GAO Camouflage Report Falls Short

We posted a story Saturday on a recent Government Accountability Office report that criticizes the U.S. Military’s management of camouflage programs over the past decade. The Sept. 28 report praises the Marine Corps’s development of its desert and woodland digital patterns but slammed the Army and Air Force camouflage programs for wasting millions and fielding ineffective patterns.

The GAO calls on the Pentagon to takes steps to improve camouflage development service-wide, but seasoned veterans I talk to maintain that the report doesn’t come close to solving the problems associated with service-specific camo efforts.

The GAO report does shed light on the military’s “fragmented approach” to camouflage development, a problem that began when the services began replacing the venerable, woodland and desert camouflage uniforms with their own unique camo patterns. And this is the first time a government report has documented the flawed beginnings of the Army’s Universal Camouflage Pattern.

“As part of the development of the ACU, the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center began a field evaluation in 2002 of the performance of 13 camouflage patterns and color combinations. However, PEO Soldier officials told us that prior to the completion of this study the leadership chose a camouflage pattern and colors for the new uniform without data from the camouflage study,” the report states.

“PEO Soldier leadership could not provide a performance report to support the selection of the Universal Camouflage Pattern nor explain how the camouflage pattern was developed. The Universal Camouflage Pattern was not part of the Natick study and was not tested prior to the decision by PEO Soldier to use this pattern or prior to the June 2004 approval of the pattern by the Chief of Staff.”

The GAO praises the Marine Corps’s development of its two digital patterns, which continue to perform well. The report, however, overlooks that the Marine Corps effort opened the door to service-specific branding through camo patterns. Experts have long argued that the Pentagon should not have allowed the Marine Corps to claim the highly-effective MARPAT desert digital pattern as its own and order its fielding to fellow services fighting on the same battlefield.

Another shortcoming of the GAO report is its failure to assess the camouflage programs of special Operations forces.

 “The development activities of special operation forces, such as the Naval Special Warfare Command, are outside the scope of this review. We were not requested to review the uniform program for special forces,” the report states.

This is a problem. For some reason, conventional forces tend to ignore the camouflage development and testing that goes on within Tier-One U.S. Special Operations Command units.

Senior Army leaders made this mistake the service began searching in 2009 for a camouflage pattern to replace the UCP in Afghanistan. Army special-ops units such as Delta Force and the 75th Ranger Regiment had found the MultiCam pattern, made by Crye Precision, to be extremely effective in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group recommended MultiCam to Army leaders as the best solution to replace UCP in Afghanistan, but the Army decided instead to spend $3.4 million on an extensive camouflage assessment that eventually led testers to select MultiCam as the Army’s new OCP in 2010.

Later this year, the Army is slated to select a new family of camouflage patterns, the result of its exhaustive camouflage improvement effort. The GAO estimates that the Army will spend $4 billion to replace the uniforms and equipment patterned in UCP. The Army could save $82 million if it partners with another service in the effort, the GAO maintains.

Some experts suggest that the Army should select MultiCam as its universal pattern and use the Marine Corps desert digital pattern for purely desert regions,  but that’s unlikely since both patterns are already in the inventory and have proven to be very effective in multiple studies as well as in years of combat.

About the Author

Matthew Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at He can be reached at
  • Lance

    Multicam doesn’t work as well for woodland areas and some MARSOC uses woodland with there Digi USMC camo. The Army could go back to Woodland and use Multicam and DCU again for high desert and sand desert conditions they worked fine.

    • WLCE

      multicam works very well for woodland areas. I dont know *** youre talking about…

  • majrod

    IMO special forces was ignored for the same reasons there wasn’t an analysis on who started uniqueness or assessment of Navy’s aquaflage to the same level as the ABU pattern.

    Two criteria, “best pattern” “comon pattern” are all we need. We fight in the same place next to each other the camo insanity will continue.

    • Glenno


    • Sal

      Maybe because the USMC brass won’t allow anyone else to use it. Who knew they could be such fashion queens.

    • Go Navy!

      Well said Major. Agree we need a best pattern that fits the theater and also a common pattern. I can see Marines and their pride in their uniform. Have them put their Eagle Globe Anchor on the “Marine” uniform, but make pattern available to other branches. It worked for the Woodland BDUs. Having all of these different patterns is just ridiculous. Does other countries do this? The wars in the past decade have shown us that “we” (all branches) are fighting the same wars and made the ultimate sacrifice.

