Army Combat Uniform (ACU)

On 14 June 2004, the Army's 229th birthday, officials unveiled the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU) designed with major input by the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Corps and enlisted Soldiers, and tested by Army’s Fort Lewis, Washington-based 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade) soldiers in Iraq since October 2003.

Soldier in Army Combat Uniform (2004)
Soldier in Army Combat Uniform (2004).

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Army Combat Uniform (ACU)

Soldier in Army Combat Uniform (ACU)

The Army Combat Uniform (ACU), initially fielded in 2004, is the Army's first major change to its Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) since 1981. ACU is based on a computer-generated, three-color digital camouflage pattern printed on a wash-and-wear, rip-stop cotton-and-polyester blend fabric. Three different versions of the ACU were developed, and more than 10,000 uniforms were produced and battle-tested in the sands of Iraq and at Army training centers. ACUs were issued to deploying units starting in April 2005 with follow-on fielding of 15,000 per month to equip the total Army by December 2007.

The ACU consists of a jacket, trousers, moisture wicking t-shirt and brown combat boots. It will replace both versions of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) and the desert camouflage uniform. The black beret will be the normal headgear for the ACU, but there is a matching patrol cap to be worn at the commander’s discretion.

ACU Waist

Every modification made on the uniform was designed with a specific purpose based actual wartime requirements determined by feedback from field troops. The waistband of the new BDU trouser is secured with an inside drawstring, instead of metal buckles. Patches and tabs are affixed to the uniform with Velcro to give the wearer more flexibility and to save the soldier money because they can take name-tapes and patches off their uniforms before laundering, which will add to the lifecycle of the patches. The age-old practice of sewing the patches on will also be eliminated.

In addition to the overall pattern and color changes, the ACU design changes include:

  • Mandarin collar that can be worn up or down
  • Rank insignia affixed above right chest pocket
  • Velcro for wearing unit patch, skill tabs and recognition devices
  • Zippered front closure
  • Elbow pouch for internal elbow pad inserts
  • Knee pouch for internal knee pad inserts
  • Elastic leg cuff
  • Tilted chest pockets with Velcro closure
  • Three-slot pen pocket on bottom of sleeve
  • Velcro sleeve cuff closure
  • Shoulder pockets with Velcro
  • Forward tilted cargo pockets
  • Integrated blouse bellows for increased upper body mobility
  • Integrated Friend or Foe Identification Square on both left and right shoulder pocket flap
  • Bellowed calf storage pocket on left and right leg
  • Moisture-wicking desert tan t-shirt
  • Patrol Cap with double thick bill and internal pocket
  • Improved Hot-weather and Temperate-weather Combat Boots

ACU Boot

The uniform will be made only in summer weight fabric, which soldiers have said they prefer to the heavy winter-weight fabric that is now an option. The new Army boots come in two versions, both of which are tan-colored suede: a hot-weather version; and a "temperate climate" boot with Gor-Tex liner.

The uniform also includes a sewn-on anti-fratricide identifier patch made of a special material, which troops call "glint tape," because it glimmers under night-vision goggles and lets other U.S. service members know that a soldier is a friend, not a foe.

At least one change in the uniform was made for morale reasons: the elimination of officers’ branch identifier on the collar, eliminated because some branches are considered more prestigious than others. offers many of the ACU uniforms and components.

Universal Camouflage Pattern

Command Sergeant Major James E. Diggs, Europe Regional Medical Command, wearing Universal Camouflage ACU
Command Sergeant Major James E. Diggs, Europe Regional Medical Command, wearing Universal Camouflage ACU.

The original digital print camouflage pattern was developed by the Marine Corps who introduced the new MARPAT uniform in January 2001. The Marines' pattern was based on a computerized digital printout of pixels, which research proved blends better into the environment than the traditional camo design of large splotches.

The Army removed the color black because it is not a color commonly found in nature. Green-woodland, grey-urban environments and sand brown-desert patterns were tried, but the final decision for the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) was the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP). The UCP was not a 100-percent solution in every environment, but was expected to be a good solution across the board.

However, dissatisfaction with the ACU in field use grew as it failed to perform in many environments. The Army responded with tests of new designs to replace it. In 2010, the U.S. Army began to issue the ACU in the MultiCam® camouflage pattern, initially for troops deploying to Afghanistan. MultiCam® was preferred by many military professionals and had been used by Special Forces and foreign military units befofe being accepted generally. By mid-2012, four designs (MultiCam® included) had been picked for a final run-off to determine a successor to UCP.

Fire Resistant Army Combat Uniform (FR ACU)

Use of IED explosives by insurgents led to an increase in burn injuries sustained by U.S. forces. In response, a new generation of Army Combat Uniforms made of fire resistant 6 oz. Defender M® fabric was fielded.

The FR ACU is made with the same pattern as the non-FR ACU, with the small exception of additional 1x1 inch tabs affixed to the left sleeve cuff on the coat, and the left cargo pocket flap of the trouser. The tab allows leaders to quickly and easily identify that their Soldiers are wearing FR uniforms. Its FR properties provide the warfighter with extra seconds of protection before the material combusts, and once combustion occurs, it quickly self-extinguishes when the heat source is removed. The fabric does not melt or drip, furthering reducing chances of injury to the wearer.

In late 2007, the Army began issuing two FR ACUs and two non-FR ACUs per deploying Soldier, and, in early 2008, four FR ACUs.

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