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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This report is in response to section 352 of Public Law 111-84, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. The statute requires the Comptroller General to conduct an assessment of the ground combat uniforms and camouflage utility uniforms currently in use in the Department of Defense and provide the results to the congressional defense committees not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the act.

Although the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps state that they have established requirements for combat clothing that include performance capabilities and characteristics, we found that performance standards are not related to specific combat environments. In addition, we found technical production standards guide the manufacturing of uniforms for all four services. Camouflage effectiveness is not an operational performance criteria. Service and Special Operations Command officials indicate that the ground combat uniforms and their protective gear and body armor are interoperable. However, service officials stated that they do not have a requirement to regularly test their uniform and other services' protective gear for interoperability, but rely on feedback from users. Production and procurement costs are increasing and account for about 95 percent of ground combat uniform costs. Several factors, such as the introduction of flame resistant fabric and pace of operations, account for the increase in production costs. According to DOD officials, supporting a variety of uniforms in any combat theater of operations does not place additional logistics requirements on the distribution system; rather, the additional logistical requirements are primarily found in storage costs in the United States. The government-owned patents on elements of the Marine Corps' ground combat uniforms--the color scheme, the uniform design, and the pattern with the service logo--present no legal barrier to allowing other services to use these elements. According to officials from all four services, it is unlikely that the services would choose to wear the same camouflage uniform because it is a symbol of the individual service and its uniqueness. Apart from the patents issue, Marine Corps System Command officials indicated that they believe 10 U.S.C. 771 prohibits a member of one service from wearing the uniform or a distinctive part of the uniform belonging to another service. The services and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officials do not collect data that would enable an assessment of the risks associated with wearing different uniforms in combat operations. Combatant commanders and service component commanders maintain flexibility to determine uniform wear based on operational needs.

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