Quantico Tactical

Criticism of SSD’s Coverage of the Army Family of Camouflage Patterns Effort

We received a letter last week from a reader criticizing our coverage of the Army’s Family of Patterns effort. First off, it is important that you know that the author is involved commercially in the development of camouflage patterns. It is also important that SSD readers realize that we are in no way affiliated with the US Government and do not represent the views of the military but rather function as a news outlet serving the tactical industry. While we appreciate the time it obviously took to craft this letter, it seems as if the writer is expecting SSD to explain Army decisions. Since we are in no way involved in the acquisition process this is impossible. However, we will do our best to address the concerns of this writer from our perspective, based on our attendance at Industry Day and our interaction with Government and industry over the past few years. Hopefully, this article will help to expand your understanding of the upcoming Family of Patterns solicitation to be released later this week. Due to the length of the letter please read the rest of the story.

To: Soldier Systems Daily

From: Kurt Tooley

Sir

Soldier Systems Daily’s coverage of the current camouflage controversy, both within the Army and within the broader political-military community, has for the most part been exceptional. However, I must take exception to SSD’s expressed opinion that the Army has “come up with an excellent plan to determine the best pattern.” (p. 1, “Family of Camo Solicitation,” Soldier Systems Daily). To the contrary:

1. Given that the current effort is the result of the recognition and grudging admission of the failure of Universal Camo Pattern (UCP) as camouflage, why isn’t the current effort a straightforward effort to determine the best pattern followed by an effort to integrate the best pattern into a uniform with other essential features, including NIR and SWIR signature management, permethrin treatment, and flame resistance, for example? Why such a jumble of requirements when the focus should be on concealment in visible light alone? And why so many requirements that can almost certainly be de-coupled from camouflage efficacy in visible light? Moreover, doesn’t the inclusion of other requirements necessarily mean that camouflage efficacy is a lower priority than the other requirements? For example, doesn’t requiring that candidate patterns be unaltered by the application of permethrin or flame resistance treatments inescapably mean that such treatments have a higher priority than concealment efficacy? Doesn’t the inclusion of such requirements at this stage in the process degrade the clarity, focus, and ultimate accountability of the effort? Why muddy the water in this way?

SSD response: In short, the Soldier’s uniform is not a one-trick pony but rather his first line of protection. It has to do a lot more than just conceal him. What good would visual spectrum camouflage be if it appeared completely black under night vision systems or if it were rendered ineffective by permethrin or other coatings designed to protect the Soldier from disease vectors? There are lots of threats to the Soldier and visual detection is but one of them.

2. Why a two-tiered system where the best two government patterns and the three best commercial patterns advance beyond initial tests? Why not simply take the five patterns that test best regardless of their origins? Maybe I’m beating a dead horse, but if the two best government patterns finish 99th and 100th, does it make sense to develop the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 99th, and 100th place finishers rather than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers? Doesn’t allowing patterns of commercial and government origin to compete in separate pools almost guarantee that the best possible pool of patterns will not be developed in the next stage or the program? Doesn’t allowing patterns to compete in separate pools based on origin prioritize origin over concealment efficacy?

SSD response: While we in no way speak for the Government and cannot explain how they arrived at the decision, our position is that it is in the taxpayers interest to assess how Natick Soldier Systems Center has been doing in regard to camouflage research and development. You have to realize that but just a few years ago, things like this were considered solely the purview of Government and conversely there are some that question why the Army should be considering commercially derived patterns. We are pleased to see their patterns included in Phase 2 as it will allow a more public assessment of the state of the art in our Government labs.

3. Why include an almost unimaginably unrealistic “Pattern-in-Picture” test as the initial assessment to down-select to the patterns to be considered further? Why examine a simulated flat sample of pattern digitally inserted into scene? Besides the fact that such “photo-simulation” studies are subject to unaccountable errors of execution or even outright manipulation at many stages in the photo-simulation process, such a test stumbles over inescapable realities: Such a test might be a good idea if you were invariably trying to hide an essentially flat object, but human beings are not flat. Why examine patterns for uniforms intended to conceal humans on anything other than the human form? Isn’t using an initial assessment of such dubious utility like picking a race car based on the color of the seats? Moreover, the inclusion of such an initial screening virtually prevents the success—or even precludes the inclusion—of patterns that were designed from the ground up to conceal complex, three-dimensional forms with both convex and concave surfaces, and such patterns almost certainly provide concealment superior to all patterns not so designed. At this point, it should be noted that such patterns can be easily printed on cloth, and can be economically included in garments. Proposals that describe such patterns in detail have been submitted to NSRDEC as early as 2005. Finally, given the overall behavior of the Army during the UCP fiasco, it could very well be that the simulated, flat panel initial assessment was included precisely to disadvantage rivals of the NSRDEC development team that would be extremely persuasive in Stage 2 development and assessment.

SSD response: The initial Picture in Picture (PiP) assessment that you critique is in our opinion, the most cost effective and fairest way to address the multitude of patterns that may be submitted under the solicitation. There will most likely be a lot of submissions and most of them will be inadequate to meet the Army’s requirement. PiP allows for the rapid assessment of minimal cost. It reduces many variables found in other methods such as light and climate variables as well as distinguishing features of different live human models.

Contrary to the writer’s assertions, camouflage patterns cannot be easily printed on fabrics, at least not to Mil Spec or for that matter cheaply cut into uniforms. It is a very time consuming and costly process and would be a waste of resources to do so for patterns that are obviously not going to be effective. To print Mil Spec fabrics for each of the submitted patterns could sky rocket costs for this program as print screens and dyes have to be developed for each pattern and then the mill would have to go through the process of learning to render each pattern to not only satisfy the Government but also the owner of the IP. On the contrary, PiP allows for every pattern submitted to be assessed against precisely the same light and seasonal conditions. What’s more, the colors are corrected to conform to the developer’s specifications. There is no chance that a printed fabric is out of spec from the developer’s intent.

