18 August 2009

UCP…easy as 1-2-3

(Okay, fine, I gave into the Michael Jackson craze)

A number of outlets have picked up on the story regarding the controversy surrounding the Army's "Universal" Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which appears on the Army's current generation of combat uniforms (called "ACUs"). Yesterday, the Army Times picked up the story, and collected a number of complaints about the pattern. One complaint actually came from a UH-60 aviator I had worked with. He writes:

"The general consensus on the ACU pattern among many, many soldiers is that it is ineffective in breaking up a soldier's outline in just about every environment except in urban areas and the local gravel pit," Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Ulsh wrote to Army Times. "As an aviator, I can tell you that from the air most other nations' camouflage masks a soldier better than the ACU does."

As if to accentuate the remark, an article regarding the UCP a few days ago showcased a number of Soldiers standing in a gravel pit on a Forward Operating Base (FOB), where the UCP easily blends in. Granted, it's nice to blend in to the ubiquitous gravel pits that the Army inexplicably places everywhere on FOBs, but it's not exactly the best thing for blending in to many of the environments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers had complained about the new uniforms from the instant they were first unveiled. They appear to glow in the dark at night, particularly when compared to the older forest uniforms. They also did a poor job of blending in to any vegetation. They seemed to work better when they got dirty and dusty. But of course, a dirty and dusty uniform is usually about to fall apart, so there goes that idea.

PEO Soldier, the agency within the US Army which is responsible for equipping Soldiers with the latest personal gear, has the following to say about the sudden revelation (which was well-known by troops several years ago):

"PEO Soldier and the Army continually strive to provide the best to our soldiers," Army spokesman Maj. Jimmie Cummings said in an Aug. 6 written statement. "As such, a team led by Training and Doctrine Command is working an effort to determine if a change is required to our Universal Camouflage Pattern in support of soldiers operating in many different environments. It is premature to go into any detail on this effort at this time."

PEO Soldier shouldn't be expressing surprise at the ineffectiveness of the pattern in Afghanistan. After all, Army laboratories knew that the "Urban Track Pattern" (which would later be modified and turned into the Universal Camouflage Pattern) was the worst-performing of the four patterns which made it to Phase IV of testing. These patterns were tested in a number of environments (desert, forest, urban, night vision, etc), and the "Desert Over Brush" pattern was the winner, with Multi-cam (known as "Scorpion") coming in third and Urban Track Pattern coming in fourth place (last by the final phase of testing).

What's sad is that, upon its introduction roughly three or four years ago, the pattern has quickly replaced the previous woodland and desert patterns—not just in terms of the uniforms themselves, but also in terms of the accoutrements: hats, jackets, ammunition pouches, assault packs, flight uniforms, and the like. Upon its introduction, the pixilated pattern quickly appeared in every Army recruiting commercial, presumably to give the Army a more futuristic look.

While many aspects of the uniform are worth keeping—zippers, arm pouches, desert boots, built-in pen pockets, and the like---the pattern needs to go. The expeditionary Army isn't just deployed to gravel pits and desert areas, but also the jungles of Central and South America, as well as the wooded areas of the Balkans.

Some final notes—I should reiterate that although many are waxing poetically about the benefits of Multicam ("Scorpion"), it did not rate the highest in the Army's trials. Additionally, to its credit, the UCP is also reportedly very good for use in urban areas, where much of the fighting occurs in Iraq. Finally, I should also mention that attempts to make a much more concealment uniform might just be academic. After all, we're still have to wear reflector belts over them anyway.

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