Skip to comments.The $5 Billion Camo Snafu (Army retiring ACU)
Posted on 06/25/2012 4:53:08 PM PDT by JerseyanExile
The Army is changing clothes.
Over the next year, Americas largest fighting force is swapping its camouflage pattern. The move is a quiet admission that the last uniform a pixelated design that debuted in 2004 at a cost of $5 billion was a colossal mistake.
Soldiers have roundly criticized the gray-green uniform for standing out almost everywhere its been worn. Industry insiders have called the financial mess surrounding the pattern a fiasco.
As Army researchers work furiously on a newer, better camouflage, its natural to ask what went wrong and how theyll avoid the same missteps this time around. In a candid interview with The Daily, several of those researchers said Army brass interfered in the selection process during the last round, letting looks and politics get in the way of science.
It got into political hands before the soldiers ever got the uniforms, said Cheryl Stewardson, a textile technologist at the Army research center in Natick, Mass., where most of the armed forces camouflage patterns are made.
The researchers say that science is carrying the day this time, as they run four patterns through a rigorous battery of tests. The goal is to give soldiers different patterns suitable for different environments, plus a single neutral pattern matching the whole family to be used on more expensive body armor and other gear. The selection will involve hundreds of computer trials as well on-the-ground testing at half a dozen locations around the world.
But until the new pattern is put in the field a move thats still a year or more away soldiers in Afghanistan have been given a temporary fix: a greenish, blended replacement called MultiCam. The changeover came only after several non-commissioned officers complained to late Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, and he took up the cause in 2009. Outside of Afghanistan, the rest of the Army is still stuck with the gray Universal Camouflage Pattern, or UCP. And some soldiers truly hate it.
Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment, said an Army specialist who served two tours in Iraq, wearing UCP in Baghdad and the deserts outside Basra. The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.
The specialist asked that his name be withheld because he wasnt authorized to speak to the press.
As a cavalry scout, it is my job to stay hidden. Wearing a uniform that stands out this badly makes it hard to do our job effectively, he said. If we can see our own guys across a distance because of it, then so can our enemy.
The fact that the government spent $5 billion on a camouflage design that actually made its soldiers more visible and then took eight years to correct the problem has also left people in the camouflage industry incensed. The total cost comes from the Army itself and includes the price of developing the pattern and producing it for the entire service branch.
Youve got to look back and say what a huge waste of money that was, said Lawrence Holsworth, marketing director of a camouflage company called Hyde Definition and the editor of Strike-Hold!, a website that tracks military gear. UCP was such a fiasco.
The Armys camouflage researchers say the story of the universal patterns origins begins when they helped develop a similarly pixilated camouflage now worn by the Marine Corps. That pattern, known as MARPAT, first appeared in 2002 after being selected from among dozens of candidates and receiving plenty of input from Marines on the ground at the sniper school in Quantico, Va. The Marines even found one of the baseline colors themselves, an earth tone now called Coyote Brown.
They went to Home Depot, looked at paint swatches, and said, We want that color, said Anabelle Dugas, a textile technologist at Natick who helped develop the pattern. That particular hue, she added, was part of a paint series then sold by Ralph Lauren.
Around the same time, the Army was on the hunt for a new camouflage pattern that could solve glaring logistical problem on the ground in Iraq. Without enough desert-specific gear to go around, soldiers were going to war in three-color desert fatigues but strapping dark green vests and gear harness over their chests. At rifle distances, the problem posed by the dark gear over light clothing was as obvious as it was distressing.
Kristine Isherwood, a mechanical engineer on Naticks camouflage team, said simply, It shows where to shoot.
The Army researchers rushed to put new camouflages to the test several in-house designs and a precursor of MultiCam developed by an outside company. The plan was to spend two years testing patterns and color schemes from different angles and distances and in different environments. The Army published results of the trials in 2004, declaring a tan, brushstroke pattern called Desert Brush the winner but that design never saw the light of day.
