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AF Announces Adoption of OCP for Deployers

Making good on their promise of 24 August, the Air Force has officially announced what was already happening. Personnel deploying to Operation Enduring Freedom will be issued clothing and equipment in the OEF Camouflage Pattern (OCP), commercially known as MultiCam. The Army had begun issuing OCP to its Afghanistan-bound forces last summer and included some Air Force deployers due to the nature of their mission such as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers which embed with Army maneuver forces.

In a USAF press release, Lt. Col. Shawna McGowan, the Air Force future programs branch chief made several statements regarding the fielding.

“At first, Airmen receiving the (Airman Battle System-Ground, or ABS-G) uniforms with mission responsibilities outside the wire in Afghanistan will have priority for the OCP.”

But the plan is for the OCP uniform to eventually become the only ground-combat uniform worn by Airmen in Afghanistan both inside and outside the wire, she said. This also will minimize the number of bags Airmen will carry into and out of the theater.

“The OCP uniform is scientifically developed to blend in with Afghanistan’s terrain, which will make our Airmen safer and more effective on the battlefield,” she said. “The new material is also flame resistant and lighter weight than either the ABS-G or the (Airman Battle Uniforms, or ABUs).”

The material also contains a bug repellant to protect our deployed Airmen, she added.

And, the colonel said, not only is this uniform better than its predecessors, but working jointly with the Army to use a tested uniform is the fiscally responsible thing to do.

“It’s not only a joint use of the best ground combat uniform available,” Colonel McGowan said, “it saves fiscal resources and also aligns with the National Defense Authorization Act language that encourages collaborative efforts between the services.”

Since the OCP is replacing the other uniforms, there also will be a savings that will come from not needing to store and supply both the ABS-G and ABU, she said.

So, reading this, I come away with the understanding that the Air Force will be purchasing OCP clothing and equipment from Army stocks and issuing them to Airmen who are deploying to OEF. However, it is interesting that Lt Col McGowan would claim that the OCP uniform is better than the ABS-G or that the Air Force will realize cost savings due to the fielding of OCP.

Since the entire Air Force is still going to use the ABU for all home station forces outside of Afghanistan and those deploying to a combat zone still require the ABS-G in the digital pattern, the Air Force will be adding a third uniform ensemble. Sounds like it will cost more to me. Want to truly save money Air Force? Dump the Digital Tiger Stripe pattern and adopt MultiCam across the board. One uniform for all regardless of location.

As for her assertion that the uniform is more effective. From a camouflage standpoint it most definitely is. The Army adopted OCP for use in Afghanistan for a reason. While Air Force Digital Tiger Stripe was not included in the Army’s camo testing regimen conducted in 2009 in Afghanistan, the colorway is based on UCP with Slate Blue as an additional fourth color. As a camouflage pattern it performs in a similar manner to UCP; abysmally. However, the ABS-G itself is actually a great system. The fabric used in the actual field uniform is the same as used in the Army’s A2CU and is lighter and more breathable than that used in the FR ACU. Additionally, the ABS-G is a total system that incorporates FR insulation layers. The Army’s Gen III ECWCS does not.

The article goes on to warn troops as well as units that they cannot purchase clothing and equipment in OCP.

“The only authorized OCP uniforms are those purchased and issued by Air Force Central Command,” Colonel McGowan said. “While some units are interested in procuring the OCP for training, future deployments and such, they won’t be authorized to do so because those orders would take away from supplies that are prioritized for the most at-risk deployers.”

She also discouraged individuals from purchasing their own uniforms as that could result in them receiving non-tested, non-compliant uniforms that ultimately could put lives at risk. With any new uniform, ‘knock-offs’ are readily available and Airmen need to use sound judgment and not spend personal funds on potentially non-compliant OCP assets, she said.

“Essentially, any unauthorized purchase of the OCP uniforms could result in putting Airmen at risk either on the front lines or at home,” the colonel said.

All good advice, except that it’s a bit melodramatic. Air Force elements were in MultiCam long before this decision by the Air Staff and will continue to do so in the future based on mission. They have had no trouble finding ample supplies of clothing and equipment. The real issue here is that the MultiCam version of the FR ACU which is referred to as the OCP uniform is simply not available commercially. However, ample stocks of alternative FR clothing items in MultiCam are freely available such as New Balance’s System 7. In fact, the Airman Battle Shirt is produced by vendor Massif. They also just so happen to manufacture the Army Combat Shirt in UCP as well as MultiCam and have recently introduced an entire line of commercially available certified FR MultiCam clothing. As for field equipment, pick a vendor and they are making it in MultiCam. Some of it is excellent and some of it is pure junk. Caveat Emptor.

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