Sailors may soon say goodbye to their beleaguered "blueberries."

Navy officials are moving to reduce the number of sets of the blue-and-gray Navy working uniform in each sailor's seabag. They have also acknowledged, for the first time, that they're weighing whether to ditch the beleaguered cammies entirely in coming years.

The moves are part of an emerging roadmap for fleet uniforms that recognizes flame-resistant coveralls have effectively replaced the NWU and utility coveralls at sea because they offer better protection. The initiatives:

  • Cut the NWU requirement in sailors' seabags from four pairs to three by the end of the year. Further reductions are possible, officials say.
  • Develop and field test a new flame-resistant coverall this year that could resemble the Coast Guard working uniform. Officials hope this will improve upon the rapidly fielded FRV that many sailors find ill-fitting and uncomfortable.
  • Plan to reduce or eliminate the poly-cotton utility coveralls now in the seabag.

as Navy leaders look at replacing the Type I Navy Working Uniform with improved fire-retardant coveralls. Type II and Type III NWUs, the desert and woodland variants, will likely change to align with a congressional plan for a common camouflage shared across the services.

No official decision has been made, but top leaders are taking big steps in this direction.The first move will be to cut your seabag requirement by year's endDATEfrom four pairs of NWUs to three, and more cuts are possible, Navy Times has learned. Meanwhile, an improved flame-resistant fire-retardant coverall will begin wear tests later this year, which

If the new FRV coverallsversion works, the Navy's top officer is open to this becoming sailors' new working uniform someday.

"If we get a good coverall, why couldn't that be the working uniform for the fleet?" Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told Navy Times in a recent sit-downlate March. "We have to get a good coverall though, one that lasts."

He cautioned that any new uniform has to be comfortable, durable and cost effective, and referenced the blue, two-piece Operational Dress Uniform worn in the Coast Guard fleet.

"I look toward the Coast Guard. They have been able to do this. It can be done."

The Navy is considering a two-piece fleet uniform similar to the Coast Guard's fleet mainstay, known as the Operational Dress Uniform. Like the NWU, the blouse is worn untucked over a blue T-shirt, as shown here by watchstanders on the cutter Stratton.

Photo Credit: PO2 Patrick Kelley/Coast Guard

The services also are under increasing pressure from Congress to dump service specific camouflage, and the heavy development and production costs that entails. in expenses that entails. It is no secret that sailors are not thrilled with the NWU. And Congress is not thrilled that each branch has its own camouflage. Lawmakers in the past two defense bills shaped a rule that would require services to share a common camouflage pattern no later than October 2018, a move recommended by the Government Accountability Office has recommended such action for years.

If that happens, don't count on your blueberriesthe Navy camouflage pattern to win the day. The digital Marine pattern has excelled in countless tests, and the Army just spent $5 bmillion developing its new Operational Camouflage Pattern. Even Navy Secretary Ray Mabus jokes about blue-and-grays, telling reporters in 2013 that 2013 meeting with reporters, said of the NWU, "the great camouflage it gives is if you fall overboard."

Indeed, Navy leaders are developing a long-term plan. new solution.

"What I am wondering is, since NWUs are not suitable for fleet use, why does the Navy continue to issue them?" said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of naval personnel, whose office sets seabag requirements, including the NWU. "And what is the conversation like in terms of what you are going to do moving forward with this uniform?" said Vice Adm. William Moran, chief of naval personnel.

Still, don't toss those blueberries just yet. Final decisions about its larger future are likely years away. Design and wear tests typically take two to three years and the Navy still has a stockpile Type that will last through 2018 of the NWU Type 1, which was designed and introduced a decade ago to be the working uniform ashore and at sea. leading to uniform changes typically take two to three years. The Navy also has a stockpile of Type I NWUs on hand and on order. There is too much money on the table, and on the shelves, for the Navy to simply walk away. without a drawdown in stocks, which could easily run through 2018.

"We have got a pretty hefty inventory of NWUs, and it is in the tens of millions of dollars. So to be fair to the American taxpayer who has helped fund those things, we cannot just discard them overnight, even if we wanted to," Moran said in an interview. "But we are always reviewing how many do we issue [and] can we issue less when we finally get to an FRV that makes the final cut? And I think the answer is yes. We will start issuing them in the sea bag at the right point down the road and then we do not have to issue as many NWUs and then we start driving down the stock."

The next coverall

Sailors are getting a new FRV, whether or not the Navy deep sixes the NWU. But improvement in this area does not bode well for the NWU, which cannot be worn is banned from underway wear. When deployed and expeditionary sailors are taken into account, fewer than half of the Navy is wearing NWUs on any given day, officials said.

Moran admitted the current FRV was a quick fix to a problem with — you guessed it — the NWU. Tests in late 2012 revealed showed the NWU would "burn robustly" if exposed to fire and could melt to sailors' skin, according to a report obtained by Navy Times late in 2012. Fleet commanders then banned its use as the working uniform ruled the NWU Navy's working uniform could no longer be worn when sailors were working at sea.

