Friday, June 01, 2007

Army Combat Uniform(ACU)

I was reading about some dissatisfaction with the new ACU. The intent was to take advantage of digital technology to create a pattern that was not super at any terrain, but would be not all that bad at any terrain. As is usual, computerized idiocy is idiocy. When you take an average of arctic winter and Jungle, you get something that is not particularly good for anything.

Now, just to establish my credentials, I served in the Army/Infantry/Europe/7th Army/3rd Armored Division/2nd Bde/2nd Bn 48th Infantry, back during the Carter Administration. I left as a Captain. Since that time I got two Engineering degrees, and have worked for the Navy, the Air Force, and two defense contractors. I have seen new camouflage patterns come and go, each proclaimed the greatest yet, each changed because something new was supposedly even better.

Ah, the Army. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they "Don't get no respect." More aircraft than the Air Force, more boats than the Navy, and more amphibious landings than the Marine Corps. Although the Marines are the worlds best two division force this side of Fort Hood, they have their own feet of clay. Odd that they would copyright their “superior” pattern to prevent their brothers in arms from using it. I don’t think the very small Marine Emblems on the MarPat uniform meet the Geneva requirement for “distinguishable at a distance”.

The Army is big. It hast to be managed differently than the small services. Reducing the number of uniforms saves big bucks. When the Army got rid of the Green (a semi dress uniform modeled after the WWI combat uniform) it saved a lot. The army retained the Army Blues a full dress uniform modeled after the Civil War and Indian War combat uniform. The Army Blue trousers are a lighter shade than the Jacket: In the summer heat soldiers would still wear their trousers, and lay aside their jacket, and the trousers would accordingly fade. Money was short then too.

Before the recent surge the US had 140,000 men in Iraq. The Army had 99,000 of them. The other three (four counting he Coast Guard!) contribute to the 41,000. The Army is also underfunded, getting only 24 percent of the budget for 2/3s of the fighting. The Army doesn't have billets at posh embassies around the world, nor do they have comfortable billets with a sheet and pillowcase on Navy ships. The Army is the only service that has been continuously in existance since the Revolution, and before. The Army has units with traditions that go back to American Colonial Forces in the French and Indian War (7 Years War for any European readers). By contrast, the Navy and Marines were disbanded. The Air Force traces its pseudo history to the WWI Army Air Service, by which time the Army Aviation had been in action for 50 years, and completed two deployments. (in 1898, Army aviation units adjusted artillery fire on the Spanish in Cuba, 5 years before the Wright Brother's first flight.

During WWII there were 248 US amphibious invasions. 200 of them were conducted by the Army, using the doctrines . The Marine Corps used Army regulations when operating on land until 1834. That means that the celebrated Lt O'Bannon cutting down the flag of the Bey of Algiers on the shores of Tripoli was conducting his operation in accordance with Army Regulations. In the 1920s the Marine Corps moved its birthday from July 11th, 1834 when they got their own regulations back to 1776 when the Navywas recruiting for Shipboard Police (the British Marine was mostly that). The British experience was to disband the Marines after every war, which hindered learning from mistakes. When the Marines landed at Inchon, the Army was there too in the persons of the US 7th Division. At the same time, the Army fought the length of Korea, from Pusan to Seoul. The Marines took half of Seoul. Task force Lynch was equipped with Pershing Tanks, and accompanied by General Gay, formerly of Patton's 3rd Army Staff.

I don't want to disparage the Marines. They are good, proud men, (and ladies). They do a great job even outside the realm of publicity. It was rather amusing that the Army worked with the Northern alliance to clear 3/4s of Afghanistan, outnumbered some 1000 to 1. The Marines took a hop to the airport at Khandhar, which was secured by the Army, and thought they merited a headline. The Germans didn't call the Marines Devil Dogs, and to assert otherwise is a lie. "Teufelhunden" is not German. It is merely propaganda of the crude WWI sort. Teufelshunde would be German. No German dispatches have been found that so refered to the Marines during WWI.

