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Army to test Marine camo variants

Dec. 28, 2010 - 03:52PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 28, 2010 - 03:52PM  |  
Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct urban terrain training on Dec. 13 aboard Fort Pickett, Va.
Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct urban terrain training on Dec. 13 aboard Fort Pickett, Va. (Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson / Marine Corps)

The Army is moving to replace its combat uniforms, and will test variants of the Corps' popular Marine Pattern camouflage in the process.

Army officials outlined their plans for defense industry leaders in December at the Army Research Laboratory/Adelphi Laboratory outside Washington, D.C. The service wants to replace its three-color Universal Camouflage Pattern, which has been fielded since 2004 and is panned for failing to allow soldiers to adequately blend in to their surroundings.

The Army wants to provide an "operationally and scientifically validated" camouflage that will provide concealment for soldiers regardless of where they are deployed, said Col. William Cole, project manager of Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment. At least three patterns will likely be selected: a woodland variant, a desert variant and a "transitional" variant that covers everything in between.

Army officials said UCP will not be tested as the Army considers options for its next camouflage. Instead, the service will test patterns that include Woodland and Desert MARPAT and AOR 1 and 2, which resemble the Marine desert and woodland digital patterns but are treated to reduce a service member's infrared signature.

The Corps owns the rights to MARPAT and wants to retain it for its own use, said Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the Corps' top enlisted Marine. However, Marine officials are open to other services researching and testing MARPAT, as long as the uniforms they field are different enough to distinguish Marines from other service members on the battlefield.

"The main concern for the Marine Corps when it comes to other services testing our patterns is that they don't exactly mimic them," Kent said. "The MARPAT design is proprietary, and it's important those designs are reserved for Marines. We just need to make sure each of our designs is unique to each service."

It isn't the first time that another branch of service has looked to MARPAT to develop its own new uniform. The Navy rolled out a new working uniform early last year that looked similar to MARPAT cammies, but fielded the desert variant only to about 7,000 personnel either assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command or units supporting it after Marine officials raised objections that the uniform was too similar to the Corps', sources told Marine Corps Times.

The final nail in the coffin for the Army's current UCP camouflage likely came after a Sept. 21 report detailed how and why the Army began swapping this year in Afghanistan from UCP to the seven-color Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, commonly known as MultiCam. The Army supplied it after MultiCam outperformed several other patterns, including UCP, in a photo-simulation test that included photographs taken in desert, woodland, cropland and mountain terrain settings.

Senior enlisted leaders for the Army in Afghanistan expressed "serious concerns … "regarding UCP's camouflage effectiveness during combat operations," according to a report compiled by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. A subsequent survey of 2,043 soldiers with experience in Afghanistan showed that UCP was "perceived to be not as effective as desired," the report said.

Instead, soldiers showed a preference for MultiCam and MARPAT. In southern Afghanistan, where soldiers conduct heavy combat operations in Kandahar province, 43 percent preferred MultiCam, while 39 percent preferred Desert MARPAT. In eastern Afghanistan, known for its rugged mountain terrain, 47 percent of soldiers preferred MultiCam and 26 percent preferred Desert MARPAT.

Wear and field tests will follow, with the gear fielded as early as October 2012.

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