FRV distribution began a year later, a uniform fast-tracked to replace the NWU and poly-cotton coverall, also susceptible to fire risksin January 2014. But sailors say the new uniform is heavy, doesn't breathe, not breathable, fits poorly, and shrinks in the wash.

"When you get something fast it is often not perfect, and we were far from perfect," Moran said.

Fleet Forces Command, with input from the Navy's top enlisted, the master chief petty officer of the Navy and his office, has the lead on developing and testing the improved FRV. Officials say the prototype coverall, which has been described as a cross between a flight suit and a NASCAR racing suit, will have far better fit and function. Tests will begin in September and are expected to run about six months, Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told Navy Times on April 7.

Greenert said a trip to the Persian Arabian Gulf with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mikechael Stevens proved insightful, as sailors suggested a blending of the flight suit and fire resistant coveralls. Key suggestions include the removal of belt loops, better placement of pockets, and an adjustable fit. Greenert also noted the Velcro strap at the bottom of the Australian coverall. Instead of tucking your pant leg into your socksboot at general quarters, you could cinch the velcro strap. In general quarters, you do not have to tuck it in your boot, but instead pull that strap to tighten it up.

You can expect The improved FRV will likely to have a slightly higher price tag than the current FRV, as the Navy has to cover the cost of design and all the new bells and whistles. But don't worry: You're not footing the bill. The FRV will be organizational clothing and leaders But top leaders are adamant that sailors will be happy with the end product, as it is largely driven by sailor input, and have not ruled out changes to the clothing allowance.

"I do recognize that the pickle is only so big and you can only put so much in there," Moran said of the seabag. "And it is expensive to issue so many different types of uniforms and uniform items to go with it. So it is good fiscal sense to look at all this, and if you are going to introduce something new, and it costs a lot of money, then [you] ought to be looking at things that help offset those costs."

A big stockpile

Developing a replacement uniform is only half the battle. The Navy must also exhaust rid itself of mountains of cammiesuniforms worth millions of dollars. Stockpiles are filled ahead of time to ensure the Navy has all the uniforms it needs, and the Defense Logistics Agency has keeps long-term contracts in place to keep that supply flowing.

Until a new uniform is ordered, the Navy must proceed as though no change is coming. That includes some improvements. For example, the Lightweight NWU will be an optional item available this fall. The prototypes weigh about one-third less and were described by sailors as "more breathable" and "much cooler."

Still, the Navy is buying NWUs at a rate much higher than what is being sold.

As of March 9, the Defense Logistics Agency had 144,357 NWU Type I trousers and 121,517 blouses worth a combined $9.7 million. The Navy will spend $15.4 million in fiscal 2015 to buy 200,059 trousers and 224,232 blouses and plans to spend more next year. That bumps up to $18.3 million to purchase 252,000 Type I NWUs in fiscal 2016. That budget is working its way through Congress.

Ironically, Type I NWU sales have steadily declined since 2010, when the Navy made blueberries mandatory. Annual sales started strong with roughly 280,000 pairs sold. The uniforms are supposed to last 24 months; by design, half of the 267,636 enlisted sailors on active duty — or 133,818 — should buy a new set each year. But only 80,300 blouses and 82,940 trousers were sold in fiscal 2014, according to data from the Navy Exchange Service Command.

Similarly, the Navy keeps buying the polyester and cotton blend coveralls amid declining sales. Sales have dropped from 149,800 in 2010 to just 68,000 in fiscal 2014, according to NEXCOM Navy Exchange Data, and it's not hard to understand why. The poly-cotton coveralls are no longer wornused underway, replaced by the current FRV. While it is likely the poly-cotton coveralls are soon to be retired, the uniforms will be issued in boot camp and allowed for use in some locations until that decision is made. As of March 9, DLA had 49,284 poly/cotton utility coveralls on hand, valued at $1.3 million. Another 175,440 will be bought in fiscal 15, at a cost of $4.8 million. That order will essentially repeat in fiscal 2016.

Two contracts that govern the NWU Type I trousers and blouses will expire in 2018, said Mikia Muhammad, spokeswoman for Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support. A separate contract for the poly/cotton coveralls will expire in 2019.

The "indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity" contracts give the Navy

flexibility to draw down its stocks, but the Navy must still purchase a minimum amount. One contract has a minimum buy of 50,000 units. The other is a bit tricky. It encompasses production of four different types of uniforms, with a minimum of 104,000 units per year. Because other uniforms are on this second contract, Muhammad said it would be very difficult to figure out exact NWU annual minimums.

Mark has asked what other uniforms are purchased under this contract and if the minimums can be met by only buying the other three uniforms].

The poly/cotton coverall contract has a 72,000 minimum through 2019.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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