New Camo For Afghanistan – the debate heats up…
By Matthew Cox, Army Times Staff Writer
The Army is eyeing MultiCam, a camouflage pattern preferred by special operations forces, to replace the pixelated pattern on the combat uniforms soldiers wear in Afghanistan.
The hunt for a new camo design follows a growing groundswell of rank-and-file criticism that the current pattern on the Army Combat Uniform is ineffective in the rugged Afghan terrain — and elsewhere.
“The general consensus on the ACU pattern among many, many soldiers is that it is ineffective in breaking up a soldier’s outline in just about every environment except in urban areas and the local gravel pit,” Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Ulsh wrote to Army Times. “As an aviator, I can tell you that from the air most other nations’ camouflage masks a soldier better than the ACU does.”
Similar complaints made their way to an influential member of Congress, who gave senior Army leaders a Sept. 30 deadline to present a plan that includes the budgetary and logistical details for outfitting roughly 40,000 soldiers serving in Afghanistan with a new camouflage pattern.
The directive to find an alternative to the Universal Camouflage Pattern comes just five years after it was introduced as the one-and-only camo design. It replaced both the Desert Camouflage Uniform and the woodland-patterned Battle Dress Uniform. Though the move to streamline soldiers’ clothing bags was generally applauded, many complained the result was a pattern that was not particularly effective in either desert or woodland surroundings.
Complaints about its ineffectiveness have grown as the Army has increased the number of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
Program Executive Office Soldier, the command responsible for developing uniforms and equipment, declined to be interviewed for this story.
“PEO Soldier and the Army continually strive to provide the best to our soldiers,” Army spokesman Maj. Jimmie Cummings said in an Aug. 6 written statement. “As such, a team led by Training and Doctrine Command is working an effort to determine if a change is required to our Universal Camouflage Pattern in support of soldiers operating in many different environments. It is premature to go into any detail on this effort at this time.”
Army officials, however, held a July 23 meeting with Crye Precision LLC, the company that developed MultiCam, to ask detailed questions about the availability of different MultiCam fabrics for making uniforms and soldier equipment, according to a source familiar with the issue who commented on the condition that he not be identified.
This meeting, however, was not the first time Army uniform officials saw the pattern that features seven shades of brown, tan and green. MultiCam, formerly known as “Scorpion,” was a top contender among a dozen experimental patterns when the Army began looking for a new camouflage design in early 2002 to replace the DCU and BDU.
But the Army passed on MultiCam in favor of a new pattern that PEO Soldier created with a digitized version of another contender, the “urban track” pattern. The Army modified that pattern by stripping out the highly visible black shade. The ACU’s mix of green, tan and gray would later become known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern. [Okay, this is B.S. First of all, Urban Track did not use the same colours as were chosen for UCP. The “universal” colours were selected by taking one colour for desert environments (tan / sand), one for urban (stone grey) and onoe for woodland (foliage green – aka, sage green with a different name). Second of all, pattern comparisons have demonstrated conclusively that UCP is not a digitised version of Urban Track, it is a simple 3 tone re-colouration of MARPAT – with the USMC EGA logos removed. – Strike-Hold!]
In going with a digitized UCP, the Army followed the lead of the Marine Corps, which began fielding its new digitized pattern in 2002. [MARPAT is simply a re-colouration of CADPAT, with the maple leaf shapes removed. – Strike-Hold!] The Army also considered the woodland and desert versions of the popular Marine digital uniform, but rejected the design in favor of a single, “all-terrain” pattern. [refer back to comment above – Strike-Hold!]
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., launched the congressional camouflage mandate in mid-June, saying that he had heard complaints from “a dozen” Army noncommissioned officers that that ACU’s pattern is ineffective in Afghanistan.
Since then, dozens of soldiers have responded to an Army Times query seeking opinions of the Army’s current camouflage.
“The Army needs a new uniform, period. Not just for Afghanistan,” wrote 2nd Lt. Chris Cahak, who is serving in Iraq at Forward Operating Base Future. “The ACU uses ‘universal camouflage,’ meaning it doesn’t blend into anything. The article [‘Get new camo, Congress says,’ June 29] says the ACU works fine in Iraq, but that is a myth. There is no natural setting that I have seen anywhere that blends in with the ACU.”
Sgt. Ricky Hill of Fort Carson, Colo., agreed with Cahak that soldiers in Afghanistan aren’t the only ones who need a new camouflage pattern.
“The ACU pattern is horrible,” Hill wrote. “Whatever happened to the MultiCam pattern that was tested a few years ago? I don’t know who came up with this current ACU pattern, but it has failed miserably.”
