There are a lot of moving pieces in the US Government and this extends to the military. To the outsider it would often seem that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. But for the industrial base that supplies Soldier Systems equipment to the US Army, it looks downright schizophrenic.
Consider that the Army has been telling itself and industry for almost three years now that the current, grey-based Universal Camouflage Pattern is going to be replaced by a new family of camouflage patterns. The Army even solicited industry to provide that camouflage and has spent tens of millions of dollars to test it. But then, having completed testing early this year, the Army has inexplicably sat on the results. While all this goes on, it continues to waste money purchasing clothing and equipment in UCP but in lower numbers than before. Concurrently, the Army purchases gear in the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP) a relabeled Crye MultiCam adopted for use in Afghanistan in 2009 due to UCP’s poor performance. But along all, the Army is very adamant that OCP is an interim solution for use in Afghanistan only.
Starting in 2004, the Department of Defense openly admits having spent about $5 Billion dollars rolling out equipment in UCP but some estimates place the real number at double that. Until the use of OCP starting in 2009, that is all that they were buying so the supply chain concentrated on producing materials in the UCP colorway which includes tan for footwear and Foliage Green for accessory items and trims. Once OCP hit the scene, Tan 499 became the accessory color for use with that pattern.
The issue of what to produce started to become a real problem last year as orders for both UCP and OCP started to taper off and industry began to anticipate a transition to an entirely new family of patterns. As time wore on companies became even more nervous as they were sitting in a considerable stockpile of UCP materials with few orders coming in. They questioned whether the same thing would happen with OCP.
Now, due to uncertainty, few companies are willing to inventory raw goods which are the materials used to produce equipment. This means that they do not get as good a price from the mills as they only purchase as much as they need, when they need it, driving prices up. Additionally, it now takes longer to complete an order as they have to wait for the raw goods to be produced at the mill rather than dipping into their own inventory.
And uncertainty abounds. The Army continues to delay announcement of their new family of camouflage patterns. They haven’t even notified the four finalists (ADS Inc, Brookwood, Crye Precision and Kryptek) whether or not they were selected which makes an AUSA announcement problematic. And yet, the Sergeant Major of the Army, Raymond F Chandler III informs troops that they will be receiving a new uniform that is very similar to MultiCam. What’s more, at a recent DoD Footwear Conference, officials from Natick inform industry that a MultiCam variant will be announced this Fall but that an as of yet undisclosed new boot color will go with it. That announcement alone threw a major monkey wrench in the boot industry. It means no more Tan leather and fabric. So what do they buy and at what point do they cut off orders for the current materials?
Want a few more examples of why industry thinks the Army is schizophrenic? Despite having decided (at least internally) which new family of patterns it wants to adopt, in early September, the Army announces out of the blue its intent to negotiate a licensing agreement with Crye Precision for OCP. And then, the very next week, the Defense Logistics Agency awarded 10 new delivery orders for 758,730 garments in UCP. Granted, we told you months ago that there was a cost to delaying the Army’s camouflage decision but that’s a lot of uniforms for an Army poised to make a change. Given all of these signs, to a business that makes its living supplying the military, they aren’t sure what to do.
And then there’s the elephant in the room. The impending legislation that will require all of DoD to adopt a common combat uniform and camouflage pattern by 2018. How do the Army’s disparate actions jive with that? Nobody knows. And that causes ripples in the market.
SMA Chandler’s comments really aren’t anything more than rumor if the Secretary of the Army, the Honorable John McHugh, doesn’t formalize the announcement and place orders for clothing and equipment in this new family of patterns.
It’s time for the Army to get its act together, announce a camouflage plan and implement it. Failing that, they will continue to waste money and leave their supply chain in disarray.