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Defense > 2. Combat Uniforms

The Department of Defense’s fragmented approach to developing and acquiring uniforms could be more efficient, better protect service members, and result in up to $82 million in savings in development and acquisition cost savings through increased collaboration among the military services.

Why This Area Is Important

Since 2002, the military services went from using two camouflage patterns—a four-color woodland pattern, known as the Battle Dress Uniform, developed in 1981, and a three-color desert pattern, known as the Desert Camouflage Uniform, developed in early 1990—to seven service-specific camouflage uniforms with varying patterns and colors. In recent years, the services spent about half of a billion dollars to procure camouflage uniforms. In addition, the Army is developing new combat uniform options and associated protective gear, such as camouflage body armor and helmets, which officials estimate may cost up to $4 billion to procure over 5 years. The following figure provides additional information on camouflage uniforms developed by the military services since 2002.

Services’ Camouflage Uniforms, Dates of Initiation and Fielding, and Development Costs, 2000 through 2012

Services’ Camouflage Uniforms, Dates of Initiation and Fielding, and Development Costs, 2000 through 2012

A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required the Secretaries of the military departments to establish joint criteria for future ground combat uniforms that ensure that new technologies, advanced materials, and other advances in ground combat uniform design may be shared between the military services and are not precluded from being adapted for use by any military service due to service-unique proprietary arrangements.[1] The Secretaries of the military departments were to establish the joint criteria by February 22, 2011.[2] Also, in June 2010, the Senate Committee on Armed Services directed the Secretary of Defense to report by August 2010 on the steps that the Department of Defense (DOD) had taken and planned to take to implement the requirement for joint criteria, including the steps the Secretaries of the military departments took or would take—in conjunction with the Joint Staff and combatant commands—to update their ground combat uniform standards and develop operational performance criteria for camouflage, among other information.[3]

DOD established the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board (the Board) to ensure collaboration and DOD-wide integration of clothing and textile activities, such as uniforms.[4] The Board is the forum the military departments are using to establish joint criteria for the performance of camouflage uniforms. The Board and its working group include representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and all of the military services. The Director of the Defense Logistics Agency is responsible for chairing the governance board. In addition, under DOD’s instruction on clothing and textile management, the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) is responsible for the development of DOD policy and implementing guidance on all matters relating to the clothing and textiles supply chain.[5]



[1]The military departments are the Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Navy. The military services are organized within the military departments: the Army within the Department of the Army, the Air Force within the Department of the Air Force, and the Navy and Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. See National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-84, § 352 (d), 123 Stat. 2190, 2263 (2009) (10 U.S.C. § 771 note prec.).

[2]See id.The provision required the establishment of joint criteria no later than 270 days from the date of our report on ground combat uniforms required by section 352(c). We fulfilled the requirement with a report submitted to the congressional defense committees on April 26, 2010, but the report was published on May 28, 2010, as GAO-10-669R.

[3]See S. Rep. No. 111-201, at 117 (2010) (accompanying S. 3454, a proposed bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011).

[4]DOD directed the establishment of the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board in 2008. See DOD Instruction 4140.63, Managementof DOD Clothing and Textiles (Class II), encl. 2, para. 3(a) (Aug. 5, 2008).

[5]The DOD Supply Chain includes the government and private-sector organizations, processes, and systems that play a role in planning, acquiring, maintaining, and delivering materiel resources to the warfighter.

What GAO Found

In a September 2012 report, GAO found that the military services employ a fragmented approach for acquiring combat uniforms. DOD and the services have not collaborated to establish joint criteria for ground combat uniforms. Further, DOD has not taken steps to ensure equivalent levels of uniform performance and protection for service members conducting joint military operations in different uniforms, potentially exposing them to increased risk on the battlefield.[1] Moreover, the services have not pursued partnership opportunities to reduce uniform-related costs. As a result of DOD’s fragmented approach, military personnel could be exposed to increased risk on the battlefield and DOD may lose opportunities to save millions of development and acquisition dollars.