Finally, the Army made it quite clear at the Industry Day that in the context of this solicitation; they are not interested in any technologies that would alter current production such as 3D camouflage. Additionally, the Army is very concerned about cost as each Soldier currently receives four ACUs for garrison use and an additional four FR ACUs for use in combat. When you have a total force that is over a million strong, even the slightest price increase can have serious effects on the Army’s bottom line.

4. How exactly has the scientific methodology of development and assessment being used in the FoP effort advanced over that used to select UCP? If this crucial methodology hasn’t significantly advanced, why should the result be any better this time? As a point of fact, beyond the inclusion of the ridiculous “Pattern-in-Picture” initial assessment (as discussed above), the development and assessment methodology proposed for the FoP effort is identical to that used to select UCP. So, if it didn’t produce a good result last time with UCP, why should it produce a good result this time? To me, swearing that it will be different this time doesn’t provide much comfort. Moreover, even granting that the best FoP in the test will actually be selected, what is there in the way things are being done in the FoP effort that guarantees that the FoP selected won’t be worse than a FoP discovered the day after the selection is made? And why won’t the new FoP be found inferior to a newer FoP the day after the day the new FoP is selected? What is there in the effort that prevents pattern from succeeding pattern in a cycle of adoption and abandonment, with no end in sight?

SSD Response: We have never seen an official statement from the US Army on how UCP was selected nor any reports for test pitting that pattern against any other patterns prior to its fielding. It just appeared as a present on the Army’s birthday in 2004. Therefore, we are unsure where this is coming from.

5. Finally, all of the above needs to be taken in its proper context, which is more than just the isolated failure of a single pattern like UCP. Surprisingly, the full extent of the current camo debacle has not been systematically explored. For example, as far as I can tell, the single most devastating revelation of this whole business is almost unexamined: As noted in Warfighter Support: Observations on DOD’s Ground Combat Uniforms (GAO-10-669R Warfighter Support), the Government Accountability Office report commissioned by Congress as part of section 352 of Public Law 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, GAO investigators found that “[a]lthough the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps state that they have established requirements for combat clothing that include performance capabilities and characteristics, we found that performance standards were not related to specific combat environments. In addition, we found technical production standards guide the [fielding] of [combat] uniforms in all four services. Camouflage effectiveness is not an operational performance criteria. [sic]” (p. 10). To reiterate, the efficacy of the camouflage is not only not the primary performance criterion for a camouflaged combat uniform, but it is not even one criterion amongst many criteria for either the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

SSD response: Agreed. We know at least the Army is working on requirements. Hence, this forthcoming solicitation.

In sum, the FoP R&D plan is substantially the same old plan and, as its record repeatedly shows, it is not a good one. To me, it looks like the plan is configured more to provide cover for decisions than camouflage for soldiers, and in that it is more about solving the problem of the critics than solving the problem of camouflage. I cannot stress enough that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines serving in harm’s way deserve better—much better.

Obviously, this criticism could go on at great length in great detail, but the merit of this criticism is hopefully already undeniable at this point. The other thing really needed at this point, are alternatives that genuinely and undeniably advance camouflage efficacy right now. Fortunately, such alternatives are at hand: Using previously unexploited scientific methods of unprecedented clarity and certainty, it is in fact possible to prove that two identified “patterns,” can provide the absolutely best possible concealment in all seasons in all environments on Earth.

Proposals describing this practical, economic, and provably unmatchable alternative concealment technology have been submitted to various institutions in the DoD since 2005, and not once has any serious flaw in the proposals been identified. These proposals, however, have not exactly been accepted or even welcomed; in fact, they have been consistently rejected or ignored by DoD personnel in ways that transparently flout DoD standards of conduct, including review by anonymous camo experts at NSRDEC, all of whom have such obvious conflicts of interest that they have been sealed off behind a “Fire Wall” to limit their influence in the FoP effort. But all this is another story. Perhaps another time…

Finally, in the interests of full disclosure (i.e., what used to be called “honesty”), I must admit that I know this, because I wrote and submitted these proposals for an alternative, genuinely low-observable camo technology. So, yes, I have a dog in the fight.

Thank you.
Sincerely

Kurt Tooley

“If facts of the old kind will not help, let us seek facts of a new kind.”—William Bateson

SSD response: We want to thank Mr Tooley for sharing his concerns and hope that we have been able to answer some of them at least from our perspective, and in doing so also helped foster a lager dialogue on this subject.

13 Responses to “Criticism of SSD’s Coverage of the Army Family of Camouflage Patterns Effort”

  1. MarkM says:

    While the substance and concerns of Mr. Tooley’s letter address a lot of issues, it’s still a government project overseen by a multitude of different entities who all have to agree on the final products adoption.

    It’s not just the Army’s project, it’s DOD who finally buys it. And politics does get involved, as budget meetings and conflicting priorities in the list of tasks the Army performs clash. No doubt fielding a uniform that costs double will collide head on with the juggernaut of rising fuel expenses.

    Presenting the options and improvements, Mr. Tooley uses far to many concerns of the internal workings of this effort as questions, which become a rhetorical assault. Why?Why?Why? isn’t a dialogue, it becomes an tool of frustration, a weapon to force conformity to a line of thought. Again, while the concerns may be legitimate, addressing them to anyone other than the commission itself and those who supervise it is fruitless. Even those charged with the responsibility are likely not empowered to unilaterally change the playing field they were herded onto.

    Certainly, the effort to discover and use an effective camo pattern deserves a empirical approach, but we have to work with what is already there as an administrative structure. Any changes or improvements in the process would need to be initiated at a much higher command level. That’s not likely to happen, as the decision makers are usually not in position long enough to learn the wire diagrams, much less begin any substantial improvements.

    The real problem is the three year up and out tour and promotion system, which cannot and will not be focused on long term improvements in the command and admin architecture. There is no long term when the job only lasts a maximum of 36 months. It’s precisely the reason we got the ACU, and it takes a tremendous cohesive effort to overcome.

