The Camo Saga Continues…

A few months ago it looked like the ongoing saga of US military camouflage patterns had finally settled down for a while, after the Army formally adopted the Scorpion design as its Operational Camouflage Pattern. Now the can of worms has been reopened, however, as Congress turns up the pressure on the Pentagon to adopt a single pattern across all four services.

Types of American Camo ThumbThe USA is almost unique among major militaries in having different camo patterns for each branch; the British, Germans, French and just about everyone else in NATO uses a single pattern (or set of patterns) across the board. The USA used to be that way too, all of 12 years ago; it only broke down when the USMC introduced their temperate and desert MARPAT designs. There’s no doubt MARPAT is a big step forward over the old Woodland and Desert camo and the ideal solution would have been to roll it out to all the services. Unfortunately politics got involved and the Marines refused to let anyone else use it. Whether “corporate branding” has any place in military decision making is a separate issue, but the upshot was that the Army, followed by the USAF and USN, decided to develop their own patterns too.

What followed would have been funny, if it hadn’t wasted billions of dollars at a time when service budgets are being trimmed. The Army, for reasons that have never been properly explained, rejected Crye’s Scorpion design in favor of the Universal Camouflage Pattern. UCP’s distinguishing feature is that it doesn’t blend in with any environment anywhere, except maybe a cement factory on the moon. Then, when the brass realized it practically glows in the dark, they started replacing it with MultiCam – a commercial version of Scorpion. Now, finally, Scorpion has been officially adopted. The Army could have had it 10 years ago and saved $5 billion, but at least it’s in production now.

Meanwhile the Navy came up with a neat gray and blue pattern that was all about branding; it has no camouflage capability at all. Actually that’s not quite true; it turns out that anyone wearing it becomes invisible as soon as they fall overboard, which is not an advantage. To deal with Navy Working Uniform’s tactical uselessness, two more patterns were developed, based on MARPAT but different enough to only annoy the Marines slightly.

The USAF has developed its own camouflage too, using the useless colors of UCP combined with a Vietnam-style tiger stripe pattern.

There are multiple disadvantages with this variety of patterns. The first and most obvious is the cost of developing nearly a dozen separate patterns instead of two – one temperate and one desert. Then there’s the fratricide issue; allies, and even many US personnel, are most familiar with UCP and MultiCam, and might not recognize some of the others as belonging to US personnel. Finally there’s the fact that branding issues seem to have taken priority over usefulness with several of them, most notably the USN and USAF efforts but with some serious questions around UCP as well.

Now Congress has had enough, and it’s moving to add an amendment to the National Defense Appropriation Act that will bar the services from developing their own patterns in future. The aim is to develop a single pattern for all US military personnel by 2018. Whether that will be a new one or one of the existing patterns is unclear; the most cost-effective solution is to choose one that’s already in service, with Scorpion probably being the best option. There’s going to be a lot of resistance, especially from the USMC, but it’s a long overdue move. The current situation is an embarrassing mess.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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5 thoughts on “The Camo Saga Continues…

  1. I get the whole pride in your branch…I really do but that is why we have distinct dress uniforms. Anyone that has been deployed in a Joint unit can tell you how STUPID we as a military look in multiple different uniforms all working together. We have this new Scorpion design that as I understand it the government actually owns. Between now and 2018 slowly offer the uniform and give the different branchs time to switch since all of us have new uniforms currently anyway.

  2. As a retired Marine I enjoyed the MARPAT tremendously during my last 12 years of service as it was a truly good, functional uniform. While I do not think we all necessarily look stupid when serving alonside one another in various uniforms it certainly makes little sense. The Scorpion pattern seems quite good and works well in AFGH, is it universal enough to work in other climates as well? I dont know and that is why I ask. The Navy and AF uniforms are silly in my opinion. So….whether we all go Marpat or Scorpion is irrelevant to me but I think a standard combat uniform or BDU, or cammies, whatever the hell you wish to call them simply makes good sense.

    1. I never suggested rieresvble uniforms in impossible. Just that there are problems. You can see bleed-through of the two patterns in the pictures. Though, it does not appear to be significant.It all comes down to how heavy a material you are will to make a uniform out of. and honestly, that uniform has little to no functionality that the modern combat uniforms possess.I will add, that just because the Russians made it, doesn’t mean it’s worth a crap.I have not had contact with the USMC’s rieresvble helmet covers, so I can’t say what type of material they used. I can say, that after looking around a bit. I have seen that the rieresvble covers seem to cost substantially more that single patterns ones.

  3. I was in service(Army/air force/army from 1962-1993, in the 60-90 decades the services had a standard Fatigue Uniform(pickle suit), then a woodlands camouflage field uniform was adopted by all services. Then despite funding shortages the individual services got into an extended pissing match. Every service decided they needed their own distinctive utility or work uniform. They wasted already short funds to develop often ineffective and costly service specific uniforms, and went so far as to integrate service emblems in the pattern and copyright the pattern only for their service. This is not only a waste of valuable very short funding, it is a travesty that anyone would develop clothing with government funding, then incorporate service insignia in the design and copyright it to prevent other services from using that design. This is a waste of scarce development funds,developing an effective camouflage pattern could be justified if it is then used by all services. The cost savings from standardizing all utility or work uniforms would be enormous. Even with the cost of establishing an inter-service uniform panel, the savings would outweigh the cost of separate development and multiple uniform purchases.For Esprit-De-Corps The Class A and Class B uniforms with their distinctive designs, should fulfill that need, If any service has a superior product then all services should adopt that product. I was in the Air Force and Purchased an Air Force Arctic Parka. My brother joined the Navy and was assigned to submarines, on deck watch the sailors got very cold, my brother wrote and asked me to send him my parka. I sent it to him, he wrote back and thanked me and said all the deck watch guards were using my parka to keep warm. He said I wish I had the FSN for this parka, I would order some more. I told him the FSN was on the label in the back of the parka.He ordered one parka, the order got to base supply and was rejected because this was an Air Force item, and the Navy had a “similar” item for them to order. Needless to say the “similar” item was not acceptable! Develop the best item and authorize it for all services, huge savings and better equipment, everyone except possibly defence contractors win.

  4. I agree that we as a unified service need a common uniform if for nothing else, ease of identifying friend and foe.

    As far as OCP’s effectiveness across the spectrum, I think it’s what’s known as an 80% solution- it works really well in transitional environments, and pretty well in woodland/desert environments, but is not as effective as terrain-specific(woodland/desert pattern) camouflage. By the Army’s own admission, it’s not as good as Multicam, but regardless it’s a damn sight better than UCP. There are also terrain specific versions of the patterns out there that could be appropriated and fielded rather quickly when the need arises.

    As far as service branding goes, we always find ways to i tegrate our specific service identifiers into it somehow, even if it’s only with the branch tape. IE: Marines have not recently worn unit specific patches, while both Army and Air Force (at least USAF did up until ABU was introduced) continue to wear them everywhere, all this despite all five branches having and employing specific unit patches at least since the 1940s.

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