It doesn't happen that often, but occasionally an Army modernization official will say something that surprises me. The eyebrow-raising comment happened on March 2 during a reporters' gaggle with Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the military deputy for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology.
Phillips spoke about everything from the success of the double-hulled Stryker vehicle program to the effectiveness of the Army acquisitions machine. Then Eric Graves from Soldier Systems Daily asked if the Army was willing to move away from its $5-billion investment in its Universal Camouflage Pattern and replace it with a new camouflage pattern.
(Reminder: Program Executive Office Soldier is well into Phase IV of its Camouflage Improvement Program, having recently selected a handful of patterns the soldiers will test in upcoming field trials.)
Phillips responded with "I know they are doing research on different kinds of camouflage and uniforms," before quickly changing the subject to a recommendation that was recently made to change PEO Soldier's name to PEO Soldier and Small Unit.
"We rejected that because ... the Army centers around our soldiers and the importance of our soldiers and making sure that if we give soldiers the right capability, they will be successful on the field of battle," Phillips said, describing PEO Soldier as "one of our most important PEOs." "To change the name of PEO Soldier to something different, I think would be a step in the wrong direction."
I realize this may not sound like such a big deal, but keep this in mind: when someone as high up the acquisitions chain as Phillips gets excited about something -- like say the Soldier Radio Waveform or Ground Combat Vehicle or Joint Light Tactical Vehicle -- they will give a 5-10 minute answer on the importance such a technological leap.
I followed on Eric's question, asking Phillips if he has been getting briefings on the camouflage effort and if a future decision on camouflage was even on the table.
Phillips: "I am familiar with it. We are just going to have to get back to you. We'll research it and get you the appropriate answer."
He then talked about the success of MultiCam in Afghanistan and how he had talked to soldiers there last summer about its effectiveness.
"When they wear that uniform and they stop, their comment was they disappear. They disappear into the woodlands in Afghanistan. That uniform and that pattern is absolutely the right pattern for Afghanistan."
After the briefing, one of the public affairs officers asked me if I need him to research an answer to the camouflage questions Eric and I asked. No need, I told him. I wanted to know how much of a priority this multi-phased camouflage effort was to senior Army acquisition officials and I think I got my answer.