  2. S. Malcolm says:

    Sir,

    Your correspondent has raised some interesting if (in our view), disconnected and overly simplistic perspectives on the subject matter and his interpretation of its method of execution.

    Having worked with several government agencies I can, without reservation, state that they have always striven to provide the best for the armed services within their sphere of influence. Whatever decision is made at a political level needs to be considered in that context and should not be a reflection of the engineers and scientists at RDEC, Natick or other organisations tasked with technology development for the services.

    Further, it would also appear that your correspondent has limited knowledge, application of or operational experience in the use of the technologies he mentions. Multi spectral concealment (along with vector protection) rather than being “part of a jumble of requirements” has in fact been an integral part of a suite of requirement for several countries for many years. If industry is not challenged to raise their bar then the service men and women will no get a “much better” solution. Whether central government has the will to support the financial requirement of such developments it is another matter.

    We do sympathize with the frustration your correspondent has experienced, but the process and system is the same for everyone and we just have to work through it.

    We would close this comment by saying that “pulling the pin” on the pages of the most widely read, industry news source is unlikely to win any friends or influence people.

    Sincerely,
    Unleashed Tactical Equipment

  3. Mr. Tooley has presented some interesting points for speculation concerning the motivations of individuals and organizations in this upcoming enterprise. However, though such thoughts titillate, they do nothing to advance the effort of camouflage improvement. Would noble purpose and impeccable reason be preferred as a foundation for this testing? Certainly! However, better camouflage is needed now and we can ill afford to make the “good” the victim of the “best”, by focusing our efforts on perfecting an imperfect system.

    Can the global camouflage industry produce superb camouflage while working within the constraints presented by this testing? I believe it can. Whether that camouflage ultimately reaches the field is a concern of others. One step at a time.

    The challenge that this testing presents is superb. Much like a sonnet, certain strictures are in place and we must create within those limits. Little good it would do us to insist on “unbridled artist freedom”, insisting that our contribution in free verse is equivalent to fourteen lines of ten syllables, iambic pentameter. By introducing the testing constraints we avoid the dilemma of discovering that the “ultimate” camouflage uniform would cost $40k per set to print or it was excellent in the visible but useless in the near-IR. Fiscal and logistical compromise has been built into the testing plan, so that apples meet apples.

    Thank you SSD for presenting this opportunity for discussion.

    Regards,
    UVR Defense Tech, Ltd.

  4. Kurt Tooley says:

    First and foremost, I would like to make clear that the main thrust of my letter regarding the FoP effort is not criticism of SSD, but criticism of the FoP effort. My purpose in this was and is to generate a debate that helps rather than hinders anyone’s efforts, including the efforts of erstwhile competitors. That’s OK, so long as it helps the Soldier. Additionally, I did not expect SSD to explain Army decisions in the sense of defending the decisions made. But I did and do desire to get explanations (from any who will offer) that enlarge my understanding of the situation, both technologically and institutionally. As I am undaunted in this, here goes:

    I hope that no one thinks that I am, as respondent S. Malcolm puts it, “pulling the pin” on SSD. Far from it, as I noted in my original letter, I think SSD is doing an exceptional job of covering the unfolding camo situation. SSD’s own criticism of the FoP effort has been perceptive, useful, and even compelling, especially so in Some Thoughts on the Army Camo Improvement Industry Day. In fact, the excellence of SSD’s coverage of the camo debate is exactly the reason why I thought that SSD was the right place to entertain a debate on camo, FoP and otherwise. So put that one to rest.

    Also, unfortunately, my email conversations with the Editor seem to have generated an unfortunate outcome or two. When Mr. Graves asked how I thought he should organize a response, I myself suggested a point-by-point format. However, I thought that my original letter would be published first as a whole, contiguous piece followed by the publication of a point-by-point response. The format actually used, with SSD responses inserted into the body of the original letter, does not advance the coherence or readability of the original letter and does substantially disjoint the argument. So for the sake of readability and coherence, the uninterrupted original letter follows.

    To: Soldier Systems Daily

    From: Kurt Tooley

    Sir

    Soldier Systems Daily’s coverage of the current camouflage controversy, both within the Army and within the broader political-military community, has for the most part been exceptional. However, I must take exception to SSD’s expressed opinion that the Army has “come up with an excellent plan to determine the best pattern.” (p. 1, “Family of Camo Solicitation,” Soldier Systems Daily). To the contrary:

    1. Given that the current effort is the result of the recognition and grudging admission of the failure of Universal Camo Pattern (UCP) as camouflage, why isn’t the current effort a straightforward effort to determine the best pattern followed by an effort to integrate the best pattern into a uniform with other essential features, including NIR and SWIR signature management, permethrin treatment, and flame resistance, for example? Why such a jumble of requirements when the focus should be on concealment in visible light alone? And why so many requirements that can almost certainly be de-coupled from camouflage efficacy in visible light? Moreover, doesn’t the inclusion of other requirements necessarily mean that camouflage efficacy is a lower priority than the other requirements? For example, doesn’t requiring that candidate patterns be unaltered by the application of permethrin or flame resistance treatments inescapably mean that such treatments have a higher priority than concealment efficacy? Doesn’t the inclusion of such requirements at this stage in the process degrade the clarity, focus, and ultimate accountability of the effort? Why muddy the water in this way?

    2. Why a two-tiered system where the best two government patterns and the three best commercial patterns advance beyond initial tests? Why not simply take the five patterns that test best regardless of their origins? Maybe I’m beating a dead horse, but if the two best government patterns finish 99th and 100th, does it make sense to develop the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 99th, and 100th place finishers rather than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers? Doesn’t allowing patterns of commercial and government origin to compete in separate pools almost guarantee that the best possible pool of patterns will not be developed in the next stage or the program? Doesn’t allowing patterns to compete in separate pools based on origin prioritize origin over concealment efficacy?

