New Camo.. again?

ADS Entry in Army Camo Competition. Image: ADS.

The Army continues to spend, spend, spend on the development of camouflage uniforms.

This is the problem you get into when you make a really bad decision [.pdf], namely, the issue of the ACU in the digital Universal Camouflage Pattern. The Army digital uniform replaced both a uniform that was OK in temperate zones (BDU), and a uniform that was fantastic in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan (DCU), with a uniform that was rotten in both. It wasn’t quite as bad as making everybody wear Hunter Orange, a Sergeants Major Safety Belt, or a VS-17 panel, but it was pretty bad. CNN interviewed Army project manager COL Bill Cole last year:

The one-size-fits-all approach of the universal pattern wasn’t working.

Cole says the Army probably knew at the time that the universal pattern wouldn’t be perfect for every environment, but didn’t realize how much of a compromise it would have to make.

 Note the two revelations there: one, that the ACU’s UCP sucks like a black hole, and two, the Colonel has no certainty what his predecessor was thinking when he adopted the mostly-grey digital UCP camo for the ACU in the first place. Here’s the story as we heard it from an injured guy working at Natick during his recovery: the final decision on pattern was made by a visiting general officer. The general looked at a set of camo finalists displayed on privates roped it to act as models. He asked the privates which one they liked, and most didn’t care, but the one in Army Digital was all fired up about it. “What the hell, let’s go with that one.” And so about eight years of Army combat troops were exposed to enemy direct fire in near-dayglo uniforms — not to mention, exposed to the jeers of the always-sharply-dressed Marines.

See our point? There are three soldiers in this picture, one in Army UCP camo. Image: SSG Gina Vaile-Nelson, US Army, via Dominic Hyde.

Now that story cost us, and you, nothing, and it’s worth just what we paid for it. For all we know ACU Digital was selected after a comprehensive computer-assisted analysis. But we don’t know. And neither did COL Cole. He did know why Digital UCP was having a hard time in Stan:

[S]oldiers, many of them redeploying to Afghanistan, began voicing their criticism in the summer of 2009 of the “universal” camouflage pattern, introduced in 2004 and meant to be used in all types of battle environments.

“They were saying that they didn’t think the color selection was very effective for the terrain in Afghanistan,” says Col. Bill Cole, the project manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment. “Afghanistan’s a really diverse country in geographical terms. There are lots of sandy desert areas, but it also has mountainous areas that you would see up in the Alps. It has green irrigated fields that look like Iowa in the summer. It’s a very diverse environment and soldiers would often traverse these different areas in one patrol.”

We couldn’t agree more with the good Colonel’s point on the diversity of Afghan terrain. We note in passing, as a way of reinforcing how incredibly bad the Army’s 2004 decision was, that the dreadful UCP was intended for wear not only in Afghanistan but in the whole freaking world, which by definition includes all those terrain and a whole bunch of others, too, like “fertile farmland” and “civilization.”

Crye Multicam. Image: Crye competitor Dominic Hyde

So, in 2009  the Army hastily adopted the far superior Crye Precision Multicam pattern for Afghanistan. Not for general use, mind you, because we’ve sunk billions into ACUs, but we’ll call this the Operation Enduring Freedom The Army resisted adopting it as a general-issue item, because the pattern has more colors than the Army Digital Pattern and therefore costs more to print on uniform fabric. ACU costs were already through the roof —

Back in January, the Army announced its finalists for the new camouflage. Reportedly, most of them look — after all the millions spent so far — much like the Marines’ MARPAT. Naturally, the prime contractors mostly will be, not firms that know anything about camouflage design, but marketing firms that  know how to make contracts happen, or can get minority set-asides. But they have to at least partner with camouflage designers.

Virtual camo testing. Image: Natick Labs, US Army.

The Army will review the patterns, which have been provided digitally, by projecting them against a series of terrain shots, and by having prototype uniforms made and worn in varied terrain. In summer, the Army will analyze the data and prepare a report and decision brief for the Chief of Staff — if all goes well, soldiers could be in new suits by the end of 2013.

Kryptek Alios. Image: Kryptek

One thing that’s off the table is Multicam, although its developer, Crye, is still participating. The other teams are: ADS/Hyperstealth, Brookwood, and Kryptek. Only the ADS uniform has had photos released. The Kryptek jacket shown here is a commercial pattern, Alios, available to hunters at Cabelas, but this will not be the pattern they submit — it’s just a clue to their thinking.

So in the end, we’ll have had three entire rounds of procurement trying to get the guys decent camouflage uniforms. (ACU, then the Multicam OEF pattern, then this new one) which may or may not actually produce new and better uniforms. But it sure does keep the development people developing.

Nobody in the Army today wants to hear it, but OG107s — with a little local mud or dust on ’em after a while — worked about as well as any of these salad suits, and a lot better than the dayglo ACU. But who would feed the children of that other army, the uniform developers?



1 thought on “New Camo.. again?

  1. A voice

    Come on why doesn’t are government team up with one design for are military’s. Be cheaper or why don’t the army and marines team up and wear the same uniform?

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