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Three-year camo search stalls - for now

Nov. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The MulitCam pattern is seen. A three-year, estimated $10 million effort to find a new Army camouflage pattern has yet to bear fruit.
The MulitCam pattern is seen. A three-year, estimated $10 million effort to find a new Army camouflage pattern has yet to bear fruit. (Army)
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To identify a new camouflage pattern the Army has invested three years, an estimated $10 million and a detailed evaluation by nearly a thousand soldiers rating camo performance in dozens of terrains.

The result as of now, months after the originally anticipated production date? Nothing.

Getting the new camo approved and into the field simply is “not a priority at this time,” Army officials said.

“The Army is not in a position to announce a change in our combat uniform/camouflage pattern,” Army spokesman William Layer said. “We remain focused on our soldiers in combat, the effects of sequestration, reductions in force structure, administrative and emergency furloughs of our civilian workforce, a continuing resolution that does not take into account [fiscal 2014] funding priorities, and global threats.

“Congress is also considering legislation that could impact any decision involving new uniform camouflage patterns. Based on the combination of all the factors listed above, announcing a decision on the Phase IV Camouflage effort is not a priority at this time.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler in June told Army Times the service has reached a “90 percent solution” and he expected a decision within two months.

Stars and Stripes on Sept. 23 reported that Chandler told troops in Afghanistan the new camouflage pattern would be phased in starting early next summer. He was reported as describing a pattern similar to MultiCam but with different colors for different environments.

Less than two weeks earlier, the Army entered into negotiations with Crye Precision for non-exclusive license rights to their MultiCam pattern — which the Army refers to as the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, or OCP. The Army pays monthly indirect usage fees to Crye based on the quantities of uniforms and Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment it procures, Layer said. The analysis found the Army would have “considerable cost saving” by purchasing the rights for deploying soldiers.

This could indicate a first step toward solidifying your new camouflage pattern. MultiCam scored high in numerous tests and its manufacturer, Crye Precision, was a finalist in the competition. Chandler’s descriptions also suggest this might be the solution.

Officials said the decision to purchase MultiCam rights is a separate matter all together.

“The decision to buy the rights to the OCP pattern is being made on its own fiscal and operational deployment merits,” Layer said. “Paying for the rights to use OCP over 10 years will save significant amounts over paying monthly usage fees because the Army is projected to remain in Afghanistan at least through 2014. ... This decision makes financial sense no matter what decision is made on the Army’s camouflage pattern.”

A COSTLY EFFORT

The Army has not released the camouflage competition’s cost. The service in 2011 said it expected to spend as much as $10 million on the tests.

And that is just the start.

The cost of changing the camo pattern on new uniforms is relatively low. But it costs $2,500 to outfit a soldier with Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment, according to Army data. Multiply that by 1 million soldiers and the price is $2.5 billion.

But there is no question that a replacement is needed for the Universal Camouflage Pattern, fielded in 2004. The three-color UCP has problems with isoluminance. Its fine texture and lack of contrast fades to a gray blotch at a short distance.

The Army tested dozens of camouflage patterns in four backgrounds common to Afghanistan when senior enlisted personnel deployed to Afghanistan expressed “serious concerns regarding UCP’s camouflage effectiveness during combat operations,” according to a September 2010 report compiled by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. The top performers were MultiCam, Woodland and Desert MARPAT and AOR 1 and 2 uniforms. UCP, on the other hand, was in the bottom 10 for all four backgrounds “and did not perform well in any of them,” according to the report.

Another survey developed for OEF veterans brought 2,043 qualified responses from five posts. It was soon clear that the UCP was “perceived to be not as effective as desired,” according to the report.

PEO Soldier reached out to industry and in-house scientists for a solution. Twenty-two new patterns were tested from June 2010 through September 2011. Part of that evaluation included a calibrated computer program that allowed 900 soldiers to rate how well existing camouflage patterns blended in 45 terrains.

Four industry competitors were identified as finalists. They are ADS Inc., of Virginia Beach, Va., teamed with the Canadian firm HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp.; Brookwood Companies Inc., of New York City; Crye Precision LLCB, also of New York City.; and Kryptek Inc., of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Fifty uniforms for each camouflage pattern were put through extensive field trials last summer. The trials placed each variant in practically every global environment and terrain, included two major field exercises and relied heavily on feedback from soldiers who measured the time and distance required to identify patterns in a multitude of settings.

The tests provided information from more than 200,000 data points. The goal was to determine which pattern provides the best concealment through a woodland variant, a desert variant and a transitional variant that covers everything in between.

PEO Soldier at the time said the official recommendations would be submitted to leadership in October 2012 with production beginning in early 2013.

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