A few soldiers who have written to Army Times defended the ACU pattern’s performance.
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Hendricks wrote that the ACU’s performance was “spot on” when he was a platoon sergeant serving in Khost, Afghanistan.
“The ACUs we wore were perfect for the job of mountain warfare and in the towns and roads that we patrolled,” he wrote. “A lot of the time, I would have to use optics to find my squads patrolling in the distance.”
Capt. Joe Corsentino offered a different view.
“Being an aviator, I get a top-down view of the battlefield, and I can tell you 100 percent that the ACU stands out like a sore thumb in the Afghan environment,” he wrote.
Many Army special operations units such as Delta Force, the 75th Ranger Regiment and some Special Forces teams apparently feel the UCP is not the best pattern in either war zone as they are wearing the MultiCam pattern in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army Special Operations Command has tested MultiCam in different environments worldwide, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and found that it outperformed the ACU’s pattern, a senior Army officer with Special Forces told Army Times. The officer added that MultiCam is being considered as the future pattern of Army SOF.
Corsentino said in his letter that he also prefers MultiCam.
“I have worked with units who wore the MultiCam uniforms, and they were camouflaged much more effectively than soldiers wearing the ACU,” he wrote.
Soldiers participating in a Future Force Warrior Assessment in 2006 had the same opinion of MultiCam.
The nine-man squad that participated in the Air Assault Expeditionary Force experiment in fall 2006 at Fort Benning, Ga., wore MultiCam-patterned, Future Force Warrior uniforms in addition to a number of high-tech gadgets and gear. The force-on-force exercise was designed to assess how the experimental soldier kit would affect the performance of soldiers going against soldiers with the current-issue kit.
One of the questions in the post-exercise survey read, “Was the camouflage pattern of the FFW uniform not as good, about the same or better than the camo pattern on the ACU?”
All nine soldiers indicated that the MultiCam pattern was better than the ACU’s pattern, according to the July 2007 report from the Army Research Laboratory’s “Future Force Warrior: Insights from Air Assault Expeditionary Force Assessment.”
Here are the soldiers’ comments as they appeared in the report:
• “It blends better in the woods than the ACU.”
• “Got 5 feet from the OpFor and they didn’t see us until after we fired. With the ACUs, you’ll be seen a mile away.”
• “Numerous amount of times, we snuck within 10 feet of the enemies.”
• “I even lost my own guys a couple of times it worked so well.”
• “I’m telling you this uniform is way better in the field than ACUs. In fact, ACUs are nothing but a garrison uniform.”
• “It’s obvious; just look at it.”
• “The camouflage pattern is 50x better than the ACU uniform. When stationary or on the move it is hard to pick out in the tree line. The squads behind ours had trouble following us because they would lose sight of us so easily. We always knew where they were.”
• “We were having trouble seeing our guys when we would stop in the wood line, whereas anyone wearing ACUs was easy to spot. It is a far superior camouflage pattern than the ACU.”
Crye Precision began working on camouflage in 2002, two years after Caleb Crye formed the company. The company had already been working with the Army to develop new soldier equipment. Then Crye became interested in designing a camouflage pattern that would allow soldiers to operate in multiple environments.
“We saw guys being deployed to a war in Afghanistan with a combination of camouflage patterns that just wasn’t effective,” Crye said, describing how soldiers at the time wore DCUs with woodland pattern body armor vests.
No one in the small company, including Crye, had military backgrounds, said Crye, who has a fine arts degree. The Crye team traveled extensively, taking pictures of terrain features, rocks and vegetation.
“We didn’t look at camouflage so much; we looked at a lot of environments, and we tried to find a lot of things that were common in as many environments as possible,” he told Army Times.
“If you start looking at pictures of rocks all day, there are just these shapes that show up.”
They also paid attention to the way animals use camouflage.
“We knew it was going to be half science, half trial and error,” Crye said. “Before we settled on printing real fabric, we probably had about 12 patterns. The first ones were really different.”
Still, MultiCam alone may not be the answer, some soldiers say.
“The Army should have one desert pattern and one woodland pattern, at a minimum,” Sgt. Adam Houtkooper wrote in a letter to Army Times. “Afghanistan varies widely in the amount and type of vegetation, so no one uniform will work for the entire country. … The bottom line is that bad camouflage risks soldiers’ lives, and the decision to force every soldier to wear a pattern that is ineffective has reduced the effectiveness of our force.” [Well, quite. Strike-Hold!]