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The US Air Force Might Not Be Adopting OCP Yet But Some Airmen Are Already Wearing It

After the US Army’s recent announcement that they were switching wholesale to the Operational Camouflage Pattern, Airmen starting wondering if they were going to make the change as well next Summer. Well, not so fast. To be sure, the USAF has closely monitored the Army’s camouflaging efforts, but for the immediate future, the Air Force won’t be making an across the board uniform change. For home station wear, they are going to stick with the ill-named Airman Battlefield Uniform in glorious Digital Tigerstripe. Unfortunately, the Air Force’s vanity pattern sports the same grey-tones as the Army’s soon-to-be-replaced Universal Camouflage Pattern with an additional fourth color; Slate Blue. There’s a reason the Army is replacing UCP; it doesn’t live up to its name.

First Sergeant Recycles $250K in OCP Uniforms for Bagram Airmen
Photo: MSgt Nicholas Kollett, First Sergeant for the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron stands in front of shelves of recycled Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern uniforms at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 7, 2012. (US Air Force photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

But, Airmen have been wearing MultiCam since SOCOM first started issuing you it in the mid-2000s. AFSOC airmen continue to wear MultiCam garments to this day.

Battlefield Airmen Wearing MultiCam

Once the Army adopted MultiCam as OCP in 2009, Airmen operating in direct support of the Army began wearing it as well. Since then, more and more Air Force Elements wear the pattern. Officially, all Airmen deploying to OEF started receiving their OCP mobility gear from the Army’s stocks in 2011.

Operation Southern Strike III
Photo: USAF – SSgt Nathan Goedert, military dog handler, provides security during Operation Southern Strike III in the village of Jandad Kalay, Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2012.

Even today, those in several Battlefield Airman specialties wear MultiCam/OCP for their day-to-day uniforms. In fact, MultiCam has been spec’d for a wide variety of uniforms and equipment as part of the community’s Battlefield Airman Management System which procures and issues mission specific gear. Additionally, several related but non-BA specialties also regularly use OCP kit such as EOD. However, everyone wears the ABU to PME and other USAF courses. It’s the standard issue uniform for all Airmen.

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But now, something major has happened. USAF’s Global Strike Command has decided to issue OCP to many of its Security Forces. Specifically, Security Forces Airmen at three Air Force Global Strike Command bases, Minot AFB, North Dakota, Malmstrom AFB, Montana and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming as well as those in the 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron serving at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming. After a mission analysis, the command determined that it was the best option for those protecting our Nuclear Deterrent capability. This new ensemble is called Model Defender by the command. Hopefully, it is a model for the future as well.

“What we were trying to do with this was build the best system for our nuclear defenders and the environment they operate in,” said Gregory Simpson, resource advisor for Security Forces contingency and requirements at AFGSC…”If you get in a firefight in the field and you’re laying down fire, who are you going to see first? Obviously that guy [in ABUs,]” said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Daigneault, senior enlisted manager for the Force Improvement Program at AFGSC. “The difference is almost night and day. Your eyes skim right over the guy in OCP and zone in on the guy in ABUs. He just doesn’t fit in in that [missile field] environment.”

GSC in OCP
Photo: Security Forces Airmen perform a training patrol at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The Airman on the left is wearing an OCP (MultiCam) uniform, where the Airman on the right is wearing ABUs. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

This move by GSC may well be a catalyst for further adoption. In the early 80s, the US military began a transition to the Woodland camouflage patterned Battle Dress Uniform from the old OG-507 fatigue uniform. Initially, special operations units made the switch followed by those that directly supported the Army such as TACPs and Combat Weather. Next, units with dedicated ground missions such as Security Police and Combat Comms adopted the BDU. Finally, at the end of the decade, the Air Force made the full swap with Basic Trainees receiving the uniforms at BMTS in 1988. In the photo below from that year, you can see the MTIs in BDUs but the trainees continue to wear fatigues.

1988 BMTS Photo

I think there are two issues afoot here and one has primacy over the other. First and foremost is cost. By their own admission, the Air Force has a rather large inventory of ABUs and accessories in stock with the Defense Logistics Agency. Think of DLA as a distributor that the AF (and other services) is required to purchase from. DLA doesn’t want to be stuck holding the bag with tens or even hundreds of millions of Dollars worth of clothing in the event the AF would want to change patterns so they require that the services buy out their inventory first. Based on current budget issues, the AF can think of lots of other ways to spend their money.

