Battle Dress Uniform: Wikis


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Army National Guard troops during an exercise, wearing woodland BDUs. In the United States Army, the Battle Dress Uniform has been replaced with the Army Combat Uniform.
U.S. Army Soldiers from 82nd Airborne Division wearing standard woodland-colored BDUs.

Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) is the name of the military uniform that the armed forces of the United States have used as their standard uniform for combat situations since September 1981. It has either been replaced or is in the process of being replaced in every branch of the U.S. Military, though the uniforms or parts of them are still occasionally worn. On April 30, 2008 they officially became unauthorized in the United States Army. In addition, BDU-type uniforms are sometimes worn by police who may work in tactical situations, such as the DEA and SWAT.


Description and Adoption

These uniforms are called battle dress uniforms because they are intended for use during "battles", as opposed to "garrison" dress uniforms worn at parades and functions. Battle Dress Uniforms do not have a specific recognizable style; they may be either plain colored or in many different patterns of camouflage colors.

The Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) appeared in September 1981 in Woodland pattern, a four-color development in the earlier ERDL pattern based primarily on the woodland colors of Northern Europe. It used two shades of green, one of brown, and black dyed onto a cotton-nylon open-weave cloth blend. It was issued in two variants, a lighter temperate-weather design, and a heavier cotton winter-weight variant. The BDU soon replaced earlier camouflage pattern uniforms for all wooded, jungle, and tropical environments.


Since 1981, changes have included the elimination of buttoned waist adjustment tabs, the size reduction of the collar, and refinements in stitching and fit.

There were initially two issues of BDU, the Hot Weather BDU (HWBDU), and the Temperate Weather BDU (TWBDU). The Hot Weather BDU coat and trousers were constructed of 100 percent ripstop cotton, in a four-color woodland camouflage pattern. Temperate coat and trousers were a 50/50 nylon and cotton twill blend in a four-color woodland or desert camouflage pattern. However, after complaints of shorter wear and frayed cuffs, along with requirements imposed by unit commanders to starch the all-cotton uniform for parade, the Enhanced Hot Weather BDU (EHBDU) replaced both uniforms commencing in 1996. The EHWBDU are in essence the older Temperate Weather BDU, made with a somewhat lighter 50/50 ripstop nylon and cotton poplin blend.

BDU's may contain an Infrared protective coating. Near Infrared (NIR) Signature Management Technology is used by the U.S. Department of Defense to prevent detection by NIR Image Converters. These photocathode devices do not detect temperatures, but rather infrared radiation variances. NIR-compliant uniforms use a special fabric that allows soldiers to appear at the same radiation level as the surrounding terrain, thus making them more difficult to detect. It is advised not to use starch when cleaning or ironing BDU's, since starch weakens the fabric and ruins the infrared protective coating. A pair of BDU's that has been starched even once should not be worn in combat.

History of Camouflage Battle Uniforms

U.S. Air Force security troops training at Fort Huachuca in BDUs.


While the Italian Army was the first military organization to issue camouflaged clothing, the Germans were noted for their efforts in this field before the Second World War. After much trial, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (abbrev. OKW) authorized Heeres-Splittermuster 31, more commonly known as 'splinter pattern', for use in shelter-quarters (Zeltbahnen) in the 1930s. In 1940, SS-Verfügungstruppe (abbrev. SS-VT; renamed Waffen-SS) designed, tested and issued its own distinctive patterns and layout not long after.

The United States Marine Corps received its first military camouflage pattern in 1942, when the reversible, beach-jungle, three- and five-color frog-skin pattern uniform was issued, based on a 1940 trial design. The U.S. found it to be ineffective and the pattern was withdrawn in 1944 — in part because of anticipated friendly fire incidents before D-Day. Camouflaged helmet covers and shelters were issued in the 1950s in "wine leaf" and "brown cloud" patterns. The U.S. Army also tried a lesser-known camouflage uniform on D-Day and throughout the Normandy operations, like the Marine Corp's uniforms, but it was replaced by the M43 uniform before being used much.

Enter the United States military's four-color " ERDL" pattern. During Vietnam, it saw limited use amongst specialist units in the Army, though most were issued the solid olive green OG107 sateens or jungle fatigues, while the Marines adopted the pattern service-wide after 1968.

