I, like a lot of other camouflage students and experts, always thought that the US Army’s “Universal Camouflage Pattern” actually sucks in most environments.
Right from the start it was a controversial pattern – both in the way it was developed as in the way it was chosen – and the logic behind it was highly debatable too. But whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit that the “universal” in its name applies more to the fact that it is universally issued (i.e., for every uniform and piece of individual equipment for every soldier in the Army) than that it is universally effective as a camouflage pattern.
It also didn’t take long for some elements within the Army to find ways of avoiding having to wear it – first there was SOCOM, who have always had looser regulations about what their troops in-theatre can wear, gaining official authorisation to revert back to the Hot Weather woodland-camo BDU in tropical and sub-tropical duty environments. More recently, its also reported that the 173rd Airborne will be rocking MultiCam when they next deploy to Afghanistan.
Well, according to a story on Soldier Systems today, the US Congress has now picked up on the matter and issued a directive that the Army makes funding available to “take immediate action to provide combat uniforms to personnel deployed to Afghanistan with a camouflage pattern that is suited to the environment.” Congress has also instructed the Army to report back on this matter regarding their plans, progress and budgetting by the end of this fiscal year. This instruction still needs to be signed in to law by President Obama, but its expected that he will do so soon. So now it appears to be more or less official that UCP sucks.
Note that the instructions from Congress only apply to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan – so the Army might well carry on with the further roll-out of UCP-on-everything. Also, as the instruction is to take action “immediately”, watch for a “pick me!” scramble among manufacturers as they all try to get their uniforms / patterns chosen.
I’d say that MultiCam in an ACU cut is probably the front runner for overall selection, given its wide-spread availability and the precedent of having already been used by special operation forces, and for the upcoming deployment of the 173rd. AOR1 and AOR2 might be another possibility, but so far they are specific to / restricted to SOCOM. Commercial versions of MARPAT (“digi-woodland”, “digi-desert”) are possibilities, but the Army would probably have to overcome resistance to convince the Marines to let them use them. At the very other end of the spectrum, it could end up being a new pattern from a different source – perhaps Bulldog Equipment’s “Mirage” camo, or one of HyperStealth’s patterns, or UNICAM from Erblestock.
My prediction is that the Army will go for a ready-to-wear, off-the-shelf solution for the short-term demand for Afghanistan, as that would be the easiest and most cost-effective approach.
The interesting question is what will happen after this, will the Army be pressured into possibly launch a new program to change the camo uniform for the rest of the Army later on? Probably not – given the millions they’ve already invested in UCP. At any rate, it should be interesting to watch…Read more about the Congressional report at Soldier Systems.Website of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.