The original U.S. digital print camouflage pattern was developed by the Marine Corps who introduced their new MARPAT uniform in January 2001. MARPAT was based on a digital printout of pixels, which research proved blends better into the environment than traditional camo designs. The Air Force soon followed with its own distinctive, digital pattern for the new Airman Battle Uniform (ABU).
Master Sgt. Jason Gresens tries out the Airman Battle Uniform at Peterson's Military Clothing Sales, Peterson AFB, CO, 28 August 2007.
The Air Force began a six-month wear test of a new blue pattern uniform in February 2004 (photo, right). The blue tiger striped pattern initially fielded was not popular and was withdrawn, replaced by a distinctive USAF pattern that includes a slate-blue shade in addition to foliage green, desert sand and urban gray shades. The pattern is pixilated or "digital" like the Marine Corps' MARPAT and Army ACU but is based on a pixilated Vietnam-era tiger stripe pattern. The Air Force logo appears on everything from the boots to the pants, jacket and hat.
In March 2006, the Air Force announced that the new Airman Battle Uniform was ready for production, to be available in FY 2007. In addition to the new camouflage pattern, the ABU incorporates changes determined by research and surveys of USAF personnel.
Airmen deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait in late 2007 were issued ABUs. Basic Military Trainees were issued ABUs in October 2007. The mandatory wear date for the Airman Battle Uniform is expected to be FY2011 (1 October 2011) after which the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and desert combat uniforms (DCU) will no longer be authorized.
Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) Improved Design
The ABU is easier to maintain with little out-of-pocket expense for cleaning. The ABU is wash and wear with a permanent crease that does not require dry cleaning. It will be offered in 50-50 nylon-cotton blend permanent press fabric eliminating the need for winter and summer weight uniforms.
The ABU has four pockets on the front of the shirt, a small pencil pocket on the left forearm and two pockets on the lower legs. In addition, inside the side pockets and inside of the breast pockets there will be smaller sewn-in pockets to hold small tools, flashlights or cell phones. As much as possible, the pockets are positioned so they are accessible when wearing body armor.
The ABU is produced in an expanded range of sizes, tailored for men and women. The size range for ABUs has increased to 236 sizes as opposed to the BDUs 57 sizes. Most users will be able to achieve an almost custom fit from the standard ABU sizes.
One caution, the ABU should not be laundered using soap with optical brightness in it. Detergent containing optical brighteners causes the fabric of the ABU to become more visible in the darkness under certain kinds of light.
Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) Accessory Items
A tan T-shirt will be worn; Airmen will be required to maintain one tan T-shirt with an Air Force logo on the front and Air Force written on the back. T-shirts may be v-neck, crew neck or athletic style. Airmen may wear self-purchased T-shirts made of material other than what is issued. Specifically, moisture wicking fabrics and cotton/poly blends are authorized as long as they are sand colored and the manufacturer's logo is not visible.
The word color for the Airman's name, U.S. Air Force, and rank is midnight blue; name tapes and rank insignia background will be tan and will be sewn on using a matching tan color thread. ABUs will not have patches or unit emblems.
The ABU adopts the battle dress uniform hat style for primary use and the floppy hat design will be used in some deployed areas. The ABU hats and authorized berets are the only hats authorized to wear with ABUs.
Suede cowhide boots in matching "foliage green" color (grey-green) are standard with the ABU. Like the desert boot these will be polish-free and available in menís and womenís sizes. Tan combat boots are authorized with the ABU until the ABU boots become available. Black combat boots are not authorized to wear with ABUs.
ABU clothing items cannot be mixed and worn with any BDU or DCU items. The Air Force has chosen to use the Army universal camouflage pattern for tactical items. The policy authorizes AOR wear or use of tactical items and field items only in the Army universal camouflage pattern or the DCU pattern. Tactical items include such things as body armor, MOLLE gear, canteen covers, helmet covers, etc.
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