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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.