The problem, the researchers said, was an oddly named branch of the Army in charge of equipping soldiers with gear Program Executive Office Soldier had suddenly ordered Naticks camouflage team to pick a pattern long before trials were finished.
They jumped the gun, said James Fairneny, an electrical engineer on Naticks camouflage team.
Researchers said they received a puzzling order: Take the winning colors and create a pixilated pattern. Researchers were ordered to basically put it in the Marine Corps pattern, Fairneny said.
For a decision that could ultimately affect more than a million soldiers in the Army, reserves and National Guard, the sudden shift from Program Executive Office Soldier was a head-scratcher. The consensus among the researchers was the Army brass had watched the Marine Corps don their new uniforms and caught a case of pixilated camouflage envy.
It was trendy, Stewardson said. If its good enough for the Marines, why shouldnt the Army have that same cool new look?
The brigadier general ultimately responsible for the decision, James Moran, who retired from the Army after leaving Program Executive Office Soldier, has not responded to messages seeking comment.
Its worth noting that, flawed as it was, the universal pattern did solve the problem of mismatched gear, said Eric Graves, editor of the military gear publication Soldier Systems Daily, adding that the pattern also gave soldiers a new-looking uniform that clearly identified the Army brand.
Brand identity trumped camouflage utility, Graves said. Thats what this really comes down to: We cant allow the Marine Corps to look more cool than the Army.
These inter-service rivalries are getting just absurd.
I was under the impression that the current Army cammy color was an effort to provide concealment for troops operating in a grey urban environment and was a reaction to fighting in the cities of Iraq with an abundance of concrete and cinder block. It seemed to me an effective scheme for that sort of environment even if it wasn’t appropriate in the mountains of A’stan.
Because of the backing shades under the pattern, it will reflect, to a certain degree the colors and shadows of the surrounding environment, appearing "greener" in a vegetated environ, "browner" in a desert background, and "grayer" in a winter or urban setting...
They should talk to the folks at Mossy Oak.
If I’m not mistaken, the folks at Crye Precision did talk to other manufacturers in the development of Multicam. Years back, I remember reading something about the genesis of some of these newer patterns, and Mossy Oak was brought up. Mossy Oak is made for very specific environments, and is for concealment from animal eyes. Military patterns of course, need to be more generalized, and are made to deceive human eyes, hence the differences in the end product.
You are correct of course. But I think the folks at MO could learn to fool human eyes too.
She wrecked....the air bags deployed!
Oh, dear. The Marines, in Ralph Lauren designer clothing. That little tidbit will probably get me punched out tonight. BTT.
The curious USAF pattern is sort of a throwback to Vietnam-era 'Tiger Stripe' that MACV-SOG troops and some USAF officers had custom tailored for themselves while on on R&R in Thailand, then they actually used it in combat and found out that it didn't blend into any environment at all. The USAF ought to go back to wearing flat olive drab with shiny white laced boots and baseball caps like God wanted them to have back in the 60s through the 80s.
The new USN 'blue wave' camo is just idiotic. I bet it would be perfect camouflage for a doomed sailor who falls overboard into the sea at night. What were they thinking?
USMC's MARPAT is the only one that works as intended. The pixelation tricks the brain no matter what size object you put it on. Only downside is that the USMC pretty much looks from a distance like a dead ringer for the Waffen SS when fully geared up in it. That's not cool. Even if there are those who think it's cool, it's still not cool.
The article was not too clear in pointing out the money trail. Names of the natural individuals owning or directing the companies bidding, selecting and manufacturing the clothing.
They should try this pattern. Comes in several color combinations and suitable for nearly every environment and mighty effective, too.
I thought their BDUs were black w/ silver piping & black 'dice box' boots. At least tank crews were so attired.
Now let’s get after the Air Force “blue” camoflage.
Just where and what does that camoflage?
See post 15 for an example of a Waffen SS pattern.