(MintPress) – After spending millions of dollars to revamp the camouflage pattern on soldiers’ uniforms just a few years ago, the United States Army is now changing uniform designs again after fielding criticism from military personnel who say the initial upgrade made them more visible to hostile forces.
After soldiers complained to lawmakers about the uniforms, which they say made them visible in many areas, the military is now testing out a new round of uniforms to fix the problem.
Being called a “fiasco” by some critics, the measure could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, as defense-related expenditures are federally funded.
However, the military is downplaying the issue, as retired Lt. Col. David Accetta told MintPress in an interview of the uniforms in question that “even though there was criticism, it does work in a multitude of environments.” Accetta now serves as the chief of Strategic Engagement and Public Affairs at the Army research center in Natick, Mass., which manufactures most of the armed forces camouflage patterns.
Controversy over the uniform
“Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment,” an Army specialist who served two tours in Iraq, wearing the uniform in Baghdad and the deserts outside Basra, told The Daily on condition of anonymity. “The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit. As a cavalry scout, it is my job to stay hidden. Wearing a uniform that stands out this badly makes it hard to do our job effectively,” he said.
“If we can see our own guys across a distance because of it, then so can our enemy,” the soldier said.
The uniform in question, issued in 2004 to the tune of $5 billion, is called the “universal camouflage pattern.” It’s a grey pixelated uniform designed to blend in with a variety of environments, which didn’t quite live up to its expectations.
While soldiers have said it does well in urban environments, as the shades of gray within the design blend well with buildings, it does not work in desert settings. “It definitely makes a difference in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is primarily brown, and there’s no brown in the universal pattern,” one currently deployed Army officer anonymously told AOL Defense.
However, Accetta says, “It’s a Herculean challenge to come up with a uniform to work in all environments.”
Accetta said that historically, it is not unprecedented for the military to change uniforms to fit new terrains, referencing the shift from World War I, where soldiers wore khaki-colored uniforms, to the green colored uniforms worn in World War II.
“I’m not a scientist or an engineer, but I was in the Army for 20 years,” Accetta said. “The Army goes to a lot of different environments. There are lessons that are learned after years of conflict.”
Soldiers seek help from lawmakers in making uniform change
Soldiers suited in the universal camouflage, also referred to as the Advanced Combat Uniform (ACU), contacted the late Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha to lodge their complaints that the pattern did not perform well in war zones.
The Army launched an effort in June 2009 after Murtha, who was then chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, pushed for a better camouflage pattern.
The complaints and Murtha’s efforts resulted in the Army pulling the universal pattern for troops in Afghanistan, in favor of a “multi-cam” design better suited to the terrain of the region.
Brandon Webb, editor of the website Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP) and former Navy SEAL Sniper Head Instructor called the incident a “huge let down to the U.S. tax payer” in an article by The Blaze. Webb has also had experience in developing camouflage patterns and recently authored a book, called “The Red Circle”, about new trends in military and acquisition processes.
“It’s also proof that the antiquated Department of Defense acquisition system is broken and in desperate need of fixing. I could develop a better solution in a few months and for under $100,000. All I would need is a good graphics designer and a contract lab (for IR/Thermal spectrum testing). I was recently part of a camouflage development for the commercial hunting market and we developed a very good multi-environment pattern for $70,000,” Webb said.
Army researchers are currently working on developing a better camouflage. Cheryl Stewardson, a textile technologist at the Natick research facility, told The Daily the reason that the last round of uniforms didn’t do the job was because “it got into political hands before the soldiers ever got the uniforms,” meaning that Army officials interfered in the selection process.
But Accetta, when asked about the reasons surrounding the decision, said, “I do not have any first-hand knowledge at what happened. I was not here at the time.”
Testing new patterns
The military is now testing four different patterns selected as finalists from a handful of vendors who were awarded contracts to make camouflage-patterned material for uniforms and equipment.
According to an official military news website, earlier this month soldiers started testing out one of those patterns made by Kryptek, Inc. of Fairbanks, Alaska. That pattern features interlocking shapes that look more like reptile scales than terrain as part of the field-trial portion of what is being internally called the Army’s “camouflage improvement effort”.
Another company in the running includes Crye Precision LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y, which invented MultiCam, the camouflage pattern that the Army chose in early 2010 to replace UCP in Afghanistan. ADS, Inc., teamed with Hyperstealth, Inc., of Virginia Beach, Va. and Brookwood Companies, Inc of New York, N.Y., are also contenders.
Each of these companies has submitted a family of camouflage patterns for desert, woodland and transitional along with a single coordinated pattern for individual equipment, such as body armor and load-bearing gear, to easily enable soldiers to make transitions from one environment to the next, the military has said.
Debi Dawson, a spokesperson for Program Executive Office Soldier has said that over the next nine months, soldiers will begin to evaluate each of the patterns. The Army then plans to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not to adopt a new camouflage pattern.
Accetta did not have any information on how much the project has totaled so far.
New permanent uniforms are anticipated in about a year, but until that time, soldiers on the ground have been given temporary uniforms made from a greenish blended pattern called MultiCam.