Bill Would Block a New Army Camouflage Pattern

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Lawmakers from both sides of Congress may have torpedoed the U.S. Army's exhaustive effort to adopt a new camouflage pattern with a bill that forbids the use of service-specific camouflage for the entire U.S. military.

Language in both the House and Senate Armed Services committee versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2014 calls on the Pentagon to stop fielding service-specific camouflage patterns and instead develop a common pattern for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

The strong language, if approved as part of the 2014 NDAA, could prove to be major setback for the Army's multi-year effort to replace its embattled Universal Camouflage Pattern.

Despite the proposed legislation, an Army official said the service is "studying the suitability of the uniform that soldiers currently wear in Afghanistan."

"This appears to be the most effective uniform and is effective in a variety of scenarios that we've reviewed. We expect that we'll make a decision soon on whether we adopt this uniform for the entire Army," said William Layer, an Army spokesman, in an e-mail to Military.com.

Layer said the Army would not comment on the language in the proposed bill that blocked service-specific camouflage patterns and how it would affect the Army's pursuit to replace UCP. 

"The Army has no comment on the Congress' stance but seeks the best for its soldiers," Layer said.

Earlier this year, the Army concluded an extensive, four-year camouflage improvement effort, but it has still not announced the winner.

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 the 2004 adoption of the UCP was a mistake that could have been avoided, saving the Army billions of dollars on uniforms and matching equipment.

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 nearly 10 years ago to replace 

But the Army wasn't the first to adopt a unique camouflage pattern. The Marine Corps unveiled its MARPAT desert and woodland digital camouflage patterns in early 2002, prompting each service to adopt their own brand of concealment.

Lawmakers have become much more critical of service-specific camouflage efforts as it continues to wrestle with the massive defense spending cuts under sequestration.

The House Armed Services Committee voted in June to end service-specific camouflage in an amendment that would push the military toward creating joint combat uniforms by 2018.

The latest version of the House-approved NDAA includes an Oct. 1, 2018 target mandating that the Defense Department "shall require all military services to use a joint combat camouflage uniform, including color and pattern variants designed for specific combat environments."

The bill also "prohibits the adoption of individual military service camouflage uniforms except under specific limited circumstances."

The Senate Armed Service Committee has also included similar language in their version of the NDAA.

SASC leaders said in a press release that the defense bill "directs DoD to reduce the separate development and fielding of service-specific combat and camouflage utility uniforms and families of uniforms in order to adopt and field a common combat and camouflage utility uniform, or family of uniforms, for specific combat environments, to be used by all members of the armed forces."

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