Designed By Marines For Marines

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

As the Marine Corps moves forward into the 21st century, we continue to look for new ways to improve the lethality, survivability, durability and  comfort of our Marines.  Our current camouflage utility uniform is almost a quarter century old.  Over the years the Marine Corps has phased through various modifications to the utility uniform, from the original temperate version to the current nylon/cotton version - but the basic design and camouflage pattern has remained the same.  

demoCMC.jpg (71833 bytes)General James L. Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed Deputy Commandant, Installations and Logistics (I&L) to review the combat effectiveness of the current camouflage utility uniform.  That task was then delegated to the Commander, Marine Corps Systems Command (MarCorSysCom) for Research & Development, which assembled a project team to manage the Combat Utility Uniform Program.  The team consisted not only members of MarCorSysCom, but of others as well to include the Marine Corps Uniform Board; the Clothing Design Office, MCLB Albany; Logistics Capabilities Center, I&L; Defense Supply Center, Philadelphia (DSCP); the Scout Sniper Instructor School, Quantico; and Natick Labs.

The team quickly gathered research and data to determine the inadequacies of the current utility uniform.  By means of historical precedent, data obtained from modern industrial advances and Marine focus groups, it concluded that the uniform did not meet typical  demands placed by Marines.  Three areas of requirements were framed for further study: fabrics, design and camouflage.

FABRICS

The first priority guiding the team was the issue of uniform durability.  It researched fabrics worn by Marines in past and obtained modern fabrics resulting from recent advances in the clothing industry.  By charting wear patterns, the team noted general trends such as trousers wearing out on average at a rate six times faster than blouses.  Of the fabrics tested, the current fabric blend of nylon and cotton was determined to have sufficient durability or comfort - depending on its density, or weight.  During review with focus groups, the team observed a common trend among Marines to wear heavier fabric style of utilities when durability was required during field-type training, but wore a lighter fabric style of utilities for comfort while in garrison.  The heavier utility uniform, also known as "woodlands", is made of 7.5 oz/yd2 nylon/cotton fabric and the lighter utility uniform, known as "poplins", is made of 6.5 oz/yd2 nylon/cotton fabric.  The challenge lay in combining the comfort of "poplins" and the durability of "woodlands" into a single utility uniform.

DESIGN

The team also explored how design improvements could maximize the combat utility of the uniform. Several ideas were explored, ultimately resulting in five basic concepts:

  • "Product Improvement."  This design would take the current uniform and make structural improvements with the least amount of modifications in appearance.
  • "Intermediate."  A hybrid of the " product improvement" and "radical" designs, this design would improve fit and durability, with less consideration to garrison appearance.
  • "Radical."  This design followed the intent of maximum combat utility, with no regard to garrison appearance considerations.
  • "One-piece."  Similar to aviation suits and other coverall-type uniforms, this design was based upon a previous MarCorSysCom test project.
  • "Modular."   Following a mission-oriented intent, this design would have a base uniform, upon which additional camouflage or other specific items could be added.

Each design was developed conceptually and reviewed with focus groups.  For all designs, the team experimented with making the uniform reversible, thereby providing Marines with two uniforms -- desert and woodland -- in one.  Advantages and disadvantages were explored in depth as the team continued to refine its recommendations.

CAMOUFLAGE

As the team progressed with fabric and design ideas, it also considered one of the essential elements of any combat uniform: camouflage.  As with textiles and clothing, advances had also been made in the hunting and outdoors retail areas.  Over a hundred samples were obtained by the team and tested for color range, pattern suitability, and tactical flexibility.  As a force suited for "every clime and place," any pattern selected would have to be effective in many environments.  Samples ranged from computer generated designs to familiar hunting patterns. The initial screening reduced the field of potentials to eight patterns.  These remaining patterns were then evaluated by the Scout Sniper Instructor School in Quantico, VA.  The School reviewed the samples in broad areas of pattern and colors, applying various camouflage-technical considerations to each sample as they sought to determine the most effective.  

The results of the initial research were then briefed to the senior leadership of the Marine Corps.  The team had demonstrated that the uniform could be improved via several different methods; however, determining which methods to use would require guidance.  Certain camouflage patterns were ideal for deciduous vegetation-type environments, while others more suitable for coniferous vegetation-type environments; some design modifications were more compatible with existing uniform items than others; other factors could be further researched but would be time- and force-intensive. The team had collected so much information that it needed to be narrowed down to specific areas of focus.  As Marine leadership reviewed various concepts, each aspect was considered with respect to individual and service need for "best value", combat effectiveness, and ultimate cost within realistic supply and fiscal constraints. Upon conclusion of discussion the following "go forward" guidance was provided:

  • pip_fullbody2.gif (45644 bytes)rad_fullbody2.gif (52738 bytes)"Down-select" to two patterns:   the familiar and venerable "tiger-stripe" pattern and a new Marine custom-designed digital pattern using optimized colors.
  • "Down-select" to two design concepts:  after reviewing the impracticalities of the "one-piece" and "modular" designs, both ends of the remaining range were chosen to move ahead - "product improvement" and "radical".
  • Two color schemes:  although possible, a reversible uniform proved beyond manufacturing cost parameters; uniform development would continue with the expectation of separate woodland and desert/urban uniforms. 

Although the options had been narrowed down considerably, many remained.  At the conclusion of the brief, the Commandant of the Marine Corps expressed his desire to involve all Marines in the determination of the final prototype design.  He tasked the team to find out a way to personally involve as many Marines as reasonably possible.

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