View Full Version : Army knew ACU pattern was worst choice

10-03-2009, 06:19 PM


failure Army knew by 2006 UCP a poor choice
By Matthew Cox

The Army has known since 2006 that it outfits soldiers with an inferior camouflage pattern — but has taken no action to correct the problem until now.

Two studies by the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center and one by Army Special Operations Command show that the Army’s Universal Camouflage Pattern, now criticized by soldiers and Congress, performs poorly when pitted against other camouflage patterns.

The two-year study completed in March 2009 confirmed what Army experts concluded in 2006: that the Army’s UCP is less effective than other patterns available since 2002, well before the Army adopted the current camouflage for the Army Combat Uniform.

Officials released the 2009 Natick study Sept. 14 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Army Times.

Although the Army demonstrated the ability to rapidly field other changes to soldiers’ combat equipment during the same period — the latest advancements in soldier and vehicle armor, for example — officials failed to move with the same urgency when it came to effective camouflage.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee, took up the issue in mid-June after hearing complaints from “a dozen” Army noncommissioned officers who told him the ACU’s pattern is ineffective in Afghanistan’s brown and green countryside.

Murtha gave the Army until Sept. 30 to come up with a new pattern. “We want to work with the Army to ensure that the current uniform is the right camouflage pattern and that it is fielded immediately,” Murtha told Army Times.

Army officials briefed Murtha on Sept. 11 about the plan they are launching that includes a camouflage field test in Afghanistan. The effort could lead to the selection of a new camouflage pattern for Afghanistan by December.

But at the same time, they are preparing to order 57,000 lightweight armor plate carriers — also for use in Afghanistan — using the UCP pattern the Army has determined doesn’t work well there.

In a Sept. 14 interview with Army Times, Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, commander of Program Executive Office Soldier, questioned the seriousness of the camouflage pattern’s shortcomings in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I have not seen an ONS [operational needs statement] from either theater saying they have a camouflage problem: ‘Go get me an alternative,’ ” Fuller said. “This is the challenge that we do have — on one side we are trying to be responsive, and on the other side, we are trying to be responsible. If we hear a soldiers say, ‘We have a problem,’ [then] show me the problem.” Those problems are well-known to Army leaders familiar with the service’s own studies of the issue.

The most recent of these, “Photo simulation Camouflage Detection Test,” conducted by U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development between March 2007 and March 2009, pitted the current UCP pattern against alternative camouflage patterns. Four outperformed the Army Combat Uniform’s UCP.

The Marine Corps desert digital, MultiCam, Desert Brush and a Syrian military pattern all “improved the soldier ’s visual detectability by decreasing the detection distance by a minimum of 16 percent in the desert and woodland environments as compared to the target wearing UCP,” the report states.

All four patterns performed 16 percent to 36 percent better than the UCP across the woodland, desert and urban settings of the test, the report shows.

Army Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request Aug. 18 after Army officials refused requests for the report. It was delivered nearly a month later.

According to the 2009 Natick report, the first Natick study, called “Computerized Visual Camouflage Evaluation,” conducted between November 2005 and July 2006, found that “MultiCam performed significantly better than the UCP in most conditions.” Army Special Operations Command has tested MultiCam in different environments worldwide, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and found that it outperformed the ACU’s pattern. It is being considered as the future pattern of Army special operations forces.

The Army held a round-table discussion with reporters at the Pentagon Sept. 16 — one day after the Army Times Web site posted a story on the UCP’s poor performance in the Natick study finished in 2009 — to discuss the details about the service’s broad camouflage strategy.

The event featured high-level officials such as Dean Popps, the service’s acquisition chief, who rarely attends such discussions.

“Any notion, and I repeat, any notion that we are passive or that we do things in a serial fashion instead of a comprehensive fashion is simply false,” he said. “We are very actively engaged in the seriousness of taking care of soldiers.” Uniform officials also invited Col. Scott McBride to talk about his views on camouflage in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McBride commanded the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, in Afghanistan in 2005 and 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in 2007 and 2008 in Iraq.

In both areas, McBride described the terrain as too diverse for any one camouflage pattern. McBride said camouflage “wasn’t at the top of the list” of combat priorities such as force protection, communications, supplies and medical-evacuation support.

“Camouflage is important, but it was not the most important factor in keeping our soldiers alive,” he said.

