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Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

Army moves closer to replacement of ACU pattern

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The Army is now one step closer to selecting a new set of camouflage patterns that could replace what Soldiers are wearing now in most places.

As part of the “Phase IV” camouflage effort, the Army this week awarded contracts to five vendors — selected from an initial 20 — to each provide enough fabric in the new camouflage patterns they have developed to produce 150 uniforms for the Army to test.

Each vendor had been asked to produce a “family of camouflage patterns,” including one that would be suitable in a woodland environment, one that would be suitable in a desert environment, and one that would work in a “transitional” environment.

The Army will spend the next nine months testing the effectiveness of those patterns.

“To really have confidence in being able to make a recommendation to senior leaders, we need to do field trials,” said Col. William Cole, of Program Executive Office Soldier. “We are looking forward to getting out into the woods, into the deserts, into the transitional areas and having real Soldiers wear these uniforms and have real Soldiers observe them.”

Cole said the Army will use both real-world testing in varying terrains and conditions, as well as more advanced computer testing to evaluate the patterns.

“We’re going to put them through the ringer,” he said.

Due to the varying types of terrain Soldiers operate in, Cole said the Army had found that we can’t really have one pattern that is as effective as we’d like in every single terrain type.”

Today, most Soldiers wear the Army Combat Uniform. The ACU bears the Universal Camouflage Pattern, the familiar grey/blue “digital” pattern. In Afghanistan, Soldiers also have the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern, or OCP, available for wear.

The vendors each developed three patterns with the same geometry — the shapes on the fabric — but with different color palettes. Additionally, the vendors were to develop a fourth “coordinated” pattern, or name one of the three already in their family of patterns, that would work well with all three patterns. That fourth pattern is for use on organizational clothing and individual equipment.

Cole said that OCIE, things like belts, protective vests, ruck sacks and plate carriers, are more expensive than a Soldier’s regular uniform. The Army doesn’t want to maintain OCIE in each of the three patterns, so instead the Army will have it in one pattern that looks good with all three of the uniform pattern variants.

Cole said other organizations have OCIE that is a solid color, but he said “we were hoping we could do better than that,” and the Army asked industry to come up with an OCIE pattern to break up solid color “and still look good on all three uniform patterns.”

“We had seen some examples of grossly mismatched OCIE in uniforms in the early part of Iraqi Freedom — we didn’t want to have any telltale signs of where the OCIE, the vest and armor stopped and where the rest of the body began,” Cole said.

Many vendors have chosen their “transitional” pattern for use on the OCIE, Cole said.

Each of the five vendors will now produce enough fabric to build 50 uniforms out of each of their three submitted patterns -— for a total of 150 uniforms from each company. In all, the Army will have 750 uniforms for use in its testing.

Cole said by October, PEO Soldier will have completed testing of the patterns and will be able to make recommendations to Army senior leadership about the way ahead.

“There’s a lot to do between now and October, but that’s our plan,” Cole said. “Complete the field trials and complete the more sensitive computer simulations and come back to senior leaders in October and lay out the results of what we found and have a recommendation.”

The five vendors awarded contracts include: Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., Virginia Beach, Va.; Brookwood Companies Inc., New York; Crye Precision LLC, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Kryptek Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska; U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, Mass.

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