General Welsh Visit
Photo: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Mark A. Welsh III talks with Senior Airman Michael Walker, 91st Security Forces Operations Squadron, during a tour of the U-01 launch facility trainer here, Nov. 21. The tour was part of Welsh’s first visit to Minot since becoming the chief of staff. (U.S. Air Force photo/A1C Andrew Crawford)

Second, is service identity. So long as you can’t really afford the swap, it’s good to tell yourself that you’re preserving the Air Force’s identity as a service by maintaining a distinctive uniform. Never mind that in the long run that it’s wasteful, that the folks who actually run the AF (pilots) don’t wear the darned thing and that it will never live up to its name as a battle uniform. In fact, the tigerstripe pattern was developed specifically to give the USAF a distinctive look after Chief of Staff of the Air Force James Jumper was referred to as a “Soldier”.

I do believe that one day, everyone in the USAF will be wearing OCP. But, just as it was in the 80s with the transition from Green Fatigues to BDUs, the Air Force will do so incrementally, at its own pace.

21 Responses to “The US Air Force Might Not Be Adopting OCP Yet But Some Airmen Are Already Wearing It”

  1. E.D.M. says:

    I remember when they announced Model Defender earlier this year, and talked as if they were going to pull a semi truck onto the base loaded with Multicam, new weapons, optics, and gear for all the missile field security forces. I don’t know if they are going to have the new Army OCP fielded in that quantity by that point. They were originally talking November of this year to implement this, and I believe the funding was already appropriated as part of the Air Force’s Force Improvement Program for the nuclear arena.

    • SSD says:

      Once again, OCP has been fielded by the Army and USAF for years and years.

      • E.D.M. says:

        Oh, I know, of course. What I meant was the “new” OCP rather than Mutlicam OCP.

        • SSD says:

          Well, if you buy it through the Army, you’ll get what the Army is getting from DLA. For many commodities, that will be the MultiCam variant for some time. Priority is going to Clothing Bag items before OCIE, which is what the USAFGSC is fielding.

  2. cimg says:

    We’ve been issued Multicam 2 piece flight suits (C-130 community), I can imagine the transition will be a slow painful process, complicated by the use of Multicam, with Army’s selection of Scorpion, the budget etc.

    You thought the Army uniform selection was a fiasco, look in to the C130 AMP (avionics modernization program)…

  3. matt says:

    screw em, Army gets OCP, give Air Force all terrain tiger!

    • DGR says:

      I would agree 100% if we could afford it. But thats my problem, the cost is to great to justify it.

    • DSM says:

      The color palette is night and day better than the ABU but unique uniform patterns serve no utility but to increase costs. I’m for the best gear but it’s easy to spend someone else’s money.

      If leaders want service identity then they can wear their spiffy dress up uniforms. Keep their customs and traditions there. Each service already has it’s own insignia and identifiers on their field or combat or battle uniforms, whatever they choose to call them. An ego is not part of that.

  4. majrod says:

    Thanks SSD. I think you nailed it.

  5. Hardchawger says:

    As our sister service migrates to OCP as well; this will then become a battle between the services in which will be the one camo for all. But I believe that the Corps and Navy will remain with MarPat/AOR no matter what.

  6. DSM says:

    Wow, this restores (albeit a small amount) some respect for my former service and career field. A decision that makes sense and a CMSgt that went on record against the company line, such a rarity anymore.
    This sets a precedence I didn’t foresee so I’m curious as to how this’ll play out for the rest of the career field and then the corporation as a whole. I liked Jumper for the most part but the ABU is an abortion of a uniform. At least we didn’t end up with the original blue tiger stripes. Yeah, look that one up if you haven’t seen it…

  7. James says:

    One of my biggest issues with the AF not adopting the OCP is that the UCP OCIE gear will eventually all come in OCP. As if the ABU camouflage isn’t already worthless, now you’ll have two totally different patterns on one body thereby making what little camouflage existed even worse. Not to mention that all Airmen will pretty much look ridiculous wearing multiple patterns on one body. I really hope the USAF reconsiders as ABU stocks are depleted.

    • SSD says:

      You mean like this?

      It’s already happening. But don’t worry. They Air Force will continue to purchase mobility gear in ABU for non-Battlefield Airmen.

      • James says:

        And that mentality adds to the financial buffoonery our nation is in. Purchasing combat equipment that can’t be used in combat makes 0 sense.

        • SSD says:

          And it tells you what your Air Force thinks about you by equipping you that way.

          • Riceball says:

            Sort of like how they sent out the original ABU prototype design for testing and feedback and implemented absolutely none of the recommendations they got from their Special Operations field testers, you know, the ones who would actually be using it the most in the field.

  8. Hardchawger says:

    I just saw this right now about the AF’s tiger stripes and currently no intention on changing.

    http://kitup.military.com/2014/09/tiger-stripes-stay-air-force.html

  9. cimg says:

    Did the AF guy in the first pic just roll out of bed?