October 21, 2013
Universal Camouflage Pattern Made $5 Billion Disappear
It is back to the drawing board for the R&D team at the Department of Defense. After spending a reported $5 billion to develop the universal pattern camouflage (that digital pattern that US Army soldiers have been wearing in recent years), it appears that the money is the only thing that the pattern helped make disappear. As for concealing soldiers, it was a bust.
So much so that the UCP has already given way to a new pattern known as MultiCam, which will apparently be just a stopgap until a new camouflage is created.
UCP was actually developed to replace two versions of camouflage: one that was for green wooded areas and the other that was for deserts. These were both used in BDUs — or Battle Dress Uniforms — and can still be bought through army surplus stores.
The Woodland Pattern was something that evolved from its use in World War II when it began as splotches of colors to blend to resemble the woods or jungle. The Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) was sometimes known as the “coffee stain camouflage” and this pattern was use during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It actually replaced the older Desert Battle Dress Uniform (DBDU), which had been used in the Gulf War in 1991. This older pattern had the nickname “chocolate chip camouflage” due to the attempted appearance of rocks on the fabric.
The history of camouflage has been a long and interesting one.
One of the earliest camouflages was simple khaki, a subject this author has written extensively about. The word khaki may be associated with casual pants today, but it actually means “dust” in Persian. It was first used as a military uniform in India in the 1840’s where it replaced the famous (dare I say infamous) red coats of the British Army. Khaki proved so successful, as armies moved away from colorful uniforms, that practically every nation with an army looked to the tan color for uniforms, tropical or otherwise.
However, khaki wasn’t the end of the story. As weapons became more accurate, soldiers needed to blend in and better forms of camouflage were developed.
In other words, camouflage evolves. And while some media outlets may note the waste of money, can a price be put on keeping soldiers safe?
The Daily Beast noted, “But many soldiers and observers are wondering why it took this long and cost this much to replace an item that performed poorly from the start during a period when the money could have been spent on other critical needs, like potentially life saving improvements to military vehicles and body armor.”
This misses the point that camouflage saves lives. The attempt with the UCP is unfortunate, but part of the attempt was to provide a camouflage that would work in a variety of terrains and also be comfortable for soldiers. Moreover, as anyone who travels today might notice, soldiers are wearing the camouflage as a walking out uniform, meaning they have one less thing to carry.
The other part of the equation is that it is impossible to plan for everything. During the Vietnam War many soldiers, especially Special Forces, looked to locally produced “tiger strip” over the officially issued olive drab clothing that the Army and Marines provided.
So, now it is back to the drawing board, and hopefully it won’t mean another $5 billion on new camouflage. However, it might be hard to determine what is the best thing to not be seen until the occasion arises, and perhaps that is what the critics clearly can’t see.
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