Thursday, September 17, 2009

US Army to Field New Uniforms for Afghanistan



The Army is set to field new combat uniforms to two battalions in Afghanistan next month in an effort to better equip combat troops fighting in the varied terrain found in that rugged country.

For years some Soldiers have complained about the current multi-environment Universal Camouflage Pattern, arguing that the toned down grey and green stood out in desert environments, rocky ridges and forested valleys found throughout eastern Afghanistan, where most Army units now operate.

The new camo schemes include the Crye Precision-made MultiCam and a new pattern designed by the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts.

MultiCam was designed several years ago with the help of Natick and is popular with special operations forces in the Army and Air Force -- with some operators already wearing the squiggly brown, tan and green uniforms in Afghan combat.

Natick also developed a new variation of the UCP by adding coyote tan to the pattern; it will field the so-called UCP-Delta alongside the MultiCam one.

“We’re trying not to just deal with anecdotal information,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, chief of the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier, during a Sept. 16 briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “Just because someone else might be wearing something doesn’t mean that that is the best for all the environments.”



The decision comes on the heels of a demand from Congress to evaluate the feasibility of fielding a camo pattern to better fit the Afghan environment. In the Pentagon’s 2010 budget, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel ordered the Army to deliver a report on which camo worked best and to field a new one if it proved more effective.

But the Army claims it’s just evolving the uniform based on current needs.

“I don’t want to diminish the importance of congressional observations on our equipment and our operations,” Dean Popps, the Army’s top acquisition official, told Military.com. “But it would be a mistake to think that we are only doing this simply because Congress wrote a letter or made a comment.”

Commanders in Afghanistan are still deciding which units will receive the new duds, but Army officials say they’ll likely go to two battalions within the same brigade already deployed to the eastern region of Afghanistan. One battalion will get four sets of the MultiCam uniform for each Joe; the other battalion will get four sets of the UCP-Delta scheme uniform for each Soldier.

Army snipers are getting in on the new fashion trend as well, with the Army fielding about 100 MultiCam ghillie suits to sharpshooters in the AOR.



The service will also field sets of body armor and pouches in MultiCam, while units with the UCP-Delta will use their standard-patterned armor and a new chest rig in UCP-Delta.

By the end of January, the Army says it will decide which camo pattern works best –MultiCam, UCP-Delta or standard UCP – and field “alternate uniforms and [equipment] to selected units in specific regions of Operation Enduring Freedom.”

All told, the service so far plans to field 4,000 uniforms for the tests, at a cost of about $1 million.

The officer in charge of fielding Army equipment said the results will lead to an overall evaluation of the Army’s combat uniform strategy, and he admitted the current UCP – which was fielded in 2004 under a shroud of secrecy – might not fit the bill in the wider Army.

“When viewed against different backgrounds, the UCP worked well enough,” Fuller said. “Should the aperture have been opened wider? I don’t know. It’s water over the bridge.”

“The Army made a decision,” he added, “we are in a UCP uniform, and now we’re making a decision about where we go from here.”

Though Army officials are loath to admit the UCP’s shortcomings, a 2009 Natick study showed the current uniform performing worse than four other commercially available patterns in all environments, including urban, desert and woodland.

Read the entire Natick report at Defense Tech.
The study, which was first reported by the Army Times and a copy of which was obtained by Military.com, said MultiCam performed best as a universal pattern.

“If Army leadership desires to maintain a single, multi-environment camouflage pattern for combat missions, data from this evaluation show the MultiCam pattern is the best overall, readily available pattern,” the study said.

The study indicated that the Marine Corps desert digital pattern, or MARPAT, and another pattern called Desert Brush performed best in arid and urban environments. While the MultiCam “was not as good as MARPAT and Desert Brush patterns … it was significantly better than both patterns in two out of three woodland scenes,” the study said.

Both desert MARPAT and Desert Brush performed better than the UCP in eight of nine scenes testers evaluated, while MultiCam performed better than UCP in seven of nine scenes.

But Army officials, unconvinced of the latest Natick study, say that after results are in on the October fielding of MultiCam and UCP-Delta, they’ll launch yet another evaluation of seven camo patterns -- including a newly developed Natick pattern different from the UCP-Delta and a pattern being developed by the SEAL community called AOR-2 – to “develop the science” behind a regional uniform strategy.

“We’re trying to give commanders options; give them tools … that they can make decisions on based on their mission analysis,” said Col. Bill Cole, the Army program manager for Soldier equipment.

And though the Natick study recommended keeping the UCP as a garrison uniform “while supplementing combat missions with either an improved multi-environment pattern, such as MultiCam, or environment specific patterns,” the Army is reluctant to go back to the logistical hiccups that came with multiple uniforms.

“If you ask Soldiers, they say they like having one uniform,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger, the top enlisted advisor to the Army’s material command. “If we don’t retain the flexibility, and that means different kinds of uniforms with different patterns and different configurations, then we lose the ability to adapt to that terrain and background very quickly.”

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