G-Code

$28 Million Well Spent – A Critique Of The SIGAR Report On Afghanistan National Army Camouflage Uniforms

Yesterday, the Office of Special Projects of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report entitled, “Afghan National Army: DOD may have spent up to 28 million more than needed to procure camouflage uniforms that may be inappropriate for the Afghan environment.” I fully encourage you to read the entire report. It is available for download here.

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It was assuredly written to persuade the reader that the United States Taxpayer had been bilked for over $28 million in excess charges for the purchase of camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army, which they also claim weren’t even appropriate for the environment. However, I think this was money well spent, and I’ll tell you why.

First off, the report was written from a 2017 perspective and fails to take into account the situation of 2007, when this whole affair began. For instance, in 2007 the war was in full swing. There was a sense of urgency. Additionally, even by the report’s admission, the fledgling ANA was clothed in a variety of uniform styles and colors. It was an Army made up of former Mujaheddin from a variety of tribes and factions. One of the quickest ways to integrate such a population into a cohesive force is to put them into a common uniform, and that’s precisely what the ANA did.

What’s more, in 2007 there weren’t companies solely focused on developing camouflage patterns, save one. That company is Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp and it is the company the Afghans chose to provide their camouflage. The powers that be, found Hyperstealth online, contacted them, and then chose a camouflage pattern. Their requirements were simple. They wanted to identify themselves and they wanted a distinct identity rather than wearing a uniform also worn by Coalition forces. Additionally, they wanted their pattern to be protected and not available to others, particularly their enemies. By choosing Hyperstealth’s SPEC4CE Forest digital camouflage pattern, they got everything they asked for. Interestingly, the SIGAR report doesn’t discuss that two other elements, the Afghanistan Partner Unit chose the Desert colored Ghostex Kilo-1 pattern and ANCOP chose Hyperstealth’s SPEC4CE Sierra pattern. It only mentions them in passing.

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While the report goes into a great deal of effort to inform the reader that the SPEC4CE Forest pattern was not evaluated, inferring that it doesn’t work in Afghanistan, the report offers no evidence to that conclusion aside from statistics about the percentage of forested areas in country. There’s no actual evidence provided that it doesn’t work. In fact, the report fails to acknowledge that the ANA operates quite a bit at night and the darker colors of the SPEC4CE Forest pattern work well in that environment. It also doesn’t disclose that as a developer of camouflage, Hyperstealth conducts inhouse evaluations of their patterns, rather leading the reader to believe that there is no science behind the pattern. But remember, Hyperstealth has outfitted a number of countries with distinct camouflage patterns and was even selected as a finalist in Phase IV of the US Army’s Camouflage Improvement Effort. No matter how you feel about them, they must be doing something right.

The US Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, MA provided SIGAR some examples of different camouflage patterns they could have provided to the ANA, instead of adopting the commercially developed Hyperstealth pattern. You can see them here. Notice some are Woodland patterns, which SIGAR declares are inappropriate for Afghanistan. Others still are Urban and even Snow patterns.

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Ironically, the pattern the US Army was issuing to its Soldiers at the time this program was getting started (2007-2009) was the newly adopted Universal Camouflage Pattern. Like the ANA pattern, it too was issued to troops without any environmental testing. However, indications from American troops in the field were that its light green and grey coloration did not perform well in Afghanistan. The most powerful Army on the face of the earth didn’t conduct operational testing of its camouflage pattern prior to fielding it, and yet, in hindsight, we expect Afghanistan’s newly formed Army to have conducted such testing.

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When UCP was eventually replaced, it wasn’t with a pattern developed by Natick, but rather by another commercially developed pattern, Crye Precision’s MultiCam.

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Natick also offered the authors of the report costs and timeframes for various options to replace the ANA camouflage pattern with something new. However, they failed to disclose that their magnum opus, Phase IV of the Army Camouflage Improvement Effort, was never completed. Years on, we still have no idea how much money the Army spent on the project or its conclusions. For taxpayer and industry alike, it remains an utter failure. And yet, they want to take charge of fixing something that isn’t broken.

The report also raises the question of whether the purchase of the uniforms was legal under the Federal Acquisition Regulations, claiming that it violated sole source rules. Technically, the uniforms have never been ‘sole sourced’ because multiple manufacturers bid against one another to make them. However, if the argument is that the camouflage print required sole source justification, that’s quite simple. The pattern is the ANA pattern. That’s justification enough. We left the choice up to them. They chose and we agreed to buy their uniforms for them. It’s not like we haven’t paid a licensing fee for years as well, purchasing Clothing and Equipment in Crye Precision MultiCam.

