Sunday, September 30, 2012

DOD to Improve Camouflage Uniform Development

A lot of media outlets are still erroneously reporting that the U.S. Army wasted $5 Billion on the Universal Camouflage Pattern and in turn the Army Combat Uniform. The United States Government (GAO) Accountability Office has set the record straight and has suggested to the Department of Defense  (DOD) that they need to implement several measures to ensure that any future developments do not result in waste. While the U.S. Army and other services could certainly have saved a great sum of money by having a better approach at uniform development and camouflage selection, it is good to see some precise facts presented to show what figures we are talking about and why there were failings.

Army Lt. Gen. Stults at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan
Photo by U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Walker

The first sentence in the GAO's Report helps dispel the nonsense "The military services spent about $300 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to procure new camouflage uniforms." A more comparable figure later explains that $4 Billion Dollar is needed by the U.S. Army to replace all Uniforms and Gear over 5 years with a new camouflage pattern. While, this is not $5 Billion, it is a "scary" dollar figure for some to comprehend. One must consider a force of over 1 Million Soldiers when including Reserves and National Guard, plus a wide range of equipment that would utilize the camouflage beyond sets of uniforms for each soldier. In the scheme of things the actual figure of $4 Billion Dollars is not even 1% of the DOD budget for one year, let alone spread out over 5 years.

Surely there will be an implementation phase where "used" equipment is replaced. There will be some new inventory that goes to surplus, but that is a given when new technology is implemented. Part of the $300 million spent on new uniforms in 2011 went toward those with Flame Resistant properties along with other improvements, which were needed regardless. Obviously the U.S. Army should have accountability for the disaster that was the Universal Camouflage Pattern, but it is also important to not impede improvements by throwing out drastic figures and churn distrust with inaccurate reporting.

The GAO looked at the evidence on hand and decided that four measures needed to be implemented by the Department of Defense, with specific evidence to show that the Army and Air Force, who drew the brunt of criticism were not utilizing some of the following four measures:
  • Ensure services use clear policies and procedures and a knowledge-based approach
  • Establish joint criteria among different services
  • Develop policy to ensure equivalent protection levels
  • Pursue partnerships where applicable to reduce cost 
We want to point out some key figures and the general guidance given. The actual report is provided at the bottom of the post in its entirety, which is quite interesting in all of the details and data given. Ultimately, the GAO is looking at the responsibility of the DOD to provide guidance to all services on how uniform development should be structured and properly implemented to avoid waste. A factor they point to is the "The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010" that explicitly instructs the Secretaries for the different services to provide joint criteria for these uniform developments. Past discretion has led to the need for this report and the GAO wants the DOD to reign it in by implementing their measures.

The GAO notes that the ACU cost the U.S. Army $3.2 Million to develop equal to the cost of the ABU for the Air Force, which is 10 times the cost of the MCCU for the Marine Corps to develop. The Navy spent slightly more than the Marine Corps for their own NWU. The Army spent $3.4 Million to develop OCP (MultiCam) for Afghanistan and is expected to spend around $7 million to fully develop any new camouflage implemented with their latest camouflage effort along with any other improvements to the uniform that are made.

The GAO derides the uniform development plans or lack there of from the U.S. Army and Air Force while commending the Marines, but stating that they didn't bother with the Navy, since they only developed uniforms for their special operations forces (NSWC) which is outside the purview of this report. We don't know what category they put the NWU III, but it is clear that it was not of consequence here. The biggest red flag for the Army was the fact that PEO Soldier couldn't provide a performance report for UCP or provide an explanation for its acceptance despite camouflage testing from Natick which suggested another pattern.

The Air Force chose an ineffective material for combat which resulted in an Improved ABU later on and they definitely did not choose an effective pattern. In fact they note that the Marines chose MARPAT over Tiger Stripe since the latter proved ineffective and they chose the color palette of UCP, which was its major failing. Clearly a Monday morning quarterback can say these were horrible choices all around and the report points out all of the failings in their planning, but the U.S. Air Force Clothing Office summed it up for them: "The original direction for the development of the ABU was for non-combat use rather than as a combat uniform or as a camouflage-effective garment."

Senior Airman Callendar at Joint Base Balad, Iraq
Photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt Trojca
One of the biggest factors stresses is that the DOD needs to  guide the different services to share uniforms once again, which will save on development and inventory costs, but also provide the best protection technology for all. Hopefully the Army can at least see the error in their ways and listens to Natick this time around in choosing effective camouflage patterns. The Air Force states that they are following what the Army is doing and will consider using their uniform if it meets their requirements, which is great if the Army gets it right this time around. The GAO report also reveals that the Coast Guard has talked with the Navy about utilizing their NWU, but never came to a formal agreement. Other examples of joint service cooperation are provided in the report

In the end the DOD has concurred with the suggested measures and say that they will take them to task. The Secretary and Under Secretary of Defense along with the Secretaries of the military departments will lead the way in implementing measures given by the GAO. The recognized steps to be taken are illustrated in the report. Overall we think these are some great recommendations even if a day late and a dollar short from the vantage point of many. Hopefully the main stream media will pick up this report and properly illustrate what is actually happening with the U.S. Army Camouflage Effort and all that may come from any failings. Perhaps they can do it now rather than regurgitate it in 2015 when any potential plans are already in place.

DOD Should Improve Development of Camouflage Uniforms and Enhance Collaboration Among the Services

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