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DoD Plans To Save $72 Million On Afghan Uniforms By Spending $100 Million For New Ones

Last week, the Honorable John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, testified before the House Armed Services Committee, concerning his organization's recent report on the Afghan National Army's proprietary camouflage pattern, licensed to Afghanistan by Canadian company Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corporation.  SIGAR maintains that the US government overspent on an untested and inappropriate camouflage pattern. Boy, does this story sound familiar. 

Of all the untold Billions of Dollars squandered on bad construction contracts and given away to Afghan warlords, SIGAR is fixated on what they have identified as $28 Million, they claim was overspent during a period of five years on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army.  Furthermore, the SIGAR report, and Mr Sopko's testimony alleges that the situation will result in a further $72 Million in overspending over the next decade, if it's not changed.

The Department of Defense's  answer to the situation? Why, spend even more money of course. The plan is to direct the US Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center to conduct a camouflage study and completely recapitalize the entire ANA with new uniforms in a camouflage pattern owned by the US Army. SIGAR estimates that will save us about $72 million. While Mr Sopko has yet to disclose how much this scheme is going to actually cost, I did a back of the napkin estimate based on what was spent in the past. To replace their uniforms in a timely manner, will be excess of $100 Million; well in excess. When you do the math, that potential savings of $72 quickly becomes a $18 Million+ deficit.  Not to mention the disruption of the ANA, as a side effect. 

When this new camouflage pattern is finally pursued, no commercial patterns will be considered, lest the Army have to pay a royalty. The point here isn't to offer our Allies the best available camouflage, but rather the cheapest and no one is taking the interests of the Afghans into consideration in this unilateral action. Amazingly, the last time Natick conducted a camouflage study for Afghanistan, the US Army selected a commercially developed pattern developed by Crye Precision, called MultiCam, over the camouflage developed by Natick.

The Army later conducted a massive camouflage modernization effort under the direction of Natick. The results of the Phase IV Camouflage Improvement Effort have never been released to the public and the Army ultimately created and fielded an inferior version of Crye's MultiCam which they were already using, in order to save a buck or two. 

In addition to the known elements such as established supply chain costs associated with this action, there are Millions of Dollars in potential, additional costs to the American taxpayer and industry. For instance, we have no idea how much the Natick study will actually cost the taxpayer because the salaries of government employees and use of equipment and facilities are looked at as sunk costs by DoD rather than being properly tracked and accounted for. Furthermore, it will take time (and drive up costs) to develop a supply chain for a new pattern. Printers will have to "learn" how to print it.

Industry will also have surge to create a sufficient number of completely new camouflage uniforms to support the transition for the ANA.  This will result in an increased transportation burden costing an untold amount out of money.  Then there's the question of how much money was spent to conduct this investigation and produce this report.  It doesn't seem like the taxpayer is getting a lot of bang for its buck. 

Interestingly, Mr Sopko also informed the legislators that a criminal probe had been launched regarding the matter, which, short of evidence of malfeasance, begs the question, why? Considering the pallets of $100 bills handed off to fickle Afghan warlords over the past 16 years, we are going to criminally investigate something where we actually saw a return on investment? The ANA actually received uniforms which provides them a common identity as an element of Afghan national power. Additionally, the uniforms work at night, when the ANA operates, and are in a tightly controlled camouflage pattern which is difficult for the enemy to acquire.

If I were an acquisition or contracting officer who made things happen in spite of the plodding framework created by the DFAR at any point since the war began, I'd be very concerned about this precedent. Because, if they're going to take a look at the Afghan National Army's camouflage expenditure, they are bound to look at other fast-tracked acquisition programs. In fact, someone probably ought to take a hard look at what DoD was up to regarding uniforms, during the same period.

Lest I remind everyone, this is what our Soldiers were wearing during the same period the SIGAR report is concerned with. It's also a camouflage pattern that wasn't tested, and not only wasn't suitable for use in Afghanistan, but for anywhere else it turns out. What's more, it was developed by the same organization that SIGAR wants to developed the ANA's next pattern, Natick Soldier Systems Center. 

