Air Force develops new test version of field uniform

The new Air Force test uniform, with a subdued digital tiger-stripe pattern, is on the left. The original test colors, on the right, proved to be "too distinctive" for airmen who offered their opinions, Air Force officials said.


By LISA BURGESS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 3, 2004

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force’s first test version of its new field uniform was not a hit with the force, so the service has developed a new version that is a little less “distinctive,” according to Senior Master Sgt. Jacqueline Dean, chief of the Air Force Uniform Board.

The new test uniform uses almost the same subdued gray, tan and green the Army uses in its new battle dress uniforms.

While the Army and Marines are using a fully digitized computer-generated pattern on its fabric, the Air Force is using a computerized version of the tiger-stripe pattern of the first prototype.

The original prototype was introduced after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper decided last year that airmen needed something “distinctive” that would meet the needs of his service. It was a design that was a direct nod to the tiger-stripe jungle uniforms worn by U.S. troops in Vietnam.

Jumper wanted something other than the olive drab or desert-tan BDUs the Air Force now shares with the Army (except for flight crews and pilots, who wear green jumpsuits).

The colors of the prototype uniform included blue, green and tan. There was even a tiny, repeated “U.S. Air Force” motif embedded in the pattern.

The results of six months of tests and surveys are still not completely tallied, but service officials released one statistic Tuesday: 91 percent of wear-testers “loved being in a distinctive uniform,” Dean said.

However, “it was a little too distinctive,” she said.

The prototype was worn by a total of 700 airmen at seven bases for six months, starting this spring.

Officials also opened a Web site early this summer, asking for comment from active, reserve, and Air National Guard airmen.

A total of 100,000 airmen registered their comments, along with 25,000 additional airmen clothing whom officials polled in order to take a “more scientific sampling” of opinions, Dean said.

Along with the fabric’s color, the biggest negative reaction to the prototype was the lack of camouflage properties in the pattern, she said.

The Air Force’s answer to that issue was that “97 percent of the Air Force does not require a camouflage uniform,” Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said back in April.

“These [prototype] uniforms were never supposed to be worn on deployments,” Dean said Tuesday. “They were for garrison use.”

So if the Air Force had adopted the original pattern, the plan was for the 3 percent of the force that needs camouflage — mainly special operators — to be given uniforms “appropriate for the environments they work in,” Stephens had said.

And deployed airmen, she said, would have returned to wearing the Army’s DCUs if they were deployed, Dean said Tuesday.

With the new, subdued pattern, however, that plan has changed.

In fact, the new test audience for the uniform is not regular airmen, but special operators, who are the only group that will wear-test the second prototype, to check for its camouflage qualities, Stephens said Tuesday.