DETROIT ARSENAL, WARREN, Mich. -- The U.S. Army recently awarded three engineering manufacturing development (EMD) contracts to start industry off on competitive prototyping for the next generation of modernized, ultralightweight general-purpose camouflage.

The new gear -- dubbed the Ultra-Lightweight Camouflage Net System (ULCANS) Increment I -- is designed to better bolster the lethality and survivability of military personnel and equipment. ULCANS will be an all-weather, state-of-the-art signature management concealment system that provides multispectral protection. The program aims to replace the legacy woodland and desert camouflage variants developed in the 1990s, and will develop new light/dark woodland, snow/alpine, and desert/urban variants to restore combat overmatch against new and future sensor threats.

With these awards, the Army will kick off a six-month competitive prototyping effort between three potential suppliers. Plans call for making a selection by the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 for final development and test. Low-Rate Initial Production is slated for the third quarter of fiscal year 2019, and the First Unit Equipped for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019.

"With ULCANS Increment I, we are executing a development and fielding strategy to ensure camouflage is made available as quickly as possible to units with the most pressing operational needs," said Col. Frank Moore, product manager, Force Sustainment Systems within the Project Management Office for Expeditionary Energy and Sustainment Systems, U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.

John Viggato, assistant product manager for Force Sustainment Systems, explained that ULCANS Increment I represents the first new camouflage in a generation. "We've awarded contracts to three global leaders in camouflage, now we are having them compete head to head through a series of unique sensor-defeat tests in operationally relevant environments around the world -- ultimately to award a single production contract to the best performer."

Viggato singled out the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC,) which partners with PM FSS, in providing a collaborative and highly technical team of engineers and scientists. These scientists now are working on the Competitive Prototyping Phase of the contract, which consists of unique NSRDEC-supported test events, he added.

"ULCANS Increment I is critical to Soldier lethality and overmatch. As adversary technology continues to evolve, we have to be able to quickly reduce battlefield signatures and limit the enemy's ability to detect personnel, weapons systems, vehicles, and other equipment," said Claudia Quigley, director, NSRDEC Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate. "This program has been characterized by great teaming among the research, acquisition and sustainment communities, as well as by a concerted, unified commitment to getting ULCANS to units most in need of this modernized capability."

The U.S. Army Program Executive Office, Combat Support & Combat Service Support, headquartered here, oversees the Project Management Office, Expeditionary Energy and Sustainment Systems, including force sustainment systems. With approximately 150 programs in active management and an annual budget of more than $3 billion, PEO CS&CSS is responsible for managing the design, development, and delivery of the majority of equipment across the Army's Transportation, Engineer, Quartermaster, and Sustainment portfolios.