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Camo Delays and Assessment Team Gouge

by christian on December 29, 2009

From today’s headlines on Military​.com:

The Army is close to fielding all the uniforms and accessories it planned to outfit Soldiers in as part of its crash program to develop a new camouflage scheme for operations in Afghanistan.

About half of the body armor carriers on the popular MultiCam pattern have yet to be fielded.  The manufacture of MultiCam uniforms on a fire-resistant fabric was delayed, as well.

“We got ahead and we started looking at some fabrics to make sure that we would meet all the requirements that operational forces in theater needed and that we weren’t going to give them any less capability,” said Lt. Col. Mike Sloane, program manager for Soldier equipment. “We would not give up on FR capability. That was non-negotiable.”

Sloane told Military​.com in a recent interview at his Fort Belvoir headquarters that about 500 MultiCam plate carriers were on their way to Afghanistan and that about 500 more had already been delivered.

“There could be 200–300 Soldiers that have everything that they need except for the MultiCam plate carrier,” Sloane added.

The so-called “immediate action” experiment to field 1,000 MultiCam uniforms and accessories to Afghanistan alongside 1,000 ensembles of an Army-developed camo dubbed “Universal Camouflage Pattern-Delta” stemmed from congressional criticism that the current UCP pattern wasn’t adequately concealing Soldiers in the varied terrain of Afghanistan.

The Army pledged to field the alternate patterns to two battalion-sized units in Afghanistan by the end of October but has struggled to get the full complement of gear to Joes by that deadline.

According to Sloane, all of the items patterned in UCP-D have been sent to Afghanistan, and Soldiers are patrolling in their new duds. The MultiCam Joes — Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment — are already wearing some of their new uniforms but without the accessories patterned in the sought-after scheme.

Sloane said part of the reason why Soldiers aren’t sporting their pouches, helmet covers and armor covers in the experimental patterns might have something to do with the difficulty of swapping well-worn accessories for new ones. With the helmet cover, for example, it’s difficult to detach the night vision goggle bracket and other lights and holders from the Kevlar lid, install a new cover, then re-attach it all. That hassle might have kept some Joes from making the switch, but Sloane says it’s got to be done.

“I have seen photos of Soldiers and leaders in theater in UCP-Delta walking around with a UCP helmet, and I’m like ‘what the heck?’ ” Sloane said. “I’m not sure if it was ‘hey, we’ve got a mission, put on the uniforms and we’ll get to that later.’ … It’s in theater, they have it and they should be wearing it.”

Sloane had recently returned from a brief deployment to Afghanistan with a nine-man specialized team — Soldiers and one Sailor — tasked with accumulating data for the second stage of Army research into a new camo scheme.

The team of researchers from the special operations forces, the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, and the regular Army traveled around Afghanistan wearing uniforms in six camo patterns that closely match some of the terrain there. Sloane refused to use mannequins in the tests, preferring real people in real poses.

“We’d go into those environments and say ‘this is where the enemy is seeing us when we operate,’ ” Sloane said. “As tactically realistically as possible we’d insert ourselves into those scenarios.”

The camo patterns included AOR-II, a SEAL-developed pattern similar to the Marine Corps’ woodland digital; UCP-D; MultiCam; UCP; the Natick-designed Desert Brush camo and Mirage, which was developed by Bulldog Tactical, a civilian company.

The requirement to use people instead of dummies was not without some risk. The team was attacked during one of the photo shoots outside Forward Operating Base Salerno, near Khost, when a group of insurgents attacked with RPGs and machine gun fire.

The team traveled to eight different sites, working out of bases such as Bagram, Camp Bastion, and FOB Salerno, and took hundreds of photos of all six camo patterns against various backgrounds in “tactical” poses.

The photos are part of an ongoing “blending” and “detection” test that has hundreds of Soldiers looking at the images to evaluate how easy the camo patterns are to see on each background.

“I think we really set the example of how to do this right,” Sloane said of the photo simulation experiment. “I think it’s a model for when you have a complex situation where you don’t understand what you don’t know.”

– Christian

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