It gets worse. The US taxpayer spent untold Billions of Dollars on that US Army pattern. The Army admitted to $5 Billion expenditures in 2012, but they kept spending after that, and their number was based solely on program Dollars at DLA.  It's almost impossible to really capture how much was spent in local purchase, at the sister service level, and on UCP ancillary items for major end items.  The real number is closer to $10 Billion than five. If they want to launch a criminal investigation based on fraud, waste and abuse, UCP is a great place to start.

If SIGAR wanted to actually improve things for Afghanistan, they could make these recommendations:

1. Simplify and standardize the cut and construction of Afghan uniforms across the board.

2. Negotiate a better licensing fee with the owner of the ANA's camouflage.

3. Replace the Camo patterns of the other Afghan forces which are forced to continue to wear the same patterns as their enemies.

Points one and two would help bring down costs of the ANA uniform and point three would result in a safer and more effective Afghan security infrastructure.  

Mr Sopko's team at SIGAR has done some great work, but they need to do much better on this issue. Spending more money than is saved is not a win.  Instead, this is a big loss, both for the American taxpayer and our ally, Afghanistan.

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31 Responses to “DoD Plans To Save $72 Million On Afghan Uniforms By Spending $100 Million For New Ones”

  1. Dellis says:

    I swear, when I read this stuff all I envision is some mob kinda weasel named Guido who’s blackmailing his cousin that works in the DoD….”Yo, Benny, listen here. You’re gonna buy these here uniforms from us, Capiche? Or your wife gets the pictures!”

    I mean can they really be this stupid? A solid color grey or tan is better than the camo in these pics

    • Vic Torrey says:

      Counterpoints to it being a bad pattern / solid colors being preferred:

      The uniform works decently at night, when ANA operates most
      The uniform provides a cohesive / standard appearance
      The uniform is in a pattern that is protected and not available to anyone off the street

      I’m not an expert though, that’s just what was mentioned in the article which makes a lot more sense than unleashing the creators of UCP on the Afghanis.

      • SSD says:

        Thanks, I made all of those points in my previous article on the subject.

        • Eddie says:

          Sadly they didn’t do a good job keeping them away from compromising hands. I’ve seen plenty of those uniforms in IS/Taliban footage. I believe the printing pattern has been compromised as well because I have seen a camo printer on IndiaMart offering what looks like ANA camouflage. If it weren’t for all the deserters and infiltrators they had when it first came out things might be different. All I know is I am not able to get any. :/

          • Darkhorse says:

            Restricted camouflage patterns are only 1 step ahead of the enemy. AOR patterns have been restricted for years but are all over eBay because service members sell their uniforms. AOR knock-offs are a plenty. All it takes is one picture and the enemy can have whatever pattern (no matter how restrictive) they want.

            It’s a misnomer to think that the enemy can’t get any pattern they desire. There are printers (computer type) that can print on fabric. One picture and photoshop and you can recreate any pattern. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

            Also, what best solves the problem, trying to get a restricted pattern or using something novel for IFF?

      • Dellis says:

        Points taken on camo differences but it won’t be long before there are Chinese knockoffs if not already.

        My main charge though in my first post was the incompetance of these government offices. If I ran my business like the DOD and a host of other government offices runs theirs I’d be out of business and in prison.

  2. Unimog says:

    SSD, would it be to much to ask that article’s such as this be prefaced with a “blood pressure warning”

    Gravel pit green was deemed good enough for us ,let them have existing stocks as we complete our transition to” not quite multicam”.. Or give them navy blueberries for that matter. We both know standard Afghan tactics don’t make much use of camo anyways. Ymmv.

  3. James says:

    Meh, as soon as we leave they’ll switch to black, or buy Chinese multicam anyway

    • straps says:

      As soon as we leave the ones with a taste for modernity will emigrate and the ones who remain will be back to slippers and man jammies.