  • SleepyDave

    Commandant Conway can kick rocks and suck…socks…

    Seriously. MARPAT is awesome. One woodland, one desert, and mono-color gear. Boom. Issue that **** to EVERYONE. Stop all this prissy crap with special needs and branding. SOCOM gets the same uniforms everyone else does. Its a plan that worked for decades.

    The whole point in Special Ops units wearing the same camo as everyone else is that they could blend in with other units. The average Internet Warrior should not be able to say “Oh, yeah, that looks like Delta. 2nd Platoon, if I’m not mistaken (no idea, I just grabbed a unit and a number)” when he sees a picture on

    NSW gets their own uniforms. MARSOC uses their own CUT of an old pattern. Navy has 3 distinct camo uniforms which are NOT the same as the NSW patterns, I’m told. Army has a pattern no one wants most of the time and a pattern everyone wants if you get to deploy to specific locations, AF has some silly little mess of a pattern everyone hates in a cut people can’t stand BUT YOU CAN’T WEAR IT IN COMBAT so they just use everyone elses pattern UNLESS YOU’RE AFSOC in which case you get Multicam no matter where…

    One woodland digital, one desert digital, one color of gear, and knock it off.

    • Matt M.

      You’re going a little overboard. It’s true that the Army COULD field a whole new pattern (like there’re trying to) and spend a bunch of money, or the Marines could let the Army use MARPAT minus the EGA and a lot of money and time will be saved. The fact is that MARPAT works, the Canadians have a great template and it’s served both the Marines and the Canadians well for years. If the Army can adapt it for themselves they should be able to, I get the Marines wanting to keep it for themselves, but when you think about it-there really are many benefits that could come from both services using it.

    • straps

      Epic 4th paragraph there Dave. Absolutely epic.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Fully agree that the Marine Corps’ copyrighting the MARPAT pattern was dumb and not a little childish. The utility cover and emblem on the pocket is all Marines need. (I’m a former Marine).
    UCP is a joke; while it looks good in admin, it’s pathetic in the field and makes Soldiers the subject of jokes around the world.

  • Brian

    A thousand Amens to everyone above. The pattern should be environmentally-tailored, common across all branches, and selected on objective performance criteria. Period. End of story.

    How much money are we wasting with the rainbow of uniforms currently in use? When we were all in woodland or three-color desert, they worked fine. (One thing that I think has improved, with the ACU being a possible exception, is the construction of the uniforms. Some thought was put into design and that IS a good thing.) But now we have a mentality that it has to be new, has to be modern, has to be constantly innovative and so we get… A rainbow of patterns that change seemingly every month. Just pick two. *Maybe* three. And then quit messing with it all the time.

  • Morgan

    Thank you Brian, I totally agree. While I admit that I do get the occasional semi for the Marine style uniforms (sorry Sol), I wouldn’t mind so long as Big Army chose a friggan 2 pattern system and stuck with it. How much did we all spend on ACU tactical nonsense out of pocket AND out of military budget, and then BAM we get multi-cam, and then BOOM POW we get what ever this new style is gonna be. I mean seriously. All I’m saying is that I at least better be able to roll my sleeves up in the new ****.

  • Pete Sheppard

    There is another camo pattern on the market that is very similar to MARPAT, called ‘Digicam’. It is a little greener than MARPAT’s ‘cat-puke’ brown, so it’s available.
    SECDEF should tell the Corps to share its pattern and get over it, then find and charge the idiot who rammed ACU down the Army’s throat.

  • Brandon

    Correct me if I am wrong. Hopefully this will settle this debate about peoples rear ends being sore and the like. The Pentagon runs the Marine Corps and can decide that everyone gets to wear MARPAT and if they wanted, they could even tell the Marines to pack sand if they had a problem with them wearing the EGA on it. The Marines are not a private company and can not dictate up the chain who wears what. It was a bad rumor that the Marines didnt want regular sailors wearing the Navy AOR camo patterns due to it being so similar to MARPAT. Guess which department the marines belong to so guess who would have won. Lastly, as I understand it, as was done in the OEF pattern study, AOR1 and 2, as well as MARPAT was tested against these private patterns. AOR is said to perform better than MARPAT in both an experiment and by DEVGRU, so make everyone including the Marines wear it. Better yet, if neither of the two sets of patterns performed good enough to compete with their private sector counter parts, than I guess no one should be wearing them. Lastly, I am not a big fan of solid color gear but a mix of ranger green and coyote may work well enough or it should be all transitional. Reversible covers like the brits use to cover their packs are a good idea.

