We posted a Military.com 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.

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