The future of the US Army uniform

Right now the US military sits at a three-way intersection: two wars, a faltering economy and a desperate need to balance the budget.

Ever since WW II, the services have dug in their heels. The latest example is uniforms. The US Marines came up with MARPAT in the early 2000’s. The Army followed suit with it’s Universal Camouflage Pattern. Made up of a “foliage” green, tans and grey, it was supposed to blend in with “any” environment. Most observers, soldiers and net users noticed that the pattern did not blend in with anything.

Army Combat Uniform

Army Combat Uniform

In tests around 2003-4, the pattern that became UCP was dead last in testing. Recent tests have confirmed what many already know: UCP sticks out in the woods and the desert. The Army Combat Uniform has many detractors, but many settle on the camo pattern that seems to stick out like a sore thumb.

Enter Congress.

The conferees understand that soldiers deployed to Afghanistan have serious concerns about the current combat uniform which they indicate provides ineffective camouflage given the environment in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the conferees direct that within funding made available the Department of Defense take immediate action to provide combat unifonns to personnel deployed to Afghanistan with a camouflage pattern that is suited to the environment of Afghanistan.

The conferees further direct the Secretary of the Anny to provide a report on the program plans and budgetary adjustments necessary to provide appropriate unifonns to deployed and deploying troops to Afghanistan. The report shall be submitted to the congressional defense committees by the end of fiscal year 2009.
–Congress Doesn’t Dig UCP – Orders New Camo for A’stan, Militarytimes Gear Scout, quotes HR 2346 Conference Report

After much prodding by Congress, PEO Soldiers and Natick did a new series of tests. UCP did not do well. In response, they’ve developed a new camo scheme for Afghanistan. The tested the ACU, low and behold, it was once again last in the testing:

Overall performance of camo patterns

Overall performance of camo patterns

Now MultiCam was developed by Crye Associates and the US Army’s Natick labs. It looks like a good camo pattern. from the above chart, it is clear that MulitCam preforms well.

US soldiers demo MultiCam

US soldiers demo MultiCam

The Army’s response? The ugly UCP-D. Natick tried to put lipstick in the pig by adding “coyote brown” to UCP. The result? I think this sums it up.

“ACU’s work a lot better when they are dirty – looks like Natick made permanently dirty ACU’s and called it a fix”

UCP-D with and without the new IOTV

UCP-D with and without the new IOTV

IMHO, the Army should have just taken MARPAT and changed it, removing the “Eagle, Globe and Anchor”, replaceing it with a star and “US ARMY”. That would have saved money. But alas…

The Army is sending two units into Afghanistan, one with UCP-D and another with Multicam. What is interesting is that BAE systems has a fat contract to make MOLLE gear in Multicam for this test.

Meanwhile, most of us in the rank and file will just sigh and cue up to buy whatever is in clothing and sales.

Here is a link to Natick’s tests:
Photosimulation Camouflage Detection Test

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6 Responses to “The future of the US Army uniform”

  1. SPC Grannan, Cody M. Says:

    Hello there, I’m an 11B currently deployed in Iraq. My fellow soldiers and I have been following the big debates lately on the whole uniform fiasco, which is exactly what it is, a fiasco. Everyone out here, and undoubtedly in Afghanistan, knows that the ACU is the biggest peice of shit uniform the Army has ever doled out to soldiers serving ANYWHERE in the world. Sure, it has the ability to blend large groups of soldiers together at long ranges, whatever, but the uniform in itself is junk. Velcro is in no way at all a good idea… It’s definately not tactical, one minute your sneaking around on patrol in the middle of no where and you need to dig something out of your pocket, RIIIIIIP, the next thing you no the entire world has heard you rummaging and the end result is no good. Another thing, the ACU doesn’t blend into much really… It’s grey… Not green, grey… It’s inefective in any woodland environment, it sure as shit doesn’t hold up in the desert… How many times must it come down the chain and go back up that the “camo” we are wearing just isn’t up to snuff and in some circumstances our brothers are perishing due to early detection caused by faulty camoflauge. I’m a full supporter of budgeting and not wanting to spend a shit load of money every time a troop needs some new clothing, it means we have more money to spend on the gear that is more mission critical, but honestly, can you put a price on a functional uniform/uniforms that work as advertised? We constantly find ourselves looking at the Marines running around and converse among ourselves that someone in their command got it right, their uniforms are effective in the environments they are intended for. The Army really should invest in having one uniform for each set purpose, albeit more expensive, it could save lives. Another thing that really irks us about the ACU is the wear out time… It seems you can’t go a day without seeing multiple people with torn out rear sections of the pants, or a ripped pocket, the drawcords come out in the wash, and you go near anything sharp you risk being depantsed… How about something more sturdy? We’re lucky to get six WEEKS out of these things, let alone six MONTHS! I’m all for a new uniform, just make sure the ones that really need it get it first you know? Not much is going on in Iraq anymore, send it off to our boys in Asscrackistan. Thanks for the column, it’s nice to read something by someone that’s seemingly informed.

