Collaboration in Civic Spheres

GAO report targets ineffective camouflage for U.S. soldiers

by October 25th, 2012

Camouflage uniforms that according to U.S. Army soldiers, “provided ineffective concealment in the Afghan environment” may point to the need for an Army-wide revamp of camo cover suited to different environments. And it could carry a price tag of as much as $4 billion over five years. A big part of the problem was failure to complete field testing and prioritize the needs of soldiers in the field. Meanwhile, the Marines got it right, developing effective camo based on extensive testing. The Navy smartly adopted the effective Marine camo, but the Air Force has also floundered on this front. Underlying it all, the services’ parent agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, has failed to meet a 2010 legislative directive to develop joint criteria for combat-ready camouflage. All this is according to a recent General Accounting Office report titled “DOD Should Improve Development of Camouflage Uniforms and Enhance Collaboration Among the Services.”

In its response to the report, the Department of Defense agreed with the criticisms and said it will tackle the problems.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Defense told the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to develop new camouflage uniforms that are more fire-resistant to protect service members from Improved Explosive Devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other factors were to be considered too, such as concealment, operational comfort and durability.

The Marines developed effective, flame-resistant camouflage uniforms, but the Army and Air Force did not, the report said. Cary Russell, acting director of the GAO’s defense capabilities and management section, said the Army and Air Force uniforms did not conceal the wearers as well as the Marine uniforms. The Navy adopted the Marines camouflage uniforms for ground combat use in 2011. The Air Force began distributing its own camouflage uniforms in 2009, but decided in 2011 to adopt the Army uniforms for ground combat use by the end of this year as a stop-gap measure.

The report explains the Marines got it right by doing sequential field tests and winnowing 70 initial options down to one final choice, at a low overall cost.

The report also detailed the Army’s troubles.

A 2009 Army study found soldiers using the Universal Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, “were at greater operational risk of visibility to enemy forces than soldiers using the Marines’ pattern,” and Army soldiers in Afghanistan made it known the camo they had didn’t provide adequate cover. One problem was that field testing of Army camouflage uniforms for concealment wasn’t completed and a knowledge-based approach not used, the report said. Temporary replacement camouflage garb came in 2010. A new Army study to be completed by year’s end will evaluate the need for “environment-specific” camouflage patterns for use Army-wide.

Army officials told GAO it may cost up to $4 billion over 5 years to replace current uniforms plus coordinated protective gear.

“The military services have a degree of discretion regarding whether and how to apply Department of Defense acquisition guidance for their uniform development, and they varied in their usage of that guidance. As a result, the services had fragmented procedures for managing their uniformed development programs, and did not consistently develop effective camouflage uniforms,” the GAO report said.

In 2010, a new federal law required the separate services to use the same criteria in designing new camouflage uniforms, but the Department of Defense hasn’t followed through. “…the task is incomplete. If the services do not use joint criteria to guide their activities, one or more service may develop uniforms without the certainty that the uniforms include the newest technology, advanced materials or designs, and meet an acceptable level of performance. … The Air Force has shown interest in the Army’s current uniform development, but none of the services has agreed to partner with the Army on a new uniform,” the report said.

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