Soldiers and Marines train together near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The Army is considering adopting Marine Corps camo patterns. (Staff Sgt. Chad Warren/Air Force)
The Army envisions fielding a “family” of three camouflage patterns, but unless they’re headed into combat, soldiers will probably only wear a “standard stateside pattern,” according to a top Army equipment official.
New camouflage tests are expected to yield a dark jungle-woodland pattern, a lighter arid pattern and a transitional pattern to bridge the two — but troops would only get the “bookend” patterns if they deploy, according to Col. Robert Mortlock, the program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment.
“Deploying soldiers will always get their kit fielded through the Rapid Fielding Initiative matching set,” Mortlock told Army Times on March 13. “For non-deploying, [continental U.S.]-based soldiers, that transition could take place over a number of years.”
In testing, the Army found that a family of patterns outperforms a single one.
When the equipment is fielded, there would be some mixing within the family. Soldiers’ organizational equipment, such as their ballistic vests and rucksacks, would all stay in the selected transitional pattern, much like the Marine Corps uses coyote brown.
The comments come as the Army readies to launch new wear tests this month at Fort Benning, Ga. This testing should last through April, and then researchers will move on to Fort Polk, La.; Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.; and Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
These tests are a reset for the Army.
The Army, in 2010, began shopping for the three new combat uniforms, testing 22 patterns from June 2010 through September 2011. Late last year, the Army appeared to be on the verge of announcing a deal with Crye Precision, one of four industry competitors and the originator of MultiCam, when talks broke down over the cost.
Matters were complicated when Congress, in the 2014 Defense Authorization Act, directed the Defense Department to rein in uniform spending and adopt a camouflage utility uniform or family of uniforms across all services. It forces the Army to take a closer look at the camouflage patterns of its sister services, mainly the woodland and desert versions of the Navy and Marine Corps combat uniforms.
Sources have said the Army is also looking at a digital pattern that incorporates the color palette of MultiCam, a pattern that has proven quite popular with soldiers deploying in Afghanistan.
Mortlock declined to provide the specific list of patterns and color schemes undergoing tests, but an Army official confirmed the service could experiment with MultiCam colors if the service wanted to. While companies can copyright and license patterns, they cannot copyright a color palette.
Mortlock did shed some light on the next round of testing.
Soldiers will wear the various patterns on a number of mock missions, including raids, ambushes and reconnaissance missions. The data gathered from those tests will be used to determine which uniform provides the most operational benefit.
The coming tests will focus on how well patterns blend into their environment at the 25- to 50-meter range. The Army will test the patterns against a number of different backgrounds.
The Army has examined camo beyond 50 meters and found that, while colors are important, the actual pattern is “not that relevant,” Mortlock said.
Once the “family” of patterns is agreed upon, the Army’s strategy will be a “phased approach.” Deploying soldiers will get the new uniforms, but in garrison, soldiers will continue to wear the Universal Camouflage Pattern until the old ACU supply runs out. Mortlock said this is “fiscally responsible,” adding that an average ACU’s wear life is six months.
The uniform delays and seemingly endless tests have many soldiers scratching their heads, but Mortlock stressed his team is “committed to getting this right.”
“We have testimonials from soldiers in theater [who get] close enough to the enemy to hear them saying they can’t see the Americans,” he said. “That’s powerful. That’s a combat multiplier. So that’s how important camouflage is to a soldier’s mission.”