First, DOD has not yet established joint criteria for ground combat uniforms. DOD issued a report in February 2012, in response to the June 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee direction, on the steps it planned to take to establish joint criteria for ground combat uniforms;[2] however, DOD has not yet met the statutory requirement to establish such criteria. According to governance board officials, a working group of the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board met in 2010 to begin discussions on the joint criteria. However, according to members of the governance board, the group’s leadership did not meet the February 2011 deadline for issuing joint criteria because members of the working group were unable to obtain consensus and faced competing demands from logistics efficiency initiatives. During GAO’s review, governance board officials said that they planned to convene a new working group and complete the joint criteria by December 2012. In its February 2012 report to congressional committees, DOD acknowledged that it could do more to promote and enhance interservice collaboration and coordination with the Defense Logistics Agency. As of December 2012, DOD estimates it will complete the development of the joint criteria by March 2013. Without joint criteria on the performance of uniforms, one or more services may develop uniforms without knowing whether they include the newest technology, the newest materials or designs, and meet an acceptable joint level of performance.

Second, DOD does not have a policy to ensure that the services’ fragmented uniform programs comply with statutory policy to provide service members equivalent levels of performance and protection commensurate with their respective assigned combat missions and minimize the risk to individuals operating in joint combat environments, to the maximum extent practicable.[3] As a result, service members wearing uniforms consisting of different camouflage together in the same joint environment may be exposed to different levels of risk. For example, some Navy units, such as construction and intelligence units, were issued woodland uniforms to wear in desert environments, while other personnel in the same types of locations were dressed in desert camouflage. Although the Navy stated in a 2009 administrative message that its Type II desert and Type III woodland uniforms would increase the probability of mission success and survivability in combat and irregular warfare operations, the Navy indicated that only Naval Special Warfare personnel and sailors assigned to or directly supporting Naval Special Warfare units would be authorized to wear the Type II desert uniform, increasing the risk of some personnel standing out in the joint operating environment.[4] Conversely, in September 2010, Air Force Central Command decided to enhance the level of protection for its personnel serving in Afghanistan by directing personnel to wear the Army’s Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern uniform, where available, rather than the Air Force’s existing Airman Battle Uniform. Without a departmentwide policy to ensure that services develop and field uniforms with equivalent performance and protection, the services could fall short of offering equivalent protection for all service members.

Finally, the services’ fragmented approach to developing camouflage uniforms has resulted in numerous inventories of similar uniforms at increased cost to the supply chain, but the services have not taken advantage of opportunities to reduce costs through partnering on inventory management or by collaborating to achieve greater standardization among their various camouflage uniforms. Under DOD’s supply chain regulation on materiel management, DOD components are encouraged, but not required, to standardize basic materials and accessories and to standardize uniforms and other clothing items when possible to reduce costs.[5] When the military services introduce a new item, the Defense Logistics Agency imposes an initial inventory fee if the cost of the new item is 10 percent greater than the cost of the item being replaced and if the item is introduced into inventory by only one DOD component. However, to encourage the services to reduce costs by standardizing materials and eliminate fragmentation and potential duplication, according to officials, the Defense Logistics Agency will waive the initial inventory fee if two or more services agree to jointly introduce an item into their inventories.[6] Although the Defense Logistics Agency could waive inventory fees for joint introductions of uniforms, according to Defense Logistics Agency officials, none of the services has partnered on combat uniforms since they began separately replacing the woodland Battle Dress Uniform and the Desert Camouflage Uniform in 2002.

The military services have opportunities to potentially save tens of millions of dollars in initial inventory fees by partnering with another service in the introduction of new uniforms. First, the Army has estimated that it could avoid initial inventory fees of as much as $82 million by partnering with another service or services. Air Force officials stated that they are considering using the Army’s new uniforms if they meet the Air Force’s needs. However, GAO found that, as of January 2013, Air Force officials had not reached an agreement with the Army on the joint use of a single uniform. Second, the Navy, as part of its acquisition planning in the spring of 2011, estimated potential cost savings of about $6 million in initial inventory fees if it partnered with another service in the introduction of its Type II desert and Type III woodland uniforms. In March 2011, the Coast Guard requested approval from the Navy, Naval Special Warfare Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command to use the camouflage uniforms for maritime, counterterrorism, and security missions. However, Navy officials decided to introduce the uniform before establishing a formal partnership with the Coast Guard. As a result, the Navy incurred $6 million in inventory fees, thereby increasing the overall cost of the uniforms. In the absence of DOD requirements that the services collaborate to standardize the development and introduction of camouflage uniforms, the services may continue to miss opportunities to increase efficiencies and forego millions of dollars in cost savings, in addition to possibly duplicating the uniform development efforts of other services.



[1]DOD and the Joint Staff have described the modern-day battlefield as a place with no clearly defined front lines or safer rear area where combat support operations are performed.