The ERDL pattern fatigues were identical in cut to the third-pattern OD jungle fatigues, and were available in both a highland pattern (more brown), and a lowland pattern (more green), though the lowland pattern was eventually phased out. Other, unofficial, patterns utilized in Vietnam included black-dyed or spray painted jungle fatigues, often used by special purpose forces, and various Vietnamese Tigerstripe patterns (themselves being based on French Army airborne and Foreign Legion patterns and a British design utilized in Malaysia), or commercial "duck hunter" patterns.

Recent Battle Dress Uniform Designs

U.S. Army soldiers wearing the new Army Combat Uniform, Desert Camouflage Uniform and a World War II-era uniform (L to R).

The U.S. Military have run trials of many camouflage patterns (some being used by foreign militaries), and issued environment-specific uniforms, notably the six-color "chocolate-chip camouflage" or Desert Battle Dress BDU designed in 1962, and the "night-time desert grid" (NCDBDU). Both uniforms were used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During that war, after initiatives by General Norman Schwarzkopf, the six-color Desert Battle Dress uniform was produced in 100% cotton poplin without reinforcement panels in order to improve comfort in hot desert conditions. All of these Desert BDUs were discontinued after the war.

The Desert Combat Uniform (DCU) in three-color desert camouflage were introduced in 1992, and was utilized in operations in Somalia (1993); it was in service in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start of hostilities, but the US Army and US Marine Corps have both replaced the DCU with newer uniforms (ACU and MCCUU, respectively). The DCU is colloquially called "coffee stains" by the soldiers wearing it. In testing, U.S. Army researchers found that as in other environments, the color of desert terrain varies, and can range from pink to blue, depending on the minerals in the soil and the time of the day. Since patches of uniform color in the desert are usually 10 times larger than those in wooded areas, it was decided to alter the existing six-color Desert BDU pattern. This led to the development of a three-color pattern DBDU, which was adopted. Three-color DCUs replaced the six-color Desert BDU pattern of the 1990s, although six-color desert camouflage helmet covers have continued in use with some U.S. troops since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Interestingly, the New Iraqi Army (trained by U.S. and multinational forces), wear surplus six-color Desert BDU uniforms; likely because much New Iraqi Army materiel is donated U.S. and Coalition equipment.

The development of modern camouflage patterns and the desire of the military branches to differentiate themselves has resulted in new patterns for uniforms. The Marine Corps was the first branch to replace their BDUs. The Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform uses the computer-generated MARPAT pattern and several other enhancements. It was approved for wear in June 2001, and the change-over was completed October 1, 2004.

An Army program running from 2005 to 2007 has largely replaced the BDU with the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU). This new uniform uses a digital pattern like MARPAT, but uses less saturated colors. The neutral colors, foliage green and sand, are designed to be used in desert, woodland, and urban combat situations. The ACU is used in all environments except for areas with snow, as the ACU works poorly against white. An all-white BDU and the ECWCS are used instead.

In 2007, the U.S. Navy began issuing a digital pattern Navy Working Uniform (NWU) in blue and gray on an experimental basis. While it is neither a tactical uniform nor a battle dress uniform, the NWU is intended to take the place of many existing work ensembles (utilities, wash khaki, coveralls, woodland green, and aviation green). The disruptive pattern is primarily intended to complement U.S. Navy ship colors and to hide stains and wear, and secondarily to make the wearer a less obvious visual target for hostile forces while working aboard a Navy vessel in port.[1] To meet the Navy's cold-weather requirement, the NWU set will include a fleece jacket, pullover sweater, and parka options. In addition, the Navy will also develop woodland and desert digital-pattern uniforms specially for sailors who need to work ashore (hospital corpsmen, Seabees, Master-at-Arms or SEALs). These uniforms will replace the seven different working uniforms currently in use.[1]