    • BRASS

      Actually no. The Marines received a US patent on their pattern and by federal law no one else is legally able to use it without changing it enough to receive a new patent. To do that they have to demonstrate that they have made significant changes that alter the function, as I understand it. Simply removing the EGA will not achieve any material difference.

      Whether you agree with the Marines having their own unique uniform is another matter and not one that would be considered in court.

  • Drew

    How about we let the soldiers decide what they want for once they want to put new kit on the ground, well let listen to who is one the ground you know.

  • Amazingly, the purpose of Camoflage should be to blend in. The military branches use it to stand apart.

    Whatever is determined to be the best pattern, should be the only pattern.

    However, I will say this entire situation did get me to laugh.

  • Morgan

    Why don’t we just take all of the research money for camo and buy the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter, and backwards engineer it into uniforms? OBVIOUSLY that would be our best choice, i don’t even know why it hasn’t been done already!

  • Chris

    I don’t care about the Marines having their own unique pattern, I like that idea, sets them apart from the rest. Now the Air force shouldn’t really be spending that much on uniforms. And the Army should just use the Multicam or US4CES camo, which is basically MARPAT but with bigger digital squares (Look it up, it actually looks great).

  • Matt M.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Multicam doesn’t work well for wooded areas. The recent studies that the Army ran have said that for pure woodland or desert MARPAT is one of the best, however for areas in-between the two (i.e. transitional) Multicam outperforms pretty much anything if I’m not mistaken.
    Link- Coming when I find it.

  • Riceball

    As bad as we are the Russians are worse, not only do the different branches of their military each have different camo uniforms, even different branches and units within a service has their own uniforms.

  • Doc

    When they did the study in Afghanistan, Multicam won overall, however MARPAT won in both desert and strictly woodland compared to Multicam. There was however experimental camoflage from Crye, one was a Woodland version of Multicam, and the other was a Desert version of Multicam and those two versions blew MARPAT outta the water, so why don’t we just use Multicam as standard, Woodland version for woods, desert version for desert. As far as that gear goes I still think that pics of Ranger Batt, and SF in Afghanistan both using Coyote Tan/Khaki blend in perfectly fine, the point of this camo isn’t to make you into a walking ghillie suit, its supposed to make you hard to detect at a distance while moving. Obviously standing still and having a solid color on your chest will make you stand out a lil, but anybody standing still with a all the equipment we wear is going to stick out.

  • Matt M.

    I like the idea that a few people have proposed before; using the Multicam template and making desert and woodland versions, and then using regular Multicam as the transitional pattern. It makes sense since the Army has already fielded Multicam gear, but also because Multicam scored the highest as a transitional pattern in the testing that the Army did not too long ago. (if i’m not mistaken)

    Or if somehow we could get the Marines to let the Army use MARPAT, they could develop a transitional variant of MARPAT since woodland and desert already exist. You would have the same solution either way while doing what the Army wants (dedicated woodland, dedicated desert, transitional) and saving money.

  • Phobos

    Well, in Colombia the Armed Force use the same camouflage pattern for woodland/jungle terrain, the colombian digital woodland “Patriota” Camouflage Pattern. You recognize the branches because of the colour of the footwear and the cover: the Army use black boots and round top cover, the Air Force use the sage green boots (just like the US Air Force) except for the Ground Security Forces that use the black boot, all Air Force personel use the round tope cover, like the Army. The Marines and the Navy use the coyote brown(like the USMC)/ desert tan boots, both are aproved for use since coyote brown boots, besides the issue ones, are difficult to get since they aren´t widely sold by the army/navy stores; and the 8 point cover. Also they use different shirt, the Army one is green, the Air Force is blue and the Navy/Marines one is in the same camouflage pattern.
    The only difference in combat uniforms is the desert pattern, the Army use the desert varian of the Patriota camouflage pattern, the Navy/Marines use the US tri desert and the Air Force dont use any desert pattern (or none that I’ve seen).
    That’s prettty much all.

  • Shawn

    I find it pathetic that we are even having to have a discussion like this. Regardless of which branch we serve it should be providing everyone with the best we can. I am more worried about the massive increase in suicide, decrease in discipline, and pending massive budget cuts we are facing. The fact we are spending the kind of money we are on this is a joke.

  • WLCE

    this is infuriating to say the least.

    As a tax payer and citizen concerned about the gargantuan waste from our government and especially our defense department, I move to strip away all camo uniforms and issue OD Green and Coyote Brown to every branch of the armed forces from now on.

    Nope. cannot happen. too good to be true.

    I say find two exceedingly effective woodland, transitional, and desert patterns and FORCE all branches to adopt it, regardless of the merits of previous patterns. This branch specific camo is getting pitiful and ridiculous.