  4. Bman says:

    I think you made great points when you first wrote about story. Have you shared these articles with the SIGAR, or members of the committee? Your site is far reaching but probably not as far for the older folks who aren’t so interested in the industry news like most of us. With regard to the camo improvement effort, too bad that was finished up before new president came in. I have a feeling the standing order would have to issue the best that money could buy. It just might have gone to every branch as well.

  5. AbnMedOps says:

    By the time all this is “resolved”, all the patents and copyrights will be expired and in the public domain anyway.

    But never forget the UCP fiasco – teach it to future generations. it is truly emblematic of the US Army’s remarkable capacity for institutional incompetence, quite literally touching every single soldier. And in a time of war, no less.

    Absolutely terrifying, when you think about it, the ability of “the system” to completely steamroll over all common sense, willfully blind to the evidence RIGHT IN PLAIN VIEW OF EVERY SINGLE PERSON, with “leadership” enthusiastically endorsing the project. And so, the whole rotten thing goes creaking along for more than a decade.

    The phenomenon is like “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” or something – an entire Army turned into Pod People. No wonder we keep not winning wars. Are we currently embarked on other delusions on a service-wide, or National, scale?

    • PNWTO says:

      “The phenomenon is like “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” or something – an entire Army turned into Pod People.”

      I think it is just what happens when the wrong person gets at least a bronze oak leaf on their collar and begins to rise through the hivemind.

    • Kirk says:

      The whole thing looks a lot worse, when you take into account the things like the ACU crotch design.

      In WWII, the Army issued experimental jungle uniforms. One issue? The crotches wore out quickly, and the design was deemed to need improvement.

      Fast forward to Vietnam, and the early versions of the Jungle Fatigue. Crotches tore out, wore out, and left our balls hanging in the wind. Did Natick learn anything?

      Well, apparently not: When the new lightweight BDU came out in the mid-1980s, they recapitulated the problems with the Jungle Fatigues–Crotches tore out, wore out, and again, left your nuts hanging out. Did Natick take any notes, then?

      Weeeeelllll… I think all y’all remember the ACU crotches, and how they had a certain proclivity for doing the same damn thing. I conclude, from this, that Natick is apparently unable to learn and/or aware of the history of many of their products. You would think that there’d be a great, big note on the “Lessons Learned About Combat Uniform Design” continuity book, that said something about “Hey, make sure the crotches don’t tear out and wear out earlier than the rest of the uniform…”.

      And, they’re still using the traditional non-gusseted design, when most civilian clothing designed for real activity have a diamond-shaped gusset in the crotch, to allow better range of movement and prevent premature wear. Does Natick make use of this brilliant innovation, which dates back to a long, long time ago? Hell, no–And, when asked why not, the folks I discussed this with at the little uniform feedback session when they were testing the initial designs for the ACU at the Stryker Brigade experiment were A.) Unaware of the problem, and B.) Oblivious to the diamond gusset design in the first place. So far as they were concerned, the traditional crotch was the only known solution, and that’s what they were going with. Anything else smacked of black magic, and would probably cost too much.

      I kinda wonder what the fuck it cost to drop ship thousands of uniforms to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they had to deal with the premature crotch failures in the field. Some guys in my brigade were literally down to three sets of rags, and one serviceable pair of ACU trousers by the third month of the deployment.

      • james says:

        Dangling in the wind is where no ones nuts should be… but you also have a constant rotation of ‘talent’ every couple of years through places like Natick. The history is easily lost… even on the smaller things like rotting crotches… industry does not want to deal with it because the $$$ spent developing a solution and protecting their IP is gobbled up and often copied/knocked off by the same guys who left the private’s privates swinging in the breeze… The DLA and other purchasing branches should never let these poorly designed , poorly built miss specced product out to the soldier… IMO

  6. TKS says:

    Proves yet again out Government and its associated bureaucracy is broken way past fixing. As much I dislike the idea, when need a “Soviet style revolution” that completely guts the system.

