A government watchdog issued a scathing report Friday blasting the U.S. military for the way it has developed camouflage uniforms over the past decade, putting troops at risk and wasting millions of dollars.
The Government Accountability Office picked out the Air Force and Army as extreme offenders among the services lambasting their development of the Airman Battle Uniform in 2002 and the Army Combat Uniform in 2003.
Each service has developed its own camouflage uniform over the past ten years. Military service leaders have introduced seven new patterns -- two desert, two woodland and three universal -- since 2002.
GAO officials urged Defense Department leaders to work together and avoid the "fragmented approach" the different services have used in the past.
GAO investigators issued their report four months before Army leaders plan to pick out a new family of camouflage soldiers. The Army launched its massive camouflage improvement plan in 2009 when its pixilated Universal Camouflage Pattern came under scrutiny from soldiers, lawmakers and the Army test community.
Two studies conducted by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center -- one completed in 2009 and the other in 2006, showed that the UCP performed poorly when compared to multiple camouflage patterns such as the Marine Corps desert pattern and MultiCam.
In June 2009, Pennsylvania's Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who was then chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, got involved in camouflage issue. Murtha pushed the service to look for a better camouflage pattern after receiving complaints from sergeants about the UCP's poor performance in the war zone.
Murtha died in 2010, but his directive prompted the Army to launch a multi-phase camouflage effort. Many patterns were evaluated in Afghanistan, but MultiCam was the clear winner for the country's multi-terrain environment.
Critics allege that the Army has wasted $5 billion on uniforms and equipment all printed in the inadequate UCP. The GAO estimates that the Army will have to spend another $4 billion on uniforms and equipment over the next five years when it selects its new family of camouflage patterns.
The GAO maintains that the Army stands to save $82 million if it can partner with another service. Air Force leaders have shown interest in the Army's camouflage development efforts, but have not signed any agreements to update the ABU with the Army, GAO officials said.
Defense Department leaders have failed to require services to "collaborate and standardize the development and introduction of camouflage uniforms" causing the military to potentially "forego millions of dollars in potential cost savings," GAO wrote.
Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan wearing the Army's Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP) the Pentagon started fielding in July 2010. While considered extremely effective, the OCP cost $3.4 million to develop. Airmen also deploy wearing the OCP after Air Force studies found the ABU to be ineffective in combat environments.
Marines still wear the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform the service started fielding in June 2002. The Corps spent $319,000 to develop the MCCCU uniform -- significantly less than the Army and Air Force, which spent $3.2 million on the ACU and $3.1 million on the ABU respectively.
All four services universally wore the Army Battle Dress and Desert Camouflage patterns before the Corps introduced their own pattern and branded the Corps symbol into it. The Corps' initiative left Army, Air Force, and later Navy leaders scrambling to provide their troops service-specific camouflage patterns.
The report did not address the Navy's blue working uniform, which is referred to by troops as "aquaflage."
In 2010, Congress "required the military departments to establish joint requirements for future ground combat uniforms" to better protect troops and save the Pentagon money. Thus far GAO investigators found the Defense Department has failed to follow through.
The GAO commended the Marine Corps for using "credible, reliable, and timely data" to choose their camouflage pattern and implementing it "using clear policies and procedures." The Army and Air Force failed to do the same when it developed the ACU and ABU causing their uniforms to "not meet mission requirements" and forced the services to replace them.
Notably, the Army instituted a camouflage study that compared 13 different patterns. However, Army leaders picked the universal ACU pattern and colors without ever finishing the study. Comparably, the Marine Corps studied 70 potential patterns before picking the Marine Corps Pattern.
Leaders from the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier could not even provide a performance report to explain their selection or explain how the patter was developed despite the $3.2 million price tag, according to GAO's report.
A 2009 internal Army study found the ACU camouflage pattern failed to conceal troops as well as the Marine pattern or the uniforms of foreign armies to include China and Syria, GAO wrote.
The ACU pattern that was designed for urban environments left soldiers unconcealed in Afghanistan forcing the Army to rush and replace the ACU uniform with the OEF pattern ahead of the Afghanistan surge of forces.
Expediting the development and fielding of a new uniform cost the Army $38 million in 2010 and 2011. For the OEF uniform, the Army sent a "photo simulation team to Afghanistan to collect environmental data," according to the GAO report.
PEO Soldiers officials told GAO investigators that unlike the process to pick the ACU pattern, the Army will include a "knowledge-based approach and greater use of DOD policies and procedures to ensure that decisions are informed, science-based, and data driven" for its next camouflage uniform.
Tiger Stripe Uniforms
The Air Force has had its own uniform failings, namely, developing a combat uniform that wasn't built for airmen to wear off base, and one roundly mocked by their sister services.
Airmen immediately complained about the heavy fabric and the tiger-stripe pattern of the ABU when it was fielded in 2007. A 2006 study by the Air Warfare Center found the ABU was "not an effective combat uniform due to trouser fit, heat buildup, and other concerns," according to the report.
In the majority of camouflage pattern tests, raters judged the "ABU as marginal or unsatisfactory for concealment 58 percent of the time," according to the report.
The wave of complaints forced the Air Force to order new ABUs for airmen with lighter weight material at a high cost to the service.
"If Air Force officials had expanded the knowledge-based approach for selecting a uniform—such as by ordering extensive testing and evaluation of varying fabric weights for comfortable wear to support the decision process—the service may have avoided the need to replace uniforms with a lighter weight fabric," according to the GAO report.