In the report, much is made about wasted money due to the differences in price between ANA pattern uniforms in SPEC4CE Forest and Afghan National Police uniforms printed in M81 Woodland camouflage pattern. Amazingly, the cost differences between these two uniforms are highlighted, but the appropriateness of the ANA’s woodland coloration is critiqued while nothing is said of the ANP’s woodland pattern. Additionally, the report includes an interesting statement (footnote 28) which helps explain the stark difference in price. The ANA uniforms are in the Army Combat Uniform style, made from 50/50 NYCO while the ANP uniform is in the old Battle Dress Uniform cut from a PolyCotton blend. To begin with, the cost to assemble each of these two styles is different.

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It’s also important to note that the NYCO fabric for the ANA uniforms is Berry compliant, as are most of the uniforms themselves, which means they are made in the USA from US materials. That also means they are going to cost more than fabric or a uniform made overseas. That’s right. The money in question has been spent on American goods and to pay American workers. Granted, at various times, the ANA uniforms have been assembled in Afghanistan, but ALWAYS with American printed NYCO fabric and findings. However, it is important to acknowledge that a small, but undisclosed amount goes to a license fee to use that SPEC4CE Forest camouflage pattern by Hyperstealth, but I understand the fabric costs are quite comparable to the fabrics used in US military uniforms. In fact, the uniforms cost about the same as a US issue uniform. Considering they are made from the same materials in the same factories, by American workers, they should.

The Polycotton material in the ANP uniform? That’s not made or printed in America. PolyCotton comes from Asia. Here’s another point about the difference between NYCO and PolyCotton. NYCO is no melt no drip, while PolyCotton will keep burning even if you take a flame away from it. Additionally, NYCO accepts printing very well and is colorfast, while PolyCotton fades quickly. You might also note that the authors of the report seem to think that the PolyCotton ANP’s uniform requirement of “no ripstop” is somehow superior to the ripstop NYCO fabric. Finally, NYCO itself is at least twice as durable as PolyCotton. The report claims that each ANA uniform is 43% more expensive than an ANP uniform. Even at a 43% markup, if that ANA uniform lasts twice as long, it sure looks like the ANA uniform is a much better value than the ANP uniform. How much more would those uniforms have cost over the past eight delivery years if they had been made from PolyCotton and they had gone through twice as many?

The money spent on that special camouflage pattern also paid for eight years of peace of mind. The first uniforms were delivered in 2009. The pattern has been restricted from sale to anyone outside of the program. Afghan and American troops haven’t had to worry that an enemy infiltrator may have purchased a lookalike uniform online. I’m not sure how you can even put a price on that. The woodland uniforms of the ANP on the other hand, are readily available for anyone to buy. Now that’s something that should be fixed.

After all of their “fact finding”, and discussion of misspent funds, what does SIGAR recommend? Why, spending even more money, of course. The conclusion is for the US to find a new pattern for the ANA. Never mind the millions of Dollars already spent on clothing and PPE and never mind the identity of the Afghan National Army. Instead, we should keep in mind that Afghanistan chose a pattern and barring any evidence that it doesn’t work, we should honor that. If it doesn’t work, we need to help them find a new path and not force something down their throats.

Who knows how much was spent on this report, and how much would actually be spent on developing an entirely new pattern. The program should be looked at as a success. The ANA has a distinctive uniform and it is restricted from sale to those outside of the program which has helped keep Afghan and Coalition troops safe from at least some infiltrator attacks. If the desire is to save money, perhaps a better licensing arrangement can be negotiated with Hyperstealth. But to start anew from scratch, replacing an allied Army’s equipment and identity, is a waste of time and money. However, if the actual goal of this report was to make the case that Natick needs to develop a new uniform for Afghanistan, then let them replace the M81 Woodland pattern of the ANP. That would do more to protect Afghanistan and their allies than a replacement of the ANA’s current unique camouflage pattern.

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46 Responses to “$28 Million Well Spent – A Critique Of The SIGAR Report On Afghanistan National Army Camouflage Uniforms”

  1. Steven S says:

    This kind of stuff kills me. It brings out old wounds of DoD wide camouflage incompetence.

    Btw SSD, have you tried an FOIA request for the phase IV report?

  2. Nom O'ney says:

    Just curious, is this an actual critique, a commissioned infomercial, or an Hyperstealth-provided defense?

    • SSD says:

      An actual critique. Did I say anything in there that wasn’t true?

      • Baldwin says:

        Excellent article! Great information and insight on many levels. Keep up the good work SSD.

