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Army seems ready to scrap its efforts for new camouflage as Congress looks for uniformity

The U.S. Army’s effort to design a new camouflage uniform — which has taken three years and cost at least $2.9 million — ­appears to have stalled and may never produce a new design.

This week, Army spokesman William J. Layer said that choosing a new camouflage pattern “is not a priority at this time.” He said he did not know when the choice of a new pattern — planned for last December — would be made.

One reason for the uncertainty, Layer said, is that Congress appears ready to crack down on the military’s expensive habit of letting each armed service design its own camouflage.

In 2002, the military had just two camouflage patterns. By this year, after a series of duplicative efforts documented by the Government Accountability Office, there were 10. And many of them have problems: the Air Force issued an “Airman Battle Uniform” — and then decreed that airmen in Afghanistan should not use it in battle. The Navy puzzled sailors by issuing them blue camouflage uniforms, which would camouflage them best if they fell overboard.

The Army was working on a pattern that would replace the flawed “universal” camouflage that was issued Armywide in 2005 but failed to work well in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military's changing camouflage

The new pattern was supposed to be chosen by December 2012. It wasn’t. And it’s not clear when or if it will be — a situation reported last week by the Army Times.

Layer said the Army was operating with less money because of budget cuts. And, he said, officials were concerned about “pending congressional . . . language which may direct the secretary of defense to take steps to reduce the separate development and fielding of service-specific combat and camouflage utility uniforms.”

That kind of language was introduced in the House and Senate this year, after The Washington Post described the profusion of camouflage patterns.

Rep. William Enyart (D-Ill.) introduced an amendment requiring all services to share the same camouflage pattern by 2018.

He said Thursday that he believed the Army’s decision to delay choosing a new pattern was probably a good idea. “We can’t afford to have differing camo patterns just for the argument that it’s [important for] esprit de corps,” he said. “That’s what dress uniforms are for.”

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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