    As a side bar, several years ago read an Australian argument against them adopting multicam. Camouflage has TWO requirements, hide is from our enemies and identify us to our friends. Always knew the first but never considered the second. In this case AUSCAM worked in their country and was easily indentifiable as Aussie. If the ANA camo works for that it is probably a good thing. Identifying friend or foe is a huge problem in SW Asia

  7. Joe says:

    Replace ANA HyperStealth camouflage featuring colors found in nature with UCP-Delta.

    We all know the only reason Multicam won out in 2010 was because of those ignorant soldiers’ desire to be fashionable.

    Go Natick!

  8. DAN III says:

    Here in the USA we have homeless veterans. Yet, we are still spending billions in treasure and blood in that shithole of Afghanistan. Where is Afghanistan a threat to our national security ?

    Here’s a novel and Patriotic idea….get the EFF OUT of Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East and Africa too !

  9. James says:

    I’ve been following this these past few weeks, and as a daily wearer of Air Force Digital Tiger Stripe camouflage, my blood boils! The Airmen of the USAF would gladly accept a pattern such as the ANA has received simply to get out of our vanity pattern clothing. The GAO identified the FWA concerning the USAF and Army uniform procurement process 5 years ago and yet there has been nothing done for the USAF to remedy the problems the GAO identified. SSD, you’ve been the number one source to expose this buffoonery; any intel on if/when the USAF will go OCP?

    • SSD says:

      We are hoping to hear some good news this year from the Air Force uniform board.

      • Eddie says:

        Think All Terrain Tiger still has a shot? I dig it.

        • SSD says:

          No…OCP ACUs have specifically been mentioned.

          • bloke_from_ohio says:

            Thankfully, it is probably just a mater of time. We have worn the ABU long enough that the guys who foisted it upon us have long since retired. The need to save face for their benifit is much lower.

            The savings would be significant if we put everybody in OCP uniforms (640 milion anually acording to an estimate one of my coworkers did). Besides, big portions of the force already have OCPs laying around at home from trips down range anyway.

            There are a lot of units in the USAF that have soft transitioned to the pattern already. In the last couple years I have seen and heard of various cop squadrons running OCP. Additionally, on my last visit to Hurlbert I saw more scorpion/multicam than I saw ABU. Since Hurlbert is the home of AFSOC, that is not too supprising, but a lot of the guys I saw were not PJs or CCTs. ACC has also authorized non-ejection aircrew to wear the two piece flight suit in OCP stateside as well.

  10. Jon Demler says:

    What an astounding circle.

    1. Politician makes a decision that will have a profound effect on nothing.

    2. Time passes while the politicians are being paid to complain about something on both sides and argue the decision.

    3. DoD systems adjust to implement the changes and provide a task for people who don’t have one already.

    Meanwhile actual coalition warfighters in a vast multitude of uniforms are still fighting Taliban / ACF (with no real uniforms) the way they have for almost 16 years.

    4. The next political decision looms.

    Anyway I gave one of my shonas a pair of crappy issue hot weather boots that were way too big for him and he rocked those bad boys around the mountains without lacing them. He just wanted to fight and didn’t really care what he was dressed in.

  11. 32sbct says:

    How can we possibly undertake yet another camo study? This has been studied to death. Those Afghan uniforms look just fine to me. Any uniform, regardless of how bad it is (ACU UCP) gets worn until it is no longer serviceable. So I don’t see how the Afghan uniforms are a waste of money. They wear them every day. Are they optimal, no, but are they functional, yes. The amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan was and is immense. I would think the uniform issue is chump change compared to many other expenditures. Any one of us would have gladly traded the ACU UCP for what the Afghans are wearing.

  12. I suspect the reason this investigation exists is they have someone on the blame line that isn’t connected.

    It’s low hanging fruit for some bureaucrat to make a name for himself claiming “fighting fraud and waste” without having to really dig or find someone that can’t be prosecuted because he’s too far up the food chain or doesn’t know where bodies are buried.

  13. cimg says:

    uh, why are we even buying the ANA uniforms in the first place?

  14. Steven S says:

    Anyone who has seen the committee hearing with mr.sopoko knows he is very self-righteous…