    3. Why include an almost unimaginably unrealistic “Pattern-in-Picture” test as the initial assessment to down-select to the patterns to be considered further? Why examine a simulated flat sample of pattern digitally inserted into scene? Besides the fact that such “photo-simulation” studies are subject to unaccountable errors of execution or even outright manipulation at many stages in the photo-simulation process, such a test stumbles over inescapable realities: Such a test might be a good idea if you were invariably trying to hide an essentially flat object, but human beings are not flat. Why examine patterns for uniforms intended to conceal humans on anything other than the human form? Isn’t using an initial assessment of such dubious utility like picking a race car based on the color of the seats? Moreover, the inclusion of such an initial screening virtually prevents the success—or even precludes the inclusion—of patterns that were designed from the ground up to conceal complex, three-dimensional forms with both convex and concave surfaces, and such patterns almost certainly provide concealment superior to all patterns not so designed. At this point, it should be noted that such patterns can be easily printed on cloth, and can be economically included in garments. Proposals that describe such patterns in detail have been submitted to NSRDEC as early as 2005. Finally, given the overall behavior of the Army during the UCP fiasco, it could very well be that the simulated, flat panel initial assessment was included precisely to disadvantage rivals of the NSRDEC development team that would be extremely persuasive in Stage 2 development and assessment.

    4. How exactly has the scientific methodology of development and assessment being used in the FoP effort advanced over that used to select UCP? If this crucial methodology hasn’t significantly advanced, why should the result be any better this time? As a point of fact, beyond the inclusion of the ridiculous “Pattern-in-Picture” initial assessment (as discussed above), the development and assessment methodology proposed for the FoP effort is identical to that used to select UCP. So, if it didn’t produce a good result last time with UCP, why should it produce a good result this time? To me, swearing that it will be different this time doesn’t provide much comfort. Moreover, even granting that the best FoP in the test will actually be selected, what is there in the way things are being done in the FoP effort that guarantees that the FoP selected won’t be worse than a FoP discovered the day after the selection is made? And why won’t the new FoP be found inferior to a newer FoP the day after the day the new FoP is selected? What is there in the effort that prevents pattern from succeeding pattern in a cycle of adoption and abandonment, with no end in sight?

    5. Finally, all of the above needs to be taken in its proper context, which is more than just the isolated failure of a single pattern like UCP. Surprisingly, the full extent of the current camo debacle has not been systematically explored. For example, as far as I can tell, the single most devastating revelation of this whole business is almost unexamined: As noted in Warfighter Support: Observations on DOD’s Ground Combat Uniforms (GAO-10-669R Warfighter Support), the Government Accountability Office report commissioned by Congress as part of section 352 of Public Law 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, GAO investigators found that “[a]lthough the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps state that they have established requirements for combat clothing that include performance capabilities and characteristics, we found that performance standards were not related to specific combat environments. In addition, we found technical production standards guide the [fielding] of [combat] uniforms in all four services. Camouflage effectiveness is not an operational performance criteria. [sic]” (p. 10). To reiterate, the efficacy of the camouflage is not only not the primary performance criterion for a camouflaged combat uniform, but it is not even one criterion amongst many criteria for either the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

    In sum, the FoP R&D plan is substantially the same old plan and, as its record repeatedly shows, it is not a good one. To me, it looks like the plan is configured more to provide cover for decisions than camouflage for soldiers, and in that it is more about solving the problem of the critics than solving the problem of camouflage. I cannot stress enough that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines serving in harm’s way deserve better—much better.

    Obviously, this criticism could go on at great length in great detail, but the merit of this criticism is hopefully already undeniable at this point. The other thing really needed at this point, are alternatives that genuinely and undeniably advance camouflage efficacy right now. Fortunately, such alternatives are at hand: Using previously unexploited scientific methods of unprecedented clarity and certainty, it is in fact possible to prove that two identified “patterns,” can provide the absolutely best possible concealment in all seasons in all environments on Earth.
    Proposals describing this practical, economic, and provably unmatchable alternative concealment technology have been submitted to various institutions in the DoD since 2005, and not once has any serious flaw in the proposals been identified. These proposals, however, have not exactly been accepted or even welcomed; in fact, they have been consistently rejected or ignored by DoD personnel in ways that transparently flout DoD standards of conduct, including review by anonymous camo experts at NSRDEC, all of whom have such obvious conflicts of interest that they have been sealed off behind a “Fire Wall” to limit their influence in the FoP effort. But all this is another story. Perhaps another time…

    Finally, in the interests of full disclosure (i.e., what used to be called “honesty”), I must admit that I know this, because I wrote and submitted these proposals for an alternative, genuinely low-observable camo technology. So, yes, I have a dog in the fight.

    Thank you.
    Sincerely

    Kurt Tooley

    “If facts of the old kind will not help, let us seek facts of a new kind.”—William Bateson

  5. Kurt Tooley says:

    SSD response [to Tooley’s Point #1]: In short, the Soldier’s uniform is not a one-trick pony but rather his first line of protection. It has to do a lot more than just conceal him. What good would visual spectrum camouflage be if it appeared completely black under night vision systems or if it were rendered ineffective by permethrin or other coatings designed to protect the Soldier from disease vectors? There are lots of threats to the Soldier and visual detection is but one of them.

