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Military Spends Big to Get Camouflage Right

Beginning in 2000, the military services began a process that has led to a proliferation of different camouflage uniforms.

In most cases, the services each sought new uniforms to improve utility, fit and durability. Many of the uniforms are imbued with substances that repel insects and reflect infrared sensors. Many are also flame resistant, an important characteristic in light of the threat of improvised explosive devices.

In 2000, the commandant of the Marine Corps directed the development and fielding of a new Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform, according to the Government Accountability Office. It cost $319,000 to develop and was fielded beginning in June 2002.

By all accounts, the Marine Corps has been pleased with the choice.

By contrast, the Army began development of its new uniform in 2003, but enjoyed far less success.

“Under the decision authority of the Chief of Staff, the new uniform included requirements to improve visual or near-infrared capabilities, to improve morale, and to provide a universal camouflage pattern with acceptable levels of performance in woodland, desert, and urban terrains,” the GAO wrote in it 2012 report.

Development cost $3.2 million — 10 times more than the Marine Corps version — and it began fielding in 2005.

But by 2009, serious issues became apparent. Based on concerns from soldiers in Afghanistan, lawmakers directed the Pentagon to take immediate action to provide a camouflage pattern that was more suited to Afghanistan.

“In response, the Army developed the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP) to address current camouflage requirements and initiated a study of camouflage for future uniforms,” the GAO reported.

The new development cost $3.4 million and began fielding in 2010. The GAO said that as part of its study of camouflage, the Army is reviewing three color variations — desert, woodland and transitional — as future uniform options. The study also will identify one camouflage pattern for protective gear that blends well with all three uniforms. This new initiative could cost as much as $7 million through 2017. Congressional aides indicated the Army could unveil its results soon.

“If the Army chooses a new camouflage uniform, officials estimate that it may cost up to $4 billion over five years to replace its uniform and related protective gear,” the GAO stated.

The Air Force launched its development of a uniform in 2002 at a cost of $3.2 million. It began fielding the uniform in 2007.

In 2006, the Navy approved a new desert and woodland uniform concept. In 2009, the chief of naval operations received approval from Special Operations Command to use camouflage patterns, developed by Naval Special Warfare Command, for the Navy’s new Type II desert and Type III woodland uniforms.

Development of the final uniform cost $435,000 and began fielding in early 2011.

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