A successor to the Universal Camouflage Pattern is expected soon, Army officials said. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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A successor to the Universal Camouflage Pattern is weeks away now that procurement officials have briefed the Army chief of staff on results of tests for new camouflage patterns, according to Army officials.
The four families of patterns have been battling it out in a bid to succeed the much-maligned UCP, though no final decision has been made.
Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno received the April 11 briefing, which included the Army Service Uniform, the physical training uniform and the combat uniform.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler told Army Times the service has reached a “90 percent solution.”
“I expect within the next two months, all of this will have been announced,” Chandler said.
Program Executive Office, Soldier is expected to quickly implement guidance from Odierno before Army Secretary John McHugh will make the final decision.
The Phase IV, or next-generation, combat uniforms are to include a woodland variant, a desert variant and a transitional variant that bridges the two, Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, the head of PEO Soldier, said during an April 11 congressional hearing on the services' budget requests for individual equipment.
The family of three uniforms “outperform a single pattern, a universal camouflage pattern if you will, each and every single time,” Ostrowski said. The test produced 120,000 data points, he said, a record for the Defense Department.
Officials have said previously that they planned to begin production of the uniforms early this year.
Four industry competitors submitted a family of patterns for consideration: ADS Inc., of Virginia Beach, Va., teamed with the Canadian firm HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp.; Brookwood Companies Inc., of New York City; Crye Precision LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Kryptek Inc., of Fairbanks, Alaska.
On the day the patterns were presented, members of the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee grilled Army and Marine Corps procurement officials on how they plan to continue improving troop protection in a postwar environment.
Lawmakers focused on the need to continue research and development of better equipment, zeroing in on body armor, uniforms and efforts to lighten the load.
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., cited a September report from the Government Accountability Office that was highly critical of what it called a disjointed approach to camouflage development across most of the services. It singled out the Marine Pattern woodland and desert camouflage as one of the few success stories.
The Army is pushing ahead with the fielding of female-friendly body armor, Ostrowski said during testimony before the subcommittee.
The service will field 600 sets of female body armor to Afghanistan in July and August. Nineteen sets are already in theater. The new armor, which comes in eight sizes, brings total weight down from about 31 pounds to about 25 pounds.
“From this point forward, we will always deploy with female body armor,” he said.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., applauded the Army's efforts, saying the development of female body armor becomes increasingly important as the military moves forward with its plan to open more military occupational specialties — possibly including some combat roles — to women.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps' top procurement official said his service has no plans to do the same.
“We will not sacrifice protection for comfort,” testified Brig Gen. Eric M. Smith, head of the Marine Corps Capabilities Directorate.
Lightening the load
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and Sanchez both said the 150-pound loads often carried by soldiers and Marines make them less mobile and more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries.
Ostrowski said the Army continues to investigate new nanotechnologies that could be used to make lighter body armor capable of stopping powerful projectiles.
At Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., researchers have developed a 6-inch disk that is about half to one-third the weight of traditional ballistic plates used in body armor. It is a promising development that could translate into a lighter load, he said.
Army and Marine officials agree that focusing solely on gear isn't enough. The uncertainty of resupply means that if you trim a pound of a soldier or Marine's kit, he will likely just add it back on by carrying more food, water or ammunition.
Troops will carry less if they have confidence in resupply, Ostrowski said.
Smith echoed that sentiment.
“Once Marines have confidence, they will carry less. They will take water and chow out of their packs,” he said. “Enhancing the logistics piece does, in fact, go a long way toward lightening the load.”
Staff writer Michelle Tan contributed to this report.