    Tooley replies: I never said or implied that the uniform was or should be a “one-trick” pony with concealment efficacy being the one-trick. This is easy enough to ascertain; what I said was, “…why isn’t the current effort a straightforward effort to determine the best pattern followed by an effort to integrate the best pattern into a uniform with other essential features, including NIR and SWIR signature management, permethrin treatment, and flame resistance, for example?” This is obvious and undeniable, and I can’t see how anyone thought I said or implied anything else. However, the one-trick that can’t be compromised in camo research is camo efficacy. So if we really want to improve the camo efficacy of combat uniforms, the course most likely to produce the best outcome is to develop and select camo for camo efficacy alone, followed by integrating the most effective camo into a combat uniform with other desirable features. At present, is there really any reason to think that this can’t be done without compromising any essential capabilities? I think that this can be done, both absolutely and economically.
    Moreover, there is no reason to abandon camo efficacy even if you grant that camo efficacy and other desirable uniform features are absolutely incompatible in a single garment. Why not split requirements between garments in layers? Many hunters, naturalists, outdoorsmen, and others who work outdoors already split complex suites of requirements between garment layers, and I can’t see how such a strategy would necessarily fail for combat uniforms. I don’t think that desirable features of an advanced combat uniform must necessarily compete to the exclusion of other features.
    Finally, even if for whatever reasons you absolutely had to choose between camo efficacy and other desirable capabilities in the outermost garments, why would you prioritize anything over camo efficacy? Multi-spectrum and night vision sensors are undeniably increasingly important, but isn’t the mark one eyeball still the dominant sensor on the battlefield? Wouldn’t you rather attract mosquitoes, flies, fleas, chiggers, and leeches than bullets, shells, rockets, and bombs? (This is not a rhetorical question; I don’t really know the answer, but hasn’t it been quite a long time since enemy action surpassed disease as the primary source of serious morbidity and mortality on the battlefield? Such as it exists today, can’t the threat of disease be met in ways that don’t compromise camo? Are vaccines, prophylactic medications, “bug suit” undergarments, and bug sprays ineffective at preventing vector-borne disease? Are current treatments ineffective when diseases are contracted? Obviously, a layered defense is best, but to me it doesn’t make sense to keep bugs out if it makes it much more likely that you’ll let bullets in.)
    Maybe I am unjustifiably optimistic, but I think our goal shouldn’t be to be jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, but master of all trades. Why settle for less if settling is technologically and economically unnecessary? Why give up on having it all before you absolutely know that you must compromise? I don’t get that.

  6. Kurt Tooley says:

    SSD response [to Tooley Point #2]: While we in no way speak for the Government and cannot explain how they arrived at the decision, our position is that it is in the taxpayers interest to assess how Natick Soldier Systems Center has been doing in regard to camouflage research and development. You have to realize that just a few years ago, things like this were considered solely the purview of Government and conversely there are some that question why the Army should be considering commercially derived patterns. We are pleased to see their [the Government’s] patterns included in Phase 2 as it will allow a more public assessment of the state of the art in our Government labs.

    Tooley replies: How exactly does allowing the Government team to pass automatically into Phase 2 allow for a meaningful evaluation of how they are doing? Getting a pass is not passing a test. In my opinion, even if evaluating the state of the art in Government labs was a legitimate purpose of a camo R&D effort, the two-pool structure obstructs rather than enables assessment of how the Government labs are doing. I think that double-blind competition with no special favors at all stages would give you a far better idea of how the Government labs are doing, if that’s what you really wanted. However the Government team finishes without special favors is your answer. Moreover, how can it be in the interests of the Soldier or the taxpayers for patterns other than the top five (regardless of origin) to pass to Phase 2? Isn’t that just throwing good money after bad money? Rather than clogging an important camo R&D effort with things that the effort is not and should not be designed to determine, the best way to see how the Government labs are doing is to have them audited by a firm or organization with specific expertise in conducting audits designed to determine how they are doing. That is utterly unproblematic. So, in my opinion, the interests of the Soldier and the taxpayer are not served in this; to the contrary, the only people who benefit from this are all on the Government team. In my view, the two-pool structure is more plausibly interpreted as a sop to the Government team to assure their cooperation in an effort in which their cooperation is necessary, but threatened by competition and events beyond the control of the Government team. As a practical matter, even the winner of a double-blind FoP competition must be compared to existing Government patterns that are already represented in full field kit to see if the benefit offered is worth the cost of actually fielding a new FoP. It cannot and should not be otherwise. But none of this makes it a good idea to develop anything but the patterns that test best, regardless of origin.
    Now, some will no doubt claim that I am hostile to the Government team. This is not so. I am against any special favors for anyone at any stage of the competition. Depending on how things shake out, the two-pool structure could benefit not the Government team, but commercial vendors, especially if the Government team was granted only one special favor and allowed not just two but five FoP entries. Actually, I don’t think that five entries for the Government is at all unreasonable.
    So whatever my personal frustrations with the Natick team, I do think they are doing a good job. Of course, I think they can and should be doing a better job, but that’s not very severe criticism. Established experts almost always fiercely resist radical innovations, no matter how compelling or advantageous, so I personally cannot expect anything other than a long fight. Medical doctors killed untold thousands by resisting antiseptic techniques for years, but this wasn’t because of any shortage of intelligence, competence, or goodwill. Real innovations face many and far more subtle barriers to acceptance that must be overcome one by one. That’s reality. Additionally, in situations where knowledge is imperfect—like poker as opposed to chess—outcomes don’t perfectly measure performance; when knowledge is imperfect, perfect performance can result in failure, and poor performance can result in success. So even the disaster of UCP does not inarguably mean that the Government team is performing poorly. I am sure that they are doing the best they can and they’re just acting the way humans act in such situations. If I was in their shoes, I’m not sure I would act any differently.

  7. Kurt Tooley says:

    SSD response [to Tooley Point #3]: The initial Picture in Picture (PiP) [actually, this is “Pattern-in-Picture,” not “Picture-in-Picture”] assessment that you critique is in our opinion, the most cost effective and fairest way to address the multitude of patterns that may be submitted under the solicitation. There will most likely be a lot of submissions and most of them will be inadequate to meet the Army’s requirement. PiP allows for rapid assessment of minimal cost. It reduces many variables found in other methods such as light and climate variables as well as distinguishing features of live human models. [I have omitted the rest of this response in the interests of space. Please consult the original text as necessary.]

