Four different branches of the U.S. military are spending millions of dollars to equip troops with combat uniforms in seven different but similar camouflage patterns, wasting money and potentially exposing some troops to increased risk on the battlefield – the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.
Before 2002, all the military services had used only two basic camouflage patterns – a woodland pattern matching the European and Korean theaters and a desert pattern. However, after the Marine Corps introduced their digital patterns in 2002 and branded the Corps symbol into it, other services followed, providing with their troops service-specific camouflage patterns. These pixilated patterns, particularly the Army’s UniversalPattern ( ), introduced in 2004, was known for its poor performance in Afghanistan. “Contracting separately for similar uniforms, GAO says, has resulted in “numerous inventories of similar uniforms at increased cost to the supply chain.” GAO said.
The original report was published in September 2012 but earlier this month GAO repeated its critical review including this wasteful, duplicated procurement as an example of waste that could be avoided in federal procurement. A plan to replace the Army’s current UCP with yet another camouflage scheme was recommended by the Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno.
According to Military.com, the top Army officials scrambled to brief the Army Secretary John McHugh on the selection of yet another camouflage pattern, to become the Army’s next official camouflage pattern. The UCP replacement plan was launched four years ago, under the Phase IV camouflage improvement plan, as PEO Soldier and Natick Soldier Systems Center began to evaluate the effectiveness of different camouflage schemes.
Critics of the UCP maintain that the service has spent $5 billion on uniforms and equipment all printed in the inadequate UCP. The GAO estimates that the Army will have to spend another $4 billion on uniforms and equipment over the next five years when it selects its new family of camouflage patterns.
Following repeated calls from the field uniform experts and scientists have been evaluating alternative patterns. The Army awarded developmental contracts to four vendors in early 2012, to, , Inc., teamed with , Inc., of Virginia Beach, Va.; , Inc of New York; and , Inc. of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Results from the evaluations are yet to be published, but according to Military.com none of the four patterns clearly outperformed one another through all the test environments although they provided superior results, compared to UCP, a fact that reiterated previous evaluations conducted in 2006 and 2009, testing UCP against other alternatives. In 2010 the Army selected MultiCam as the clear winner over several other patterns to issue to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.
Although MultiCam is issued to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, UCP is still the Army’s standard issue Army Combat Uniform.
The Government Accountability Office last year criticized the Army and the Air Force for their camouflage development efforts that have wasted millions of dollars and put troops at risk. All four services universally wore the Army Battle Dress and Desertpatterns Defense Department leaders have failed to require services to “collaborate and standardize the development and introduction of camouflage uniforms” causing the military to potentially “forego millions of dollars in potential cost savings,” GAO wrote.