It’s important enough, however, for the Army to kick off a multiphase camouflage effort aimed at addressing the terrain in Afghanistan by December and future battlefields in the long term. “The Natick study and what we are experiencing in Afghanistan right now is making us question: ‘Should we have a universal pattern or should we have specific patterns?’ We still don’t know,” Col. Bill Cole, project manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, said at the briefing.

By early October, Army uniform officials plan to outfit one battalion with new uniforms featuring a camouflage pattern that PEO Soldier is calling “UCP-Delta,” which is the current Universal Camouflage Pattern with a new color, “coyote brown,” blended into it. At the same time, the Army will sup-
ply another battalion with uniforms in MultiCam, a camouflage pattern already worn in combat by Army special operations forces.

In addition to rushing the new UCP-Delta and MultiCam to Afghanistan, uniform officials will take eight camouflage patterns to the country to conduct a new study using the photosimulation methods featured in the second Natick study.

That test sought to evaluate the detection performance of 18 “standard, foreign and experimental” patterns during daylight using NATO’s Research and Technology Organization’s guidelines for photosimulation data collection and analysis.

The 2009 Natick report raises questions as to why PEO Soldier overlooked the Marine desert digital, MultiCam and Desert Brush patterns in 2004 and chose the UCP for its Army Combat Uniform, a decision that resulted in $5 billion in uniform and equipment costs.

MultiCam, made by Crye Precision LLC, became a top contender when the Army began looking for a new camouflage design in 2002 to replace the Battle Dress and Desert Camouflage uniforms. In September 2003, uniform officials narrowed their search from a dozen patterns to two: “urban track” and MultiCam, which was then known as “Scorpion.” But the Army passed on MultiCam in favor of a new pattern that PEO Soldier created using a digitized version of the urban track pattern and stripping out the highly visible black shade. The new pattern became known as the UCP.

Fuller, who took command of PEO Soldier in 2008, said he did not have data to show Army Times to justify the UCP selection in light of its poor performance against the three U.S. patterns in the Natick testing. The Syrian pattern was not an option when the UCP was selected.

“There is no study there that is available from 2003 and 2004 when that decision was made that says, ‘Here are all the alternatives and we have down selected to this one,’ ” Fuller said Sept. 14.

At the Pentagon round-table discussion, Fuller told reporters the UCP “worked well enough” in woodland, urban and desert environments when compared with the BDU and DCU.

“Should the aperture have been open wider? Don’t know; that’s water over the bridge,” Fuller said. Army Materiel Command and the Naval Research Laboratory validated the science used in the Natick test, Fuller said, but the Army needs more science to back up any future decisions.

“Is the data in that report good? Yeah, but it has limitations,” Fuller said, pointing to the fact that the test evaluated only soldiers in uni*forms without their combat equipment. Also, Fuller criticized the test for using tan buildings for an urban setting.

“These are big-dollar investments,” Fuller said. “If we are going to make an informed decision, let’s make sure we have some basis of science here, and we are not saying we like this color over that color, because you are going to end up with lots of opinions.” The new test will involve mannequins dressed in camouflage uniforms such as UCP, UCP-Delta and MultiCam, said Cole, who would not name all the patterns involved. Two camouflage systems known as AOR 1 and AOR 2 will also be part of the test. In use by Naval Special Warfare personnel, they resemble the Marine desert and woodland digital patterns but feature a material that has a special treatment designed to reduce the wearer ’s infrared signature when viewed by night-vision devices.

Testers will photograph the patterns against varying terrain from distances out to 400 meters.

The test will also feature body armor and other clothing and individual equipment, known as OCIE, in UCP, MultiCam, coyote brown, khaki and Ranger green, a color Army special operations forces use.

Once the photosimulation study is complete, officials will analyze the findings, combine it with feedback from the two battalions wearing UCP-Delta and MultiCam and present recommendations for alternative options to commanders in Afghanistan and Army leaders, Cole said.

By December, Cole said he hopes to present options for alternative camouflage, “and leadership and commanders can make the decision.” Fuller said the long-term goal of the effort will go beyond the challenges of Afghanistan.

“We are not talking about doing something in Afghanistan; we are talking about having the science available so you say, ‘Hey, we are going into this geographical region, wherever it may be in the world … we could actually run through what that environment looks like,’ ” Fuller said.

He said it is his hope that this path will lead the Army to the best camouflage option.

“We are going to go lay this out and figure out what is the best,” Fuller said. “Then we lay it out to [Capitol] Hill ... Here is the investment that it will take to get there.

“If means we change out every OCIE,” he said, “then guess what? That is the best.”

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