Air Force Adopting OCP
Enhancing our readiness, the OCP is a uniform for form, fit and function," LaBrutta told reporters May 9, "It is the best-of-breed of utility uniform that we believe is in the inventory.
On May 14, 2018 the Air Force officially announced the new battle dress: Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). The selection will replace digital tiger stripe Airman Battle Uniform (ABU), a four-color pixelated camouflage which has been the combat uniform since 2007.
"Enhancing our readiness, the OCP is a uniform for form, fit and function," Maj. Gen. Robert LaBrutta told reporters May 9, "It is the best-of-breed of utility uniform that we believe is in the inventory."
Airman feedback played a big role in the decision, officials said. "Service members have asked about the uniform at almost every town hall," said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Guidance on authorized wear of the uniform will be available in the coming months through the Air Force Guidance Memorandum and eventually published in AFI 36-2903. T-shirts and belts accompanying the uniform will be tan, while the boots will move from sage to coyote brown.
Airmen will have distinctive lettering on their name tapes in a spice-brown color. Unit patches and functional identifiers will be in subdued colors and worn on sleeves, with flags on the right shoulder and unit patches on the left shoulder.
"This celebrates joint warfighting excellence as OCPs will become the joint combat uniform for airmen and soldiers while patches and name tapes will identify our respective services," Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein said, "We'll maintain our distinctive Air Force uniforms in blues, service dress, mess dress, and PT gear."
Speculation about the transition began in March of 2018, when a series of slides posted on the unofficial Air Force Forum Facebook page displayed projected dates, budget proposals, and potential obstacles for a transition to OCP. The OCP uniform is already required for airmen deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as for members of the Air Force Global Strike Command security forces.
The slides indicated a June announcement date and costs are compared between 24, 36, and 48-month transition periods. However, the announcement came nearly a month earlier, likely due to increased pressure from airmen.
"Our airmen have made it clear, with a resounding, 'Hey, we want to get into this uniform as soon as we possibly can,'" LaBrutta, the Air Force's Director of Military Force Management Policy, said in a May 9 interview at the Pentagon. "Downrange and in garrison, [airmen consistently reported] it's a better utility uniform than the ABU."
The three-year transition will cost the service about $237 million, LaBrutta said. This cost will be necessary to draw down inventory and dispose of old boots and uniforms. Based off a cost-analysis, the Air Force is expecting to break even after the upfront costs, post-transition. After switching to OCPs, airmen will no longer be maintaining both a garrison and combat uniform which will help to offset costs.
More than 100,000 Air Force members have already been wearing OCP or the equivalent A2CU OCP flight suit. In 2011, the Air Force replaced the airman battle uniform (ABU) with the OEF OCP (MultiCam) ABU for airmen deployed in Afghanistan. By 2015, deployed airmen were wearing OCP in combat zones.
The Air Force Strike Command (AFGSC) security forces also transitioned to OCP—first the OEF OCP then OCP when it's available—at three AFGSC bases: Minot AFB, North Dakota; Malmstrom AFB, Montana; and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. Additionally, those in the 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming, will soon be wearing OCP.
The AFGSC is responsible for conducting strategic nuclear deterrence. Until now its security forces have been outfitted in the digital Tiger Stripe ABU. The Air Force cites concealment issues as the reason for the switch-over.
"If you get in a firefight in the field and you're laying down fire, who are you going to see first? Obviously that guy [in ABUs,]" said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Daigneault, senior enlisted manager for the Force Improvement Program at AFGSC to Soldier Systems Daily. "The difference is almost night and day. Your eyes skim right over the guy in [MultiCam] OCP and zone in on the guy in ABUs. He just doesn't fit in in that [missile field] environment."
In February 2015, security forces Airmen began to gear up MultiCam uniforms and cold-weather gear. The uniforms, which have never been worn by missile field defenders before, got a positive reception.
"I think the new uniforms are really cool," said Airman Dean Fedrizzi, 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron Security Support Team to the AFGSC, "I wasn't excited at first, but now that I see them, I'm really psyched to get them."
While AFGSC Airmen are currently being outfitted in MultiCam, they also plan to update to OCP. After OCP hits military clothing stores in May, it will eventually update to OCP along with the Army. As for boots, the Air Force has made no move to transition from sage to coyote brown.
"We intend to transition with the OCP (Scorpion W2) as it becomes available. However, we will not conduct a full re-issue; we will replace items through attrition," said AFGSC spokesperson 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard.
Former Air Force Chief Master Sergeant James Roy sporting the MultiCam uniform. Image via Air Force Times.