    Tooley replies: OK, I grant that PiP is fast and cheap. But you can’t usually get fast, cheap, and good all at the same time. The most you can hope for is two of the three at any one time. My criticism was and is that the method of initial assessment is not good: In effect, PiP evaluation sacrifices the valid and reliable evaluation of camo efficacy for speed and low cost. The very simplicity of the method is a liability in that the assessment method is disconnected from reality and thereby cannot be expected to produce good results. In reality, everything we perceive about an object, including color, brightness, and shape, is determined by how the light strikes the object, the spectral composition of the whole scene, and the total light environment shared by observer and object. This is not just an unsupported assertion, but a fact attested to by all scientists studying vision and perception. For those interested, a useful summary is found in Dale Purves and R. Beau Lotto, Why We See What We Do, ISBN 0-87893-752-8, especially pp. 41-87 regarding brightness, and pp. 89-138 regarding color; for shape, see for example, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, “Perceiving Shape from Shading”, Scientific American, August 1988, pp. 76-83. PiP simply abandons this reality in a way that makes the adequacy of the PiP methodology impossible to evaluate, and thus, impossible to trust. If you want to guarantee a good result, you cannot abandon the essential features of reality in which the camo combat uniform will be used.

    Also, if, as indicated by the bulk of the SSD response, the real problem is the cost of more realistic initial evaluations, there is a simple solution: Shift the costs to the competitors: Why not have the competitors submit five or six actual sets of prototypes in specified sizes for evaluation on mannequins in real environments? Such prototypes need not be mil spec or multi-spectral compliant, or fireproof, bulletproof, or even washable for that matter. They just need to faithfully represent the camo for evaluating the concealment efficacy in visible light. Such a requirement may eliminate many submissions, but maybe such submissions should be eliminated. Why should anyone incapable of producing a few prototypes be allowed to compete? Why court vaporware fiascoes? Such a requirement and preliminary assessment has a significant connection to the irreducible reality in which camo is actually used, and will very likely allow only patterns that will actually test the best in Phase 2 to be selected.

    As a final note on PiP, no one with any experience of colorimetry for multimedia or otherwise would claim that there is no chance that the colorimetry of the PiP test could go awry, and this problem afflicts all photosimulations. As noted by Shrama, Vrhel, and Trussel in “Color Imaging for Multimedia”, Proceeding of the IEEE, vol. 86, no. 6, June 1998, p.1088 (sorry, no DOI), “In the case of accurate color presentation, [such as mail order catalogs], absolute colorimetric accuracy is desired so that chosen items may match or coordinate with existing articles. In other applications, such as presentation of art [or photography] on a computer, it is often necessary to sacrifice absolute colorimetric accuracy in favor of an image that appears [subjectively] visually similar to that in the museum, under much different viewing conditions.” Just so. A fuller discussion of this complex subject can be made available, if demand warrants.

    Finally, there is the subject of the cost. Obviously, cost is always an issue. However, the discussion of costs in the case of camo seems fixated only on purchase price, rather than other measures of cost like lifecycle cost. A camo with a higher purchase price may have a much lower lifecycle cost, and it is sometimes, but not always, a mistake to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. How much more could a uniform cost if it reduced the casualty rate by 10%? The U.S has a small, highly trained professional military with a lot invested in each soldier. What is the cost of all the lost training and experience each time a soldier is wounded or killed? What are the costs of treating the wounded? What is the cost of replacing a wounded or killed soldier? It all matters. Cost is not a simple thing, and the Air Force’s experience with both Stealth platforms and precision weaponry shows it. The purchase price of stealth aircraft and precision weapons is very high, but the lifecycle cost for such systems in servicing targets is comparatively low because of diverse force multipliers and efficiencies. Consequently, over only a single generation, the Air Force has just about revolutionized the way it does business. Why can’t the Army do the same? Why rule out potentially transformational technologies because they might have slightly higher purchase prices?
    With respect to camo specifically, costs can quite likely be offset or even exceeded by profits gained from commercialization once the military advantage of camo innovations is lost. At least potentially, camo could make money for DoD once DoD enters into a recreational/civilian market that is at least twenty times the size of the American military market. If you actually have a superior camo and you are the DoD, this should not be too hard to do, should it?

  8. Kurt Tooley says:

    SSD response [to Tooley Point #4]: We have never seen an official statement from the US Army on how UCP was selected nor any reports for test[s] pitting that pattern against other patterns prior to its fielding. It just appeared as a present on the Army’s birthday in 2004. Therefore, we are unsure where this is coming from.

    Tooley replies: OK, but don’t you think that is at least part of the problem? Why hasn’t the Army explained how UCP was selected over patterns that antedate UCP and tested better than UCP when tests were finally conducted? Why did the ArmyTimes have to pry the test report (Photosimulation Camouflage Detection Test) from the Army’s hands with a Freedom of Information Act request? Given the UCP fiasco, why would you expect anything better this time around in the absence of explicit improvements in the scientific methodology of development and assessment?

    SSD response [to Tooley Point #5]: Agreed. We know at least the Army is working on requirements. Hence, the forthcoming solicitation.

    Tooley replies: I don’t know what to make of this. The fifth point is that the services have actually abandoned camo efficacy as a criterion for selecting camo combat uniforms, a fact that almost certainly explains why the camo doesn’t provide good concealment. Exactly how this has happened and is happening with the FoP effort is described in detail in my points 1-4. It makes no sense to me to accept the fifth point and substantially deny or diminish that the ways that camo efficacy have been subordinated or abandoned to other things as described in my points 1-4 above. If you accept #5, you should accept 1-4, at least in principle, shouldn’t you?

    In sum, I don’t think that you can expect to improve camo efficacy, which is the whole point of camo research, without camo efficacy having at least the highest priority in the research and development effort. That’s the real heart of the matter.

    Finally, in the interest of improving camo for American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, I have invested quite a little bit of time in this and given away a good bit of information of significant value. I look forward to conversing (even vigorously) with anyone who would like to discuss these issues further.

    Thank you.
    Sincerely
    Kurt Tooley
    [email protected]

  9. Strike-Hold says:

    Here’s a thought – how about we wait to see what the actual RFP (due to be published tomorrow) says about the features being sought, and the selection process to be used, before we have any further debate and/or splitting of hairs?

