Pink Uniforms

Following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed and troubled projects from around the world.

US Department of Defense – USA
Project type : Military aid
Date : Jun 2017 Cost : $28M

Synopsis :

The United States spends a significant amount of aid money supporting the military of allied countries. With the aim of stabilizing nations and ensuring global security, money is poured into training, equipment and consulting services. A significant amount of that money has flowed into Afghanistan over the years and talk of waste has been an ongoing theme. A story from the US Attorney General highlights the problem and casts light on the types of dysfunctional decision-making that trigger such failures.

Army Uniform

Afghan uniforms
(source wiki commons)

In June 2017 the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction published a report titled “Afghan National Army: DOD May Have Spent Up To $28 Million More Than Needed To Procure Camouflage Uniforms That May Be Inappropriate For the Afghan Environment”. The report details the 2007 procurement process used to acquire uniforms for the entire Afghan Army. With the goal of unifying the army’s battle dress a project was initiated to identify a camouflage pattern that could be used for the uniforms. Although the US Military has a range of camouflage patterns that could be used at no cost, the officials involved, simply surfed the Internet looking for alternatives. According to reports the officials “ran across” a ‘forest’ pattern offered by a private company. Because the pattern was privately owned, uniforms made with the pattern would need to pay a license fee to the rights holder. Despite that issue, the pattern was shown to the Afghan Defense Minister who “liked what he saw”. As a result the decision to pay for the priority pattern was made. Apparently no efforts were made to engage the actual troops or their commanders and no effort was made to get the camouflage to determine its suitability to the Afghan geography. Given that only 2% of Afghanistan is forest, the use of a forest pattern does seem like a poor choice.

In an interview with USA Today, the author of the report is quoted as having said: “My concern is what if the minister of defense liked purple, or pink? Are we going to buy pink uniforms for soldiers and not ask questions? That’s insane. This is just simply stupid on its face. We wasted $28 million of taxpayers’ money in the name of fashion, because the defense minister thought that that pattern was pretty. So if he thought pink or chartreuse was it, would we have done that?”

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Non-experts being allowed to make unilateral decisions.  Lack of management oversight.  Failure to engage appropriate stakeholders. Lack of quality control activities (failure to test the uniforms or do a peer review).

Other related projects:

  1. Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) – The US Army’s own camouflage project failed back in 2012.

Reference links :

  1. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report
  2. Pentagon ‘wasted $28m’ on Afghan camouflaged uniforms