Monday, January 11, 2010

CQ reports on Army camo debate

Back in the fall, I linked to Wings Over Iraq and Strike - Hold! for coverage of the controversy over the Army's universal camouflage pattern, featured on the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). Long story short: in an attempt to provide adequate camouflage in all terrain, ACUs fail to effectively disguise their wearers in basically any environment. That's what the critics would have you believe, anyway.

This week, Congressional Quarterly jumps in with a 1,500 word Sunday story detailing how Congress has gotten involved.

Camouflage uniforms are supposed to help soldiers blend into their surroundings. But that's not what is happening in many instances with the camouflage pattern worn by U.S. Army soldiers.

Instead, the grey, green and tan "universal camouflage pattern" adopted for nearly all uses six years ago has become a new example of the Army's seeming inability to adapt quickly to new combat conditions.

The uniforms were designed mainly with the deserts of Iraq in mind -- though even there, internal Army studies have shown, the camouflage pattern is considered less able to hide its wearer than other color combinations. When the Army began to shift troops to Afghanistan in recent months, soldiers worried that the pattern actually made them stand out in some settings found in that country's diverse terrain, including in landscapes with darker earth, green valleys and mountain woodlands.

Although the Army has been conducting studies of the uniforms since 2006, nothing was done to replace the camouflage -- and perhaps nothing was going to be done -- until influential members of Congress, such as John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, stepped in and ordered it.

Interestingly, the Army is playing down the issue of how well its camouflage actually provides camouflage, suggesting instead that soldiers should be focused on how better TTPs can reduce their exposure.

Even though the Army is taking steps to field improved camouflage, officials have minimized the importance of the uniforms in concealing soldiers' movements versus other safety factors, such as the time of day the soldiers are moving and the routes they take.

As recently as September, in a report to Murtha on the camouflage issue, Army Secretary John M. McHugh wrote that commanders in Afghanistan have not asked for a new camouflage pattern, and so it is "not a priority from an operational perspective."

McHugh said in his report that the universal camouflage model, despite limitations, provides "adequate concealment across a range of environments."

Moreover, there is no evidence that soldiers have died in Afghanistan because their uniforms made their locations known to the enemy, said Col. William Cole, the project manager for soldier protection and individual equipment at Fort Belvoir, Va., headquarters of the Army's Materiel Command.

If the Army hasn't directed PEO Soldier to find a better solution, then hey, fine. But it seems silly to say "no problem here, move along!" when there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that the pattern is not effective, as demonstrated by soldiers' complaints. This seems a bit like what Ken White was talking about in this SWJ comment thread concerning the Army's head-in-the-sand approach to identifying problems with organic equipment and accepting outside solutions.

Anyway, go check out the article, and see the old camo thread here if you want a refresher.

14 comments:

  1. Given the numbers of high-ranking REMFs wearing cam at their desks (because we're at war!), you'd think "adequate concealment across a range of environments" was meant to include reduction of visibility while sitting at a desk...

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  2. While use of the term "REMF" strikes me as a little too Ricks-ish, I am right there with you on this, Mike. I can't tell you how many times I've damned near lost my mind bitching about this phenomenon. Why in the hell can't we go back to wearing service uniforms to desk jobs instead of bloody camo pajamas? (Feel my pain here.) It is completely freaking idiotic. And I feel the same way when I see Air Force officers wearing flight suits in the Pentagon. (Don't even get me started on the fact that the AF seems to mix and match about seven different uniforms with no discernible rhyme or reason, and that they wear woodland parkas with their ridiculous tiger stripe cammies, which are sometimes worn with blue-greenish boots and sometimes with desert tan, and sometimes with a beret and other times with a utility cap, and so on and so on, with these choices apparently connected only to the mood of the wearer. I'm gonna have an aneurysm.)

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  3. Why would the use of REMF strike you as Rick-esque? Ricks never was in uniform. If he did use the term, he likely would dick it up or trot it out in a manner that proved he had no real cultural fluency with it.

    As for those in CONUS without combat patches (been to the Pentagon much?), I heartily endorse the George Costanza school of desk use:

    GC: Jerry, look at my eyes.

    JS: A little less beady today.

    GC: Because I'm refreshed! I finally found a way to sleep in my office. Under the desk. I lie on my back. I tuck in the chair. I'm invisible.

    JS: Sounds like a really cool fort.

    SNLII

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  4. Why would the use of REMF strike you as Rick-esque?

    Because of this, and a whole series of posts with the same title.

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  5. Fair enough. Proof again that despite Gunslinger's boycott, this is the go-to blog for blogging about Ricks' blog.

    SNLII

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  6. It's like the "I Hate Rachel Green Club."

    When we learn that Gunslinger has knocked up Ricks, we can high-five him.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KKOHX3YEWw&feature=player_embedded#

    SNLII

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  7. I'll go ahead and be the contrarian.

    I see no issue here. Soldiers complain about everything. My gunner literally complained one time about having sex with his wife. I heard dozens of complaints about the M4 but never actually met a Soldier who was let down by it in combat.

    Soldiers complain about their camo? I say: welcome to the Army. When they're done complaining about that, they'll start in on the food, the chain of command, the details that they were put on, the CQ schedule, et cetera.

    I guess it strikes most people as outrageous for some pencil-pusher in a civilian office to essentially tell griping Soldiers to "suck it up" and deal with allegedly substandard gear. But I think the pencil-pusher has the stronger argument. I would love to hear a story of how the camo patter has significantly impacted any patrol. Really, find me a PFC who can explain that one to me, in detail, with a straight face, without darting his eyes throughout the tale. It's one thing to just throw out that assertion to a reporter who doesn't know a file from a wedge, or a wedge formation from a wedgie. It's another to really back up the assertion with something more than a BS gripe. For every dozen gripes I heard from my Soldiers and then asked for them to explain the issue, 11 explanations essentially boiled down to acute vaginitis.

    I can't speak to the big-picture procurement issues, as I am woefully ignorant of DA-level and other big-picture stuff. But the presence of griping Soldiers? That is only evidence of one thing: the presence of Soldiers.

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  8. The camouflage sucks, Schmedlap. Just buy what the Marines have.

    SNLII

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  9. I agree that is what should have happened. At the time that our uniforms were fielded, I was a bit baffled by the decision to reinvent the wheel, rather than buy what they had spent the R&D on (especially after seeing Marines wearing what looked like an appropriate camo pattern at NTC).

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  10. As penance, you must knock up Ricks so that Ink Spots can high five you.

    SNLII

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  11. The word verification I got on that -- no sh*t -- was "MORON."

    I think the Ink Spots' computer is trying to tell me something.

    SNLII

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  12. The word verification I got on that -- no sh*t -- was "MORON."

    This is awesome.

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  13. HAL is becoming self-aware, Gulliver. You might be the first one he knocks off.

    SNLII

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