    SPC Grannan, Cody M.

  2. hello,

    thanks for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

  3. chockblock Says:

    SPC Grannan, PEO soldier siad that dirty ACU improve camo, some posters on defense news have said that UCP-D look like a pair dirty ACU’s.

    They do need to admit their mistake and adjust fire instead of baling the soldiers.

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  5. What was to dislike about the ACU? What is being disliked about the ACU runs like a list. They are as follows:

    • The chest pockets had the tendency to break apart, even when you put something in it. This had never happened with the chest pockets of the “real combat fatigues”.
    • The choice of colors did not enable the soldier to blend in with the environments found in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also did not blend well with the woods and the jungles, similar to those found in the Balkans, Granada, and Panama. Remember the movie Clear and Present Danger? Now imagine how the U.S. Army Special Forces would look in the movie, trying to sneak around the jungle while wearing the ACUs. They would stick out like sore thumbs. They would be that visible. In fact, the two colors that resemble two shades of gray do not blend with anything except the occasional concrete wall. These colors would make the soldier stick out like a sore thumb and make him an easy target for an enemy sniper. Not surprisingly, the ACU would be termed as WSBT or Walking Sniper’s Billboard Target for short.
    • The crotch in the ACU pants tends to rip apart too easily, when a soldier does such basic movements as jumping and climbing. It is even more embarrassing with soldiers who are female. This sort of thing has never happened to the BDU/DBU pants, when in service.
    • The zipper replaces the buttons on the fatigues. They were found to be too flimsy.
    • Rank insignias are no longer in the collar. A single rank insignia is now located in the upper chest area, where the zipper is. This feature is disliked by female officers and NCOs. This is because whenever a male soldier tries to look at her rank, it is as though he is looking at her breasts. Many male soldiers are actually afraid to look at female officer or NCO’s rank on the ACU. Not surprisingly, the ACU would likely be termed as the “tits” fatigues for the obvious reasons.
    • The ACU lacks the durability of the “real combat fatigues”. They actually wear out more quickly after repeated washes and after hard use in the combat zones. The ACU has to be replaced more frequently than with the “real combat fatigues” on an annual basis per soldier.
    • The ACU is more prone to stains that are harder to clean out than with the “real combat fatigues”. There were several cases of soldiers accidentally spilling hot coffee on their ACUs and leaving an ugly permanent splotch. Army medics are even afraid to practice combat medicine, while wearing the ACU. The reason being is that fake blood can leave a permanent and highly visible stain as real blood.

    Aside from what is being listed down about what is disliked about the ACU, the fatigues have been the source of other headaches. The cost of one set of ACUs is equivalent to two sets of BDUs or one set of BDUs and one set DBUs. The ACU set is about 80 dollars ($40 for the shirt; $40 for the pants), as opposed to $40 for the complete set of BDUs ($20 for the shirt; $20 for the pants). The ACUs lack the rugged durability of real combat fatigues. Possibly the biggest sore point involves the combat badge. The way the ACU has been designed, the soldier who becomes a combat veteran is unable to proudly display his Combat Infantry Badge. Given the distance between the collar (unfolded) and the upper left pocket, the combat badge is somewhat obscured. (During the Vietnam War, the ODB did obscure the combat badge. The BDU, following the Vietnam War, was designed to enable the combat badge to be displayed openly.) The combat badge was basically a low visibility rectangular patch that is sown above the US ARMY tab, which is above the left chest pocket. With the ACU, the combat badge has to be pinned on instead of being sown on. This is considered an inconvenience when wearing body armor. Imagine the weight of the body armor pressing against the pin that is pressing against your upper left chest. It would be that painful. It would even be worse if the soldier is a female.

  6. A good story. Keep it up!

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