[2]DOD, Report on Requirements for Standard Ground Combat Uniforms (Washington, D.C.: February 2012).

[3]A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 established policy permitting the design and fielding of service-unique ground combat uniforms, as long as the uniforms, to the maximum extent practicable, provided these and other benefits. See Pub. L. No. 111-84, § 352(a), 123 Stat. at 2262-63.

[4]See Chief of Naval Operations, NAVADMIN 374-09, Navy Working Uniform Type II and III (Dec. 29, 2009). This guidance was later updated to cover Coast Guard personnel assigned to or directly supporting Naval Special Warfare units. See Chief of Naval Operations, NAVADMIN 259-11, Navy Working Uniform Type I, II and III, Camouflage Utility Uniforms (Aug. 30, 2011).

[5]See Department of Defense Regulation 4140.1-R, DOD Supply Chain Materiel Management Regulation, chapter 8 (May 23, 2003).

[6]The inventory fee covers the cost of acquiring initial inventory, and according to Defense Logistics Agency officials it includes the first 4 months of inventory, a 3-month safety level, and the cost of the remaining uniforms in inventory being replaced.

Actions Needed

GAO recommended in September 2012 that the Secretary of Defense should take the following three actions:

  • direct the Secretaries of the military departments to identify and implement actions necessary to enable the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board to develop and issue joint criteria for uniforms prior to the development or acquisition of any new camouflage uniform;

  • direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to develop a policy to ensure that future service-specific uniforms provide equivalent levels of performance and protection and minimize risk to service members operating in the joint battle space; and

  • direct the Secretaries of the military departments to actively pursue partnerships for the joint development and use of uniforms to minimize fragmentation in the development of uniforms and to seek to reduce inventory and overall procurement costs.

By taking these three actions, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the military departments could facilitate the department’s ability to meet the statutory requirement to develop and issue joint criteria for uniforms, facilitate DOD’s actions to better ensure that service members operating in joint combat environments are not exposed to unnecessary risks, and take advantage of potential efficiencies and tens of millions of dollars in cost savings each time one of the services introduces a new uniform.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from products listed in the related GAO products section. For that work, we analyzed requirements and policies found in DOD guidance and in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. We also analyzed data on DOD’s combat uniform development activities from 2010 to 2012 and interviewed officials from the military services and members of the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board to determine if the services had established criteria for camouflage uniforms using a joint approach and met the statutory policy permitting future uniforms to uniquely reflect the identity of the individual services, as long as they provide service members equivalent levels of performance and protection, among other benefits, to the maximum extent practicable. Finally, we reviewed guidance and interviewed officials with the Defense Logistics Agency, Troop Support Office, to assess how they encourage the services to jointly reduce development and acquisition costs.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on the September 2012 report on which this analysis is based, DOD agreed with GAO’s recommendations. DOD stated that draft joint criteria for camouflage uniforms have been developed and are going through the DOD approval process, which DOD estimated will be completed by March 2013. DOD also said that the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) will disseminate policy guidance to the military departments that will include direction for using joint criteria and ensuring equivalent levels of performance and protection by the 3rd quarter of fiscal year 2013. Finally, DOD stated that it will use the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board and the Cross-Service Warfighter Equipment Board to provide additional oversight and further pursue active partnerships for joint development and use of uniforms.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to DOD for review and comment. In an e-mail received on January 25, 2013, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Supply Chain Integration reiterated the department’s September 2012 comments. DOD plans to provide joint criteria and policy guidance for camouflage uniforms to the military departments by March 2013 and plans to use the Joint Clothing and Textiles Governance Board and Cross-Service Warfighter Equipment Board to provide additional oversight and further pursue active partnerships for joint development and use of uniforms.

For additional information about this area, contact Cary B. Russell at 202-512-5431 or e-mail russellc@gao.gov.

Related Products

Warfighter Support:

DOD Should Improve Development of Camouflage Uniforms and Enhance Collaboration Among the Services
GAO-12-707:
Published: Sep 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2012.

Military Uniforms:

Issues Related to the Supply of Flame Resistant Fibers for the Production of Military Uniforms
GAO-11-682R:
Published: Jun 30, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2011.

Warfighter Support:

Observations on DOD's Ground Combat Uniforms
GAO-10-669R:
Published: May 28, 2010. Publicly Released: May 28, 2010.

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