t count in the procurement fiasco because Crye Precision did a lot of the work themselves.
I’d also point out that, in my opinion, AfriCom is going to be the next “big” thing, and Africa has an incredibly diverse range of environments. They’ll still have to use Desert patterns because of all the work they’ll be doing in Northern Mali, Sudan and other places, but they’re also going to need good Woodland again for all the sub-Saharan jungles, plus Multicam will work great in the Savannah regions. We’re also going to need a revamp of the venerable Jungle Boot, since those glued-sole desert sneakers they’ve been using are going to be worthless in the mud of the African Jungle.
When I was in the jungles of Viet Nam I was wearing my stateside fatigues and standard combat boots. I had a big white name tag over one pocket and a big black and yellow US Army over the other. Oh, and in case the Viet Cong needed it, a big white jump wings sewed on as well.
This was late 1965 and the Army had not yet figured out that jungle fatigues would be better then state side fatigues. At some point the fatigues rotted off me and I was issued jungle fatigues. For the record, they were not camouflage either.
Somebody needs to rein in the children, this is out of control and sounds like a SNL skit.
Navy camouflage?? If I had fallen overboard from my ship, I would have wanted to be wearing international orange.
my favorite is the Gillie suits!
I was working at a USN Weapons school when the USAF came out with their blue “cammies”. It was great for a chuckle from the pilots until the USN came out with their own blue version 6 months later.
I can see 6 of the 10 - the other 4 must be pretty good.
So the Marines are greedy bastards, the Army and Navy are stupid, and the Air Force is trying to win fashion contests.
That’s about what I would expect.
Are they? From what I've read, Multicam is a proprietary pattern, so the Army is spending gobs of money to develop their own patterns that they'll own the rights to.
Hah! Well said!
“Marines are greedy bastards”
They got that way because of chronic and historical under-financing.
The Marines have been developing “digitals” for years at great expense. What this story lacks, is that the Marines patented their digitals and no one wants to pay the Marines for the money they are due.
Call it greed or call it sick of being treated like bastards and having to beg for every dime.
If they had fatigues like these when I was in, I probably would’ve re enlisted for life. And NO, I am not attracted by bright shiny objects.