By Alexandra Hemmerly-BrownMarch 2, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 1, 2010) -- Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan will be issued the new "MultiCam" fire-resistant Army Combat Uniform complete with new Mountain Combat Boots and MultiCam-patterned Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, or MOLLE, gear beginning in July.
At mobilization sites throughout the U.S., the uniform will be issued to deploying troops as part of the Rapid Fielding Initiative process, and Soldiers already in Afghanistan are scheduled to receive the MultiCam this fall.
"Anything we can do to give our Soldiers an edge, we want to do," said Col. William E. Cole, project manager for Soldier protection and individual equipment at the Program Executive Office, or PEO, Soldier on Fort Belvoir.
The decision to field and develop an alternative camouflage for uniforms in Afghanistan came out of the realization that the Army's current Universal Camouflage Pattern, or UCP, did not meet all of the concealment needs for Afghanistan's multiple regions.
"Afghanistan is a unique camouflage challenge because it's such a terrain-diverse country," Cole explained. He also confirmed that the uniforms and gear in MultiCam will for now only be used in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, Soldiers on a single patrol can potentially go from desert conditions, to wooded areas, villages, and rocky mountain environments. When coming up with a new camouflage color palette, PEO Soldier wanted to be sure the uniforms gave Soldiers a combat edge in each possible terrain situation.
Similar to the Battle Dress Uniform woodland print, the new MultiCam is a combination of seven different shades which "takes in surrounding colors." A jumble of greens, browns and beige, the MultiCam camouflage presents a solution to Afghanistan's multiple-region problem.
"Troops like the fact that it helps them blend in to different terrain types," Cole said of the new pattern.
Beginning in September 2009, four phases of developing and testing new camouflage options were initiated: deciding on alternative uniform patterns, conducting testing and Soldier feedback, choosing a final pattern to produce, and evaluating a long-term plan for the Army Combat Uniform.
First, a unit field-tested the ACU in MultiCam alongside their standard-issue ACUs, while another tested the UCP-Delta, a digital pattern with the added color 'coyote brown' for better concealment. When polled, the MultiCam and the UCP-D ended up as the top two choices by Soldiers.
Then, a team representing the U.S. Army Infantry Center, PEO Soldier, Natick Labs, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, Army Special Operations Command, and the U.S. Naval Research Center traveled throughout Afghanistan to gather data on six different patterns including the UCP, UCP-D and MultiCam. They took photos of Soldiers in the six different uniforms against eight terrain conditions. From those pictures, photo simulation was created comparing the uniforms at different distances and settings.
About 750 Soldiers who had recently deployed to Afghanistan were then asked to judge the uniforms in the photos based on their detectability, blend-ability, and rank them from best to worst-the MultiCam was chosen as the best performer in all categories.
The MultiCam, while cut in the same style as the ACU, will have several upgrades including a reinforced seat, buttons on the trouser cargo pockets, be constructed of flame-resistant fabric (like the newer ACUs), and treated with permethrin. New Mountain Combat Boots will also be issued to deploying Soldiers, which feature a tougher, more durable sole for gripping the mountainous Afghan terrain.
So far, three of the four phases of exploring camouflage alternatives have been completed, while the process of making a long-term decision about the ACU, and how big a role the MultiCam camouflage will play is still up for debate.