  10. Kurt Tooley says:

    Strike-Hold (and anyone it may concern)

    Certainly further discussion of the FoP RFP can wait until the RFP is published, digested, and thoroughly analyzed. But I don’t think that is a good reason to stop talking about camo now. The discussion is and should be about more than just the coming RFP and the FoP effort. As the GAO report cited above makes clear, camo (concealment in visible light) is a problem throughout DoD, from research and development to full fielded systems. This is a big problem with interconnected scientific, technological, and administrative dimensions and it will not be sorted out quickly.

    Additionally, camo is a difficult problem. Compared to many other forms of concealment now in use in DoD, concealment in visible light is less well understood, and is not easily operationalized and measured with the requisite reliability, validity, and generalizability. ( “Generalizability” is sometimes called “external validity”). As this subject is difficult, I’m not going to get too deeply into this here, but an example may suffice. Take, for example, the measure of concealment in the radar spectrum, radar cross-section (RCS). Everybody knows what RCR is and how to validly and reliably measure it, and no one doubts the generalizability of RCR as measured on the radar test range. The radar test range does not lie. On this, we all agree. Now then, what is the camo equivalent of RCS? How is it operationalized and measured? Camo research is beset with unsolved fundamental problems and not talking about it and not thinking about it even for a day does not help solve the problem(s). (Anyone that wants a fuller discussion of this will have to email me.)

    Finally, why not debate, discuss, and argue? I think a vigorous debate is a healthy debate that is likely to advance the subject: where everybody thinks the same, nobody thinks much. Now, even though it would be nice if things could remain friendly, it is practically impossible to hold any significant discussion without argument, acrimony, and angry participants. But that’s OK, and maybe even desirable. I don’t think there is any hope of advancing the subject without some heat, so we’ll all just have to cowboy up and deal with it in the hope that the result will be worth the price.

    By the way, just so nobody gets the wrong idea, I think that the Strike-Hold website is damn fine.

  11. Administrator says:

    Kurt, and readers, I want to begin by once again express my appreciation for Kurt Tooley’s time and effort (and obvious passion) in discussing the US Army’s impending search for a new family of camouflage patterns.

    The rebuttals are quite long so I will post a few bullets that I hope will summarize how I feel about the issue at hand.

    -I apologize for misconstruing the letter as a critique of SSD’s coverage of the subject. I now understand that it was more of a open dialogue expressing frustration over the Army’s plan. I also want to apologize if I came across as adversarial. Rather, I was trying to keep things as succinct as possible.

    -Point #1. Understood, visual camo is number one…but…as I understand it, the Army doesn’t want to compromise other improvements made to the uniform . To do so would be an overall degradation of Soldier protection from current capabilities.

    -Point #2. The Government IS passing a test. They have to pick their two best patterns (not three) and compete them against the commercial patterns. I understand industry’s angst over Government participation on the effort, but ultimately, if your real concern is to provide our Soldiers the best camouflage then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about now should you?

    -Point #3. Why not force offerors to manufacture uniforms to mil-spec? Have you taken a look at what that would cost you? And on top of that capacity to make this happen within 45 days for multiple competitors all simultaneously? It would be Bedlam and interrupt the current supply chain which is the exact same capability you would need to tap into to develop and print mil spec fabrics and then fabricate mil spec uniforms. And then what do you do when a vendor can’t make schedule, or can’t find the proper findings? Exclude them? Like I said, all this costs time and money, so small companies won’t have the capital to do it. So now it’s not open and fair anymore. So why bother with industry at all?

    -Point #4. Yes, it is part of the problem but ultimately, it is water under the bridge. There is no one at PEO Soldier or in the Army leadership that made the decision to adopt UCP. If you are looking to blame someone, there is no one left to blame. If you are concerned that they didn’t learn their lesson, I would tell you to stop worrying. This whole process is there to avoid a fashion decision. Lesson Learned

    -As for point, #5. I was agreeing with you so I am not sure how you can take issue with that. But somehow you did.

  12. Kurt Tooley says:

    For the record, I would like to express my appreciation to everyone participating in the camo discussions, and especially to Eric Graves and SSD for affording all of us the opportunity. And while I also appreciate the SSD Administrator’s (Eric’s?) apologies for misconstruing anything or coming off as adversarial, I don’t think that anyone owes anyone any apologies. Up to this point, the conversation has been almost faultlessly professional and substantive. Nonetheless, a good percentage of those participating have expressed doubts or concerns about the value, rhetoric, or general tone of the discussion in one way or another. As this unease may be one of the things hindering a fuller debate, I would like to address the issue.

    To restate a bit of what I said in response to Strike-Hold, because the subject of camo is both substantively difficult and urgent, a full, candid and possibly heated discussion is probably unavoidable if the subject is to be advanced. It is certainly true that almost no significant issue (at least in the history of science) has ever been resolved without a fight, and sometimes a hell of a fight. So, although some may disagree, such discussions are almost always difficult, and as a way of limiting the difficulties and facilitating discussion, I would like to suggest that we approach the discussion as a kind of After-Action Review (AAR). As many readers of SSD no doubt recognize, AARs contribute tremendously to the effectiveness of American arms and command in combat, and I see no reason why the spirit of AARs cannot be extended to the camo discussion.

    For those unfamiliar with AARs:
    1)“Key is the spirit in which AARs are given. The environment and climate surrounding an AAR must be one in which the [participants] openly and honestly discuss what actually transpired in sufficient detail and clarity that not only will everyone understand what did and did not occur and why, but most importantly will have a strong desire to seek the opportunity to practice the task again.” (p.ii, A Leader’s Guide to After-Action Reviews, Training Circular 25-20, Sept. 1993, a supplement to Field Manual 25-101)
    2) “An AAR is a dynamic, candid, professional discussion … . Everyone can, and should, participate if they have an insight, observation, or question which will help … correct deficiencies or maintain strengths.
    An AAR is not a critique. No one, regardless of rank, position, or strength of personality, has all of the information or answers. After-action reviews maximize … benefits by allowing [participants] regardless of rank, to learn from each other.
    An AAR does not grade success or failure. There are always weaknesses to improve and strengths to sustain.” (p.16, A Leader’s Guide to After-Action Reviews, Training Circular 25-20, Sept. 1993)
    3) “The following techniques can help … create an atmosphere conducive to maximum participation: …
    • Reinforce the fact that it is permissible to disagree.
    • Focus on learning and encourage people to give honest opinions.
    • Use open-ended and leading questions to [further] the discussion [.]”
    (p. 17, A Leader’s Guide to After-Action Reviews, Training circular 25-20, Sept. 1993)
    (Note: I have moderately modified the above passages to make it easier to see exactly how I apply them to our current discussion.)