  • WLCE

    actually yes they can, if they wanted to. it would be a bureaucratic mess too.

    “Whether you agree with the Marines having their own unique uniform is another matter and not one that would be considered in court.”

    Actually it should be because this multiple pattern BS is waste plain and simple. It should be considered in court because the ******* DOD works for the American people, not the other way around.

  • WLCE

    not even remotely true.

    SOCOM is still wearing the NWU and Multicam. Units attached to Afghan Special Forces have a similar woodland camo as they do.

    Try being right at least once.

  • Greg

    Nope sorry, Multi-Cam ONLY works well in places in between!

    • WLCE

      ? are you kidding or serious?

      • derek

        Woodland BDUs are easily more effective in woodland environments than multi cam. Multi cam is a great all around pattern but it cannot compete with paterns designed for one single area of operations, I.e. BDUs and DCUs, or the marine corps 2 separate digitized paterns.

  • Ogre

    The only benefit that would come from the Army being allowed to adopt the CADPAT/MARPAT pattern is that hostile forces would be less aggressive about engaging them in the open. Don’t even try to argue it with me, it’s already been seen and proven in both Iraq and Afgan.

    The Army needs to ust adopt Multicam completely since they’re already issuing out the gear to deploying units in MLTCM pattern. Why waste a **** ton of money trying to find an all new, unique pattern, when they’ve got one that performs better than the **** storm they’ve been wearing for the last decade almost.

    • majrod

      That’s ridiculous. Been proven? Show me…

    • Lee

      Ogre. Are you a Marine? Only Marines think like that. I have fought alongside multiple Army and USMC units and am a former Marine myself and can emphatically say that reputation for a fight depends on the unit, not the service. The only thing different about the marines and Army IN units is their TO&E – Marines have 3x teams per Squad and Army has 2. Other than that, I can name multiple Marine units that I think are absolutely soup. Can do the same for the Army as well. Leadership is what makes the difference. Not the service. No issues though. I thought the same thing when my world was all about the marines. Coming to the Army changed my opinion and so did working with both on multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • WLCE

      “is that hostile forces would be less aggressive about engaging them in the open”

      What a pile of marine hubris. believe me, youre not the first marine that has tried to pull that one.

  • Lee

    I do agree with many on this board that we should all look the same and stop trying to look different – to include SOF.

    Tragic that all of the services have allowed the switch to a multitude of patterns. Also tragic that the Army chose UCP years ago – it would be amazing if there was some way to catalogue all of the lives lost due to poor camo.

    During one of my tours in Afghanistan, the unit I serve with operated predominately in RC-S. We wore Multi Cam, but some of the units we worked with were still in UCP. They stuck out like a sore thumb and one could see their outlines for hundreds of meters in the thick gardens in Zhari and Arghandab. The Marines even stuck out in the gardens of Sangin in their desert camo. However, Multi Cam seemed to camo well and I often had trouble seeing our own guys within 10 meters when light conditions and shading were a factor.

    Insurgents know who we are from our uniforms and patterns. During several tours in Iraq, I spoke to many INS who would willingly fight against some Army units based on unit patches, while avoiding others. The Stryker 2ID indianhead seemed to cause INS to pause the most – they just did not seem to want to tangle with them, but they would willingly tangle with some other units.

    point is…. Insurgents watch us very closely so they can ID patterns. They know who we are, when we RIP, etc. It sure would be nice if we all looked the same so that we have every advantage possible. What a novel idea! It took us about a decade post Vietnam to all get on the same page. Maybe the same will hold true after 9/11, but I seriously doubt it. Thank you USMC for starting a camo craze that makes absolutely no sense – coming from a former USMC 0311 (K/3/6) and current ABN RGR. Since I am a former USMC grunt, I have earned the right to bash the marines a little for their stupidity in patenting a uniform we could have all used and looked the same in.

    The dress uniforms are what should distinguish the services, not the combat unifirm. Either way, it is what it is. The unit I am in outfits me for the fight I am in and I am proud to serve with them. I am just passionate about my brothers and sisters on my left and right. Since I get to see a lot of other units through my travels, I get frustrated in their lack of proper kit and the stupid way we separate ourselves in the rainbow of camo patterns out there.

  • FormerSFMedic

    What a ridiculous comment. “Multicam doesn’t work as well”? As well as what? All you said was Multicam doesn’t work as well. Your poor grammar and English have brought the motives of your comment to the surface. As well as………blank. So, in other words, you don’t like Multicam and/or you are simply trying to provoke others into an argument or emotional response. That is the only reason for posting that comment because there is no argument for another pattern, which means your saving your argument as a response to others who respond. Stop trolling.