      • some other joe says:

        “Did I say anything in there that wasn’t true?”

        Does it count if no one in the ANA actually wears the same thing? 😉

        Seriously, there’s still a mix of ANA digital, 3-color desert, and woodland (’cause the ANSOF wears it and they want to claim a real or imagined link to that element). I think I’ve seen exactly one ANCOP officer wearing the Sierra pattern rather than the Desert Storm era Saudi variation of 6-color desert.

        • SSD says:

          That’s the basis for your accusation that I was paid to write that article? How about you use your real name and call me a shill like a man? Otherwise, crawl back under your rock.

          • some other joe says:

            “That’s the basis for your accusation that I was paid to write that article?”
            I said nothing of the sort. I was stating what I see (it’s not so much a uniform as what the guys who don’t pay for their “uniforms” wear) in an attempt at humor. I tried to convey that with 😉
            It fell flat. Sorry ’bout that.

    • mandingo says:

      I am absolutely not a fan of Guy Kramer or Hyperstealth, but found this article to be an even-headed and fact-filled criticism of the “wasting my goddamned money machine”.

      Places a through investigation would likely provide scandalous results:
      -Behind the scenes of the ANA choosing SPEC4CE
      -Who / what is this report steered towards doing business with for an alternative uniform?

      Thank You SSD.

      • TraumaMedic89 says:

        Just asking an honest question so I can understand. What is your concern or problem with hyperstealth? Thanks.

    • Jester says:

      And not surprisingly “Nom O’ney” disappears after getting his ass handed to him.

  3. Dev says:

    I read the article on that on the BBC. It made my head spin. Good to see a subject matter expert’s take on this.

  4. Ed says:

    Would they (SIGAR/US) be happier if dumped all the crappy ACU on them???

    Unbelievable.

    I did read the “news” about this yesterday and was waiting for your expert analysis. No wonder it’s fake news, barely any details mentioned except $$ and it was worded to make readers believe AFG is another “desert” country with out vegetation or “green”. So sick of this modern journalist BS!

    Thanks SSD!

    • Che Guevara's Open Chest Wound says:

      Quote from Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in that article: “You’d think the Pentagon would have had a good handle on how to pick the right camouflage for uniforms.”

      Damn, Senator Grassley, where you been the last 15 years?

    • SSD says:

      The stories are all pretty similar. Pigs looking at wristwatches, spoonfed pablum for the masses.

      There’s an agenda behind this report and that agenda is that proprietary camouflage patterns are bad. And yet, the Army turned to a proprietary pattern in Afghanistan to fix its own camouflage problem and then later tried to rip it off.

      Hopefully, Sen Grassley will read my critique and realize that the Afghans were just following our lead. We still don’t have our act together regarding camouflage.

      • Ed says:

        Correct-a-mundo!

        Hammer meet nail!

        Thanks SSD!

      • Steven S says:

        I spent too many years being optimistic that we would fix it. Now, I have been pessimistic as fuck for the past few years.

      • TraumaMedic89 says:

        Since you have a better understanding then I do, what do you believe is the best camo pattern(s) out there and what should we be using? Since there is obviously too much politics and bias in the government to make an objective choice.

  5. JBar says:

    Word. I am sure that we get paid back by having capable soldiers and police forces there to provide stability and safety…..at least to some degree.

  6. JBar says:

    Also, I am sure this was approved by some politician or liaison.Blame the lawmakers if anyone at all.

  7. JBar says:

    Just buy some DCUs, lightly spray with adhesive and throw local dirt on them. Best camo.

  8. Reseremb says:

    Great response by Thomas Gibbons-Neff (journo for WPost and Marine vet)

    https://twitter.com/Tmgneff/status/877556597790314496

  9. BS says:

    In the photo 4 (selection of patterns available) there are three camouflage I have never seen before: 3-Color Snow, 2-Color Snow and 2-Color Urban. Does anyone have more info about them? 2-Color Urban looks like T-pattern (described as 3-Color Urban in the same pic) but without “T” in the pattern, am I right?

  10. Non-operator says:

    THIS is what gets an Inspector General report???? How about all the Hinds and other helicopter that we purchased for them, and were promptly shat upon and cut up for scrap? Or all the paving of roads and infrastructure projects for bases that were literally in the process of being vacated or turned over in the 2012ish timeframe? Has there been an IG investigation into the money poured into poppy eradication efforts that have seemingly had the exact opposite effect of original intent?

    Of all the rampant fraud, waste, and abuse in the war, yes, let’s spend an IG investigation on a camo pattern that’s really peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

    • Eric B says:

      In my opinion and experience, many IG investigations are initiated with a bias and agenda and are pursued by people without expertise in the respect matter being investigated. So much so, that I cannot recall ever seeing an IG report that concluded…”you guys did a good job and did everything very well”.

