Fit, Function, Fight: Our Uniform, Our Future

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There has been a fair amount of media speculation over the past week regarding the future of the Canadian Armed Forces’ combat uniforms. This issue matters to every member of the profession of arms, because our uniforms are more than our working clothing, or a symbol of our service. They are a combat system. And like any combat system, they are carefully designed to meet our operational needs.

We have been using our current Canadian Disruptive Pattern (CADPAT) uniforms for 20 years, in dozens of missions in different operating environments. Over that time, we’ve learned many lessons from their use, and made subtle changes based on your feedback. We’ve moved pockets to allow better access to your kit while you’re wearing body armour. We’ve changed the cut to improve wear and comfort. Each one of these factors – patterns, cut, configurations, material – can affect the way we operate.

And after 20 years of use, it’s time to take a wider look at the entire combat system, both in its individual parts and the combat uniform as a whole.

To be clear, this is a decision based on our desire to improve our performance on operations. “Fashion” has nothing to do with it. “Fashion” doesn’t offer survivability to our members, and any suggestion that we would base our decisions on something like that is both ridiculous and offensive.

Here are some of the questions we are asking as part of our analysis:

  • Are our combat uniforms designed to fit the soldier of today? While the “average” body shape hasn’t changed all that much across the force, we want to be sure the uniform works for every member who wears it, regardless of gender, and whether you’re 5’5” and lean or 6’6” and jacked.
  • Is the material standing up to use in the field, in the different environments we’re operating in?
  • Is the uniform’s configuration optimized for the new soldier systems that are coming into use?
  • Are we over-specializing to particular environments? Can we find a single pattern that offers a broader range of use, so we can avoid the issues that come with trading sets between mission rotations?

This last point is particularly important – moving to a single pattern will provide a real operational boost to our soldiers. As the Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer, Alain Guimond, has said: “The soldier’s job is to be fit to fight, and no two uniform types are built exactly the same – even small differences in fit can be a major distraction. Allowing the soldier to adapt to one uniform, with one set of personalized kit, will improve their ability to fight. We want to make the system fit the soldier, and not the other way around.”

But while we’ve got most of the right questions, we’re still in the early stages of finding the answers. Later this year, we will be moving out with several small test runs of different uniforms – a “try before you buy” approach that will allow us to get direct feedback from you, our members, about what works well and what doesn’t. Not everyone will get to test these out, but every version will undergo testing by your fellow members of the profession of arms. We are also engaging our defence research scientists, as we did in the development of CADPAT, to make sure our decisions are fully informed.

What will the final result look like? How much will it cost? These are things we don’t know right now, because we’re just starting our testing. Our focus, in the short term, is on the needs of you – our people. As we’ve demonstrated in recent policy changes on personal equipment – from boots to undergarments – we want to ensure that your personal equipment is designed based on what you need it to be.

Once we’ve determined what those requirements are, we’ll communicate those details. We’re confident, after two decades of experience with CADPAT, that Canadian industry will find a way to make this work.

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