  • Matt

    the fact that every branch fields a totally different camo uniform…….well, disgraceful. one series of camo for all branches.

    Marpat seems like a good answer. it should have been the BDU/DCU replacement

    multicam is an ********* as well. we are in an era of austerity. hope DOD comes up with a solution…because the status quo does not seem sustainable.

  • Steven

    The OCP aka Multicam works very well in garrison when you go to the field and when you deploy to overseas like middle east countrys too. Im in USASOC at FT Bragg and I love the OCP’s. Stop wasting money on uniforms, 5.5 billion dollars, really? Lets save money and get rid of the ACU pattern and stick with OCP (Multicam). Thank you

  • abp3000

    OK, here’s what needs to happen. Army should choose the US4CES pattern, which is more or less an improved MARPAT. Air Force should just tag along and adopt it too. Lord knows when they send Airmen into theatre they always just wear Army uniforms (I recall Airmen in ACUs in Iraq circa 2008 and I saw Airmen in Multicam before they shipped off to ‘Stan). Marines can keep their current uniform. I guess Navy can keep their sea-flage for garrison or ships, but when they deploy, they should be in AOR1 or AOR2 (which like US4CES is just an improved MARPAT) depending on the theatre.

    Kit, where a lot of the money goes, should just come in one color, the US4CES OCIE pattern. Because it’s tailored to be an intermediary between all “digital squares” patterns, basically every service could use it.

    The end result would be every US serviceman in some type of “digital squares” pattern (but not a useless one like UCP) that, to the normal person on the street, looks about the same, i.e. we will have returned to BDU/DCU regime where you know what an American serviceman looks like, while each service gets to maintain their semblance of uniqueness (yeah, whatever. I think that’s dumb to start with).

    Going forward, if the need for a post “digital squares” regime arises,DOD should appoint a joint service board to conduct a multiyear test and their results should be binding on all services.

    And yes, this entire mess could have been avoided if the USMC didn’t patent MARPAT and the other services (mostly Army) did the right thing and just use those patterns, but that didn’t happen, so now we have to unscrew the pooch. I think my “everyone in digital squares plan” does just that.

    What do you think?

  • WLCE

    I dont agree. Perhaps in the jungle, but woodland BDUs are too green in my opinion. Many wooded areas are more brown and tan than anything, which is where multicam excels.

    I dont doubt that MARPAT woodland works in the jungle or thick forest, but in temperate forests and grasslands, i dont agree. saying something is better in “wooded environments” is painting with a giant brush a mile wide.

  • WLCE

    lets have a basic biology lesson.

    Why are a overwhelming majority of animals on the ground brown and tan?????

    why are only the animals that live high in the tree line exclusively green or foliage colored????

    I rest my case. Why are we even having this stupid camo debate when you can just look at camo trends with animals?

  • US Soldier Former Ma

    I am in Afghanistan now and wearing multicam. Yes, it is better than the UCP but the Army is getting away from a one camouflage for all terrain solution. Also, I went on patrol in Iraq in UCP and am baffled why to think that Multicam would not be applicable to that environment as well.

    I do not know why the Army brass has not made a faster decision than with this deliberate Phase IV camouflage effort. Simply and quickly change the uniform like with many other changes of yesteryear.

    Also, the argument about pattern will hold no water because I saw sailors wearing NW III today and their rank is placed just like the Army in the center (which I despise as well)

    Propper had the MARPAT pattern on the ACU cut and we could have went with that.

    But I heard through the grapevine, that the SMA is recommending that ranks go back on the color and that the top front pockets be turned 15 degrees.

    Let us wait and see.

    • US Soldier Former Ma

      I meant ranks go back on the collar (also getting rid of the mandarin collar) and hopefully a better fit.

      • US Soldier Former Ma

        It just has gotten so stupid for service identity. The Marines wear a green t-shirt but the Army has to wear Tan. I wear foliage green and wish they Army would just adopt that color. But it is only for fuelers and pilots for flame-retardant reasons. Jeez.

  • Leon

    supplier of new Ghille suits from China

  • SSG

    In my experience, the multicam actually can work well in forested areas, it just depends on environmental factors, such as lighting. It may not work as well as woodland MARPAT, but it gets the job done.

    I would never use multicam in the jungle, though.

    • US Soldier Former Ma

      Looks like US4CES camo has been selected by the US Army!!

  • m16a4ish
    • m16a4ish