    • Strike-Hold says:

      Give that man a cigar! ^

  11. Strike-Hold says:

    Looking at that chart of “free” US patterns the thought occurred to me that the last time the US government developed a good, original, camouflage design was 1948….

    Everything since then had either been a derivative of that design, or a recolored foreign design (CADPAT / MARPAT / UCP), or heavily influenced by a foreign design (Desert Brush / DPM / Rhodesian).

    So this is why there are companies like Hyde Definition, Hyperstealth, Crye Associates, DCS, Kryptek, etc.

    • Camo Stuff says:

      Pssst. CADPAT was a US Army effort that migrated north and then back to the coasts.

      • Strike-Hold says:

        Nope. Not correct at all!

      • Steven S says:

        That’s a kick to the face to the Canadians. Sure, they took some inspiration and lessons learn from previous US Army research. However, that by itself was not enough to actually make CADPAT.

  12. Armyvet says:

    Our Army “Multi-terrain Camouflage Uniform” pattern is also from Hyperstealth. It was also apparently chosen by a General who liked it more than the other options, and wanted a distinctive pattern so we didn’t look like anyone else, despite the pattern not being remotely “multi-terrain” (too light for jungle or desert, mildly suitable for urban). It will be good if we go to war in a rock quarry.

    • Guy Cramer says:

      You can find the actual story on the trails which determined the New Zealand Multi-Terrain Camouflage Uniform Pattern (MCU) here: http://www.hyperstealth.com/NZ-MCU/

      You can also see the image at the top in the original coloration it was tested in, that image was released by the New Zealand Army. You need to speak to the NZ Army as to why their issued uniform colors are so different to those used in the trial uniforms.

      • Steven S says:

        Interesting, now I know why the pattern images never matched up with what I saw in the field photos.

    • Amy says:

      Then there’s the Navy admiral that decided blue cammies were a great idea for those on ships. Basically, he thought the other services’ BDUs looked cool. Never mind that anyone who went overboard was now camouflaged in the water. There’s a host of other issues with them as well. The Navy is now buying green cammies for their troops. Why ship-based need camouflage is beyond me. Dungarees worked well for decades and they doubled as flotation if you went over.

  13. Terry says:

    Thanks for the insightful write-up. When I read a media release about it yesterday, I thought that they were making a mountain out of a molehill. <30M to outfit an entire army? Chump change, really. Hell, the report even touches on the billions poured into Afghanistan – as a percentage that doesn't even rate at all.

  14. Bman says:

    I’m surprised the business-minded president hasn’t already ordered a change in the strangeness that goes on with our camo patterns. This Afghan thing isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared the waste we have done here. Like SSD said in the past, it might be better to follow big army lead and give everyone one pattern and only equip additional patterns as needed based on duty station or deployment. At the very least, get rid of the stupid ass ABU nonsense.

    • SSD says:

      The CMSAF has been telling folks at all enlisted calls that the uniform board is going to look at transitioning to OCP.

      • Steven S says:

        OCP as in multicam or OCP as in Scorpion W2?

      • bloke_from_ohio says:

        We all know AFSOC “cool guys” have been wearing OCPs and/or multicam forever. And the USAF issues OCP to a lot of their deployers. But, I have seen OCP slow rolled for CONUS wear across the USAF for the last few years. For instance, the base cops at Hurlbert addopted them somewhat recently, and so did some of the cop squardons guarding the missile fields (if RUMINT is to be believed). ACC has also aproved some aircrew in non-ejection seat equiped aircraft to wear the two piece flight suit in OCP both deployed and at home. About half of the C-130 guys I see running around base are in the new duds.

        If I recall correctly the uniform AFI was recently updated with all kinds of new OCP specific rules.

        • SSD says:

          Global Strike Command transitioned its Security Forces to MultiCam several years ago. Within AFSOC it’s mission creep. However, for Battlefield Airmen in the CAF it’s hit or miss.

      • bloke_from_ohio says:

        I have some rough looking ABUs that need replacing soon. Knowing my luck, my command will authorize the new uniforms a week after I pick up a new set of ABUs. That is what happened when they anounced the transition to ABUs from BDUs.

  15. Jim says:

    And THIS is why I stop by SSD on a regular basis – this type of insight is not available anywhere else… another great job!

  16. defiant says:

    SSD brings the heat! That was a great read, solid points all. Had read through the paper, but was eager to see analysis here.