In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Air Force experimented with, but rejected, a blue-toned tigerstripe uniform. In 2006, a new BDU called the Airman Battle Uniform was adopted, using a semi-pixelated tiger pattern with four soft earth tones consisting of tan, grey, green and blue. It also has several other improvements. By 2007, it was in current production.[2]. In 2008, responding to criticism that the new Airman Battle Uniform was too heavy and hot in high-temperature environments, the USAF's 648th Aeronautical Systems Squadron at Brooks AFB revealed plans to switch to a lighter, more breathable fabric for the combat blouse section of the ABU. The original heavyweight nylon/cotton blend was changed to a lighter-weight nylon/cotton poplin material. Priority will go to those serving in the Middle East or other hot-weather theaters.[2]

The Coast Guard, has introduced the new Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) uniform in 2004 to replace the winter and summer "Undress Duty" uniform. Resembling the BDU fatigues, the new ODU uniforms retains the basic design of the old-style BDU uniforms, but with the lower pockets on the blouse being eliminated. The sleeves can be worn "folded up" in a manner similar to the old Army and Air Force BDUs (since disallowed with the new Army ACU) and the trousers "bloused" into the boots (unless boating shoes, especially for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, who patrols for the Coast Guard onboard privately owned watercraft), with the ODU black belt and blackened buckle being worn with the metal tip 2 to 4 inches from the buckle. The dark blue Coast Guard unit baseball-style cap is worn with this uniform. The ODU also has all of its allowable insignia sewn on, eliminating the chance of puncture wounds created by the pins if the individual suffers a blow to the chest while wearing a PFD or body armor. The ODU is not intended to be worn by Coast Guard units which engage in combat operations or are deployed overseas. These units continue to wear camouflage utilies.

Criticism of the BDU

General purpose lacking suitability
One continuing criticism of the BDU was that as a general-purpose battledress designed to save costs and promote durability, it lacked suitability for a number of specialized extreme environments and conditions. Uniform weight, along with heat and perspiration retention have been especially criticized. The extensive incorporation of uniform reinforcement panels and the large number of oversized pockets, utilized primarily for reasons of durability and convenience, tend to increase heat retention in hot-weather environments, mitigate the beneficial effect of the open-weave cloth, and increase the risk of skin diseases and inflammations in humid environments, especially in the thigh and groin areas, where double and even triple thicknesses of cloth are used.[3 ] In jungle and tropical regions, the carrying of large amount of gear in trouser and shirt pockets is generally unknown among other uniformed military forces, as the practice retains excessive body heat and promotes corrosion of carried items through perspiration.[3 ]
Open weave
The open-weave cloth construction of the BDU is also easily penetrated by insect stings and probosces in tropical, jungle, and other malarial environments, causing an increased risk of transmitted diseases such as malaria, even when pretreated with permethrin[4] or other repellent.[5] Since World War II, the U.S. Military has been aware of the problem of insect penetration of loosely-woven fabrics in tropical and jungle environments, issuing a tightly-woven Byrd Cloth (in Britain, Grenfell Cloth) tropical uniform of single-layer Egyptian cotton for jungle troops in 1943.[6][7]


See also




  1. ^ Strategy Page, Military Photos: The New Navy Work Uniform
  2. ^ Winn, Patrick, Better, Lighter ABU Blouse Is On The Way, Air Force Times, 9 May 2008
  3. ^ a b Kearny, Cresson H. (Maj), Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (1996), pp. 188-193, 369-373
  4. ^ Health Effects of Permethrin-Impregnated Army Battle-Dress Uniforms. Commission on Life Sciences (CLS). 1994). Retrieved March 3, 2009.  
  5. ^ Kearny, Cresson H. (Maj), Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (1996), pp. 188-193, 204, 369-373
  6. ^ Stanton, Shelby L., U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, Stackpole Books (1995) ISBN 0811725952, 9780811725958, p. 88
  7. ^ Kearny, Cresson H. (Maj), Jungle Snafus...And Remedies, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (1996), pp. 191-193, 369-373: The Byrd Cloth Experimental Tropical Uniform, a specialized jungle uniform, was designed with a short tail shirt instead of a battle jacket and a flap protected fly; the design maximized cooling of the body while reducing mosquito and insect bites as well as crawling insect migration (especially from leeches, chiggers, and ticks) in order to prevent transmission of potential diseases such as malaria and scrub typhus.
  8. ^

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