    To me, that’s so uplifting it’s almost religious, and what’s more, the Army has proven that it works. Why can’t it be so with the camo discussion? Why shouldn’t we continue with a premium on honesty, clarity, and comprehensiveness, all while trying to keep it professional and civil, and tolerating or forgiving excesses when things (inevitably?) get out of hand?

    If camo is to improve, both in the FoP and beyond, I think we need this.

  13. Kurt Tooley says:

    In the spirit of AARs, another round of give-and-take with the SSD administrator (thanks, Eric!):

    Point #1. So long as we all agree that camo efficacy should be the primary goal of camo research and design, we are in almost complete agreement: Find the best concealment for visible light, and then harmoniously incorporate it into a uniform with all other essential features.

    Point #2. OK, at this point it’s probably true that we don’t misunderstand each other’s positions, but we continue to disagree on this. For the record, once again, I would like to state that I am not against the two-pool structure because I am against the Government, or anyone else for that matter. I am against the two-pool structure because it prioritizes camo origin over efficacy. Additionally, as long as the focus is solely (or at least primarily) on camo efficacy, there is nothing to worry about because that fact maximizes the chance that Soldiers will get better camouflage.

    Point #3. Here we have a persistent misunderstanding, the source of which I do not understand. When I suggested that the key to making realistic and valid initial screening economical was submitting prototypes and not just digital images for PiP, I never suggested that submitted prototypes should be printed and constructed to mil-spec. In fact, I said the opposite: “Such prototypes need not be mil spec or multi-spectral compliant, or fireproof, bulletproof, or even washable for that matter. They just need to faithfully represent the camo for evaluating the concealment efficacy in visible light.” So that is totally straightforward and inarguable. So why do we keep going round and round about what I did not say? There is something lacking in our understanding of each other that is really impeding communication here. As I have neither the foggiest idea what the problem might be nor how to prevent it, I await suggestions.

    The only other thing I would like to add on this point is that an emphasis on realistic testing, like the AAR, is a pillar of the Army’s training for combat efficacy, and I cannot see how an emphasis on realism can be essential in training for combat, but less than desirable, productive, and economic in the research and development of combat systems like camo. In fact, I think the lesson should be that realistic testing for the research and development of combat systems like camo is indispensable; such realistic approaches may be expensive, but they are highly likely to be less expensive than abandoning realistic testing. Abandoning realistic testing makes it possible and even likely to spend huge sums of money for systems that perform poorly in combat, and there is nothing more expensive in dollars and blood than failure in combat.

    Point #4. Finding out how UCP was selected is not about blame, but understanding. If we don’t understand how the UCP debacle came to be, how can we fix things and make sure such debacles don’t recur? And I don’t believe that no one in the Army knows how UCP was selected. Asserting otherwise defies everything known about how bureaucracies function, including the Army’s. Not only someone, but no doubt many people actually know how UCP was adopted. There are probably hundreds of pounds of memos and reports somewhere that minutely track exactly how UCP was developed and adopted. So this can be known, and there is no doubt much to learn from it. Moreover, if the Army stopped worrying about people trying to blame them for UCP, they would probably come clean and tell the story themselves, without being pestered with FOIA requests.

    Finally, for the record, in my opinion, I don’t think that blame for UCP is honestly assignable to anyone. Although the story is not known in sufficient detail, enough key pieces of evidence are known to deduce what likely happened with UCP: In the first Gulf War, many Soldiers went into the desert with woodland BDUs. Noting that going into combat with camo gear that is inappropriate for the environment poses something of a problem, especially when combined with the fact that such problems are likely to recur so long as the Army issues patterns for multiple environments, the Army camo R&D community took a stab at creating a single pattern that might provide imperfect but acceptable concealment everywhere. Unfortunately, the camo research paradigm then in place was too weak to provide definitive guidance on exactly how such a universal camo pattern could or should be composed, so Army camo researchers had to take a SWAG in full knowledge that they might very well be blamed for it if the SWAG didn’t work out to everyone’s satisfaction. And, well, it didn’t work out, which is no surprise because SWAGS are a risky substitute for genuine scientific understanding. But none of this means that anyone can be reasonably blamed for UCP. Between a rock and a hard place, Army camo researchers had to guess and did the best that they could with the information then in hand, and it is hardly reasonable to complain that they should have done better. All in all, it was a bold and even courageous thing to do, and such situations will recur so long as our scientific understanding is imperfect. So, there is no blame to assign, not to NSRDEC, or PEO-Soldier, or DARPA, or anyone else that failed to discover and invent things before they were actually discovered and invented.

    So let’s get past the blame and solve the problem (plenty of heavy lifting to go around!). In this, knowing in detail what actually happened may help.

    Point #5. Okay, I understand the SSD administrator’s frustration with my taking issue with his agreeing with me. However, for me, this isn’t only about agreement. What concerns me here is the apparent logical inconsistency of accepting that the abandonment of camo efficacy is a real cause of camo inefficacy (point #5) combined with simultaneously rejecting the importance of the ways in which camo efficacy has been or actually is being abandoned (points #2-4). This makes the agreement seem accidental and makes me think there is a lot more to talk about here before we can really sort out whether or not we disagree or just misunderstand each other in various ways, including especially points #3 and #4.

    Okay? Then let ‘er rip.