The Navy was recreated during the early federal period. Prior to that, the US mostly used privateers, private citizens operating privately owned crew served weapons, sailing under terms of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. John Paul Jones hated privateers, but the Continental Navy had 5 ships at sea in 1978 when privateers had over 3000! George Washington created the first riverine force to float his men across the Delaware river. The Continental Navy was disbanded after the Revolution. There was no need for one, as the British provided security for merchantmen under their merchantile policies.

Camouflage was historically not needed, and is currently overrated. After you begin fighting, camouflage doesn't work unless it can hide muzzleflashes. In the days of black powder, clouds of white smoke further emphasized the location of any unit that fired.

Camouflage is a patrol technique. On patrols you walk a lot, and shoot very little. Before you fire, camouflage may be useful, but hiding behind things is even more useful. There is a powerful difference between cover and concealment. Before your patrol you should prepare your detachment for the operation, and this includes tailoring your uniform (no rattles, no shine, no swish, and helmets festooned to break up the outline) your equipment (magazines with open end down in the pouch, and bandoleers attached tight so they don't swing or bump). Faces are easy to recognize, so they are colored to break up the familiar two eyes, nose and mouth outline that every 5 year old has mastered.

The ACU doesn’t have black, but it doesn’t matter, since the ACU are worn UNDER armor, knee pads, web gear and associated bandoleer straps. That should, with careful selection, break up the outline of the ACUs. The previous 3 color desert camouflage uniform was thought to be an improvement over the 5 color chocolate chip and 4 color desert because the unform light colors worked better in Arabia. Now a uniform light color is not satisfactory?

What would make sense is a 3 layer approach.

1. Cotton wicking undergarments. The innermost layer would have built in tourniquet tapes for rapid field treatment of injuries to the limbs, even before the armor can be removed. The inner cloth garment should have evaporation beds to permit heat removal from sweat evaporation. The evaporation beds are connected to rubber bladders under the heels, knees and elbows, so that common movement techniques (walking, crawling) get the benefit of an air cushion under the hard protection, and create cooling airflow under the armor.

2. An intermediate layer of body armor and web gear. The web gear must be integrated with the armor, so neither is completely parasitic. This means lighter weight for the same function. The web gear should have two water bladders (in case one breaks!) arranged vertically along either side of the spine with a connected hose and valve to permit drinking on the move, with a quick attachment to the NBC protective mask. Ammunition pouches should be attached to the web gear so as to ride side of the hips. Access would be by slits with flaps, held open or closed by velcro. Hooks that attach the back pack to the webgear would be attached through holes in the over-uniform. Again, the holes would have flaps that could be held open and closed. The back pack would be modular, with each piece able to be dropped by quick detachable connectors. This would let infantry drop off ammunition at the company/platoon base of fire, while still retaining the amunition for their squad weapons.

3. A top layer camouflage surcoat. The camouflage surcoat would be flame resistant, have slits for access to the web gear pouches, and pockets for first aid pouch, rations, maps, and notebooks, and a selection of different size, shape, and patterns cloth strips with which the outer camouflage can be festooned to break up the outline.

If you are fighting in urban areas, camouflage uniforms don’t matter. If you are 3 foot from your enemy, no camouflage matters. If you are behind a door, you can wear a clown suit. If you are in a Hummer, Bradley, Stryker, or Abrams, no camouflage matters. If you have fired your rifle, the muzzleflash will attract enemy return fire, no matter what your uniform pattern. If your uniform doesn’t match your likely background, modify your uniform with tapes, ghilli fibers, and spray paint. Then select your movement paths and techniques to take advantage of cover and concealment. Behind a bush with a clown suit is better than in front of a bush with the best camouflage devised by man.

No combat ready unit ever passed inspection. No inspection ready unit ever passed combat. I was always quite content to have the Marines known for the prettiest dress uniform.

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