A Congressional committee voted Wednesday to end service-specific camouflage in an amendment that would push the military toward creating joint combat uniforms by 2018.
Committee members expressed frustration over the millions of dollars the services have spent to field camouflage patterns that focus more on creating a visual brand than effective concealment for the battlefield.
This is not the first time the Pentagon has been criticized over its management of camouflage development.
The Government Accountability Office blasted the U.S. military in September for the way it has developed camouflage uniforms over the past decade. Since 2012, military service leaders have introduced seven new patterns -- two desert, two woodland and three universal -- in a "fragmented approach" that GAO officials argue should be avoided in the future.
House Armed Service Committee members want the Pentagon to develop a joint combat uniform over the next five years. Moving to one joint combat uniform doesn't mean there would only be one camouflage pattern. Different patterns could still be designed for specific geographic requirements such as the woodland or desert patterns. However, each service would not design their versions.
The amendment restricts the creation of any further camouflage patterns for combat uniforms unless the intention is to share it. Approval of the amendment comes as the Army is set to announce a replacement to its Universal Camouflage Pattern, a pixilated mix of gray, green and tan that has proven ineffective in tests and on the battlefield.
It's unclear how this amendment, if approved by the Senate, would affect the Army's selection of a new camouflage pattern. The Army recently concluded an extensive, four-year camouflage improvement effort.
Army uniform officials launched the effort after Pennsylvania's Democratic Rep. John Murtha, got involved in the issue in 2009. Murtha was then chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
He 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, just before the Army selected MultiCam as the clear winner over several other patterns to issue to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.
Some test community officials maintain that fielding UCP was a mistake that could have been avoided. Two separate studies performed by Army scientists from Natick Soldier Systems Center, Mass. -- one completed in 2009 and the other in 2006 -- showed that the UCP performed poorly in multiple environments when compared to other modern camouflage patterns.
In both studies, MultiCam, a pattern popular with Special Operations Forces, outperformed UCP, the pattern the Army adopted in 2004 to replace the service's woodland and desert camouflage uniforms.
Natick officials last year, publicly criticized the Army for selecting UCP long before testing was complete, charging that UCP cost taxpayers billions in uniforms and matching body armor, backpacks and other equipment.
Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Ill.,and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., co-sponsored the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Enyart is a retired two-star who served in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Army National Guard.
Duckworth still serves in the Illinois National Guard as a lieutenant colonel even though she lost both her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2004.
Enyart pleaded for committee members to "cut an abundance of uniforms" rather than approve further force reductions as Congress tries to balance budget cuts to the military.
The Army spent $2.6 million to develop the UCP pattern and then another $2.9 million to field Multicam combat uniforms after Army officials determined the UCP was unsuitable for Afghanistan.
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.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who chairs the committee that oversees military uniforms, supported the amendment, but said it would cost the military more money to develop a joint combat uniform that would satisfy all the services.
The committee approved the amendment by the closest of margins with a vote of 32-30. Twenty-seven Democrats and five Republicans voted for it, while one Democrat and 29 Republicans voted against it.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Col. a former Marine and soldier, was one Congressman who voted against it. He said the amount of savings gained by moving to a joint combat uniform was relatively small compared to the morale gained within the services of having separate uniforms.
"This is really a morale issue, for our men and women in uniform," Coffman said.