How The US Army Spent An Entire War Figuring Out What Camouflage To Wear

Actually the military’s uniform trouble started, as trouble so often does, with the Marines.

Until the turn of the millennium, every service wore the same exact camo — as David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post put it: “One was green, for the woods. The other was brown, for the desert.”

Then the Marines designed a uniform in 2002 and promptly patented the design. The reason was that a unified outward identity within the service made for good team building, and also “enemies would see us coming a mile away,” said Corps spokesman Capt. Pete Mitchell.

Wait a second …

He also said, “We want to be instantly recognised as a force to be reckoned with.”

That’s it, the Marine Corps wanted to be recognised on the battlefield as Marines … once they were actually seen. The Marine Corps digital utility uniforms were largely a hit, both in combat and with the Marines.

They quickly became the envy of the sister services.

So set off an inter-service scramble to in some way, shape, or form, duplicate what the Corps had done … except specialer.

Here’s a breakdown:

Uniforms Competition GAO

Little did they know at the time how much the endeavour would cost.

Erik German of The (now defunct) Daily reported on what happened with the Army, the first to spearhead a new camo uniform:

Camouflage researchers testing patterns for the Army in the early 2000s were pressured to choose a design like the “trendy” new one being used by the Marine Corps.

The Marines’ budget is significantly smaller than the other services though. Much more money to be made with the army.

“It got into political hands before the soldiers ever got the uniforms,” Army textile technologist Cheryl Stewardson said to The Daily, noting that Army brass sped along a decision before testing was complete.

What came out the other end what a horrific mistake: a grey uniform that made folks stick out in the environment like a platoon of sore thumbs.

“Essentially, the Army designed a universal uniform that universally failed in every environment,” an Army specialist told The Daily.  “The only time I have ever seen it work well was in a gravel pit.”

Planners in the other services weren’t satisfied when they saw the Army’s $3.2 million mistake, they plunged forward — eventually totaling out about $12 million to research and “develop” 10 different types of uniforms.

Once the Army decided to suspend the grey monstrosity and put more money into another solution, Brandon Webb, a former operator with special operations forces and editor of SOFREP, told the Blaze the universal-uniform-bungle was a “huge let down to the U.S. tax payer.”

“It’s also proof that the antiquated Department of defence acquisition system is broken and in desperate need of fixing,” concluded Webb.

Webb said he personally, with a group of operators, a graphic designers and a contract lab for infrared testing, could do the job for $70,000.

It cost the Army $3.4 million just to develop, another $5 billion to field.

It didn’t finish fielding until 2010 — arguably nearing the end of the war.

Here’s the kicker though: despite the resounding success of the Army’s new uniform in the last 2.5 years of combat, they’ve decided to research, develop, and field another new uniform.

At a cost of $4 billion.

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