New uniforms: Comfortable, functional are goals

  • Published
  • By Col. Steve Gray
  • 77th Aeronautical Systems Group Human Systems Program Office
Officials from the Uniform Program Office here continue to work for Airmen, researching and purchasing uniforms that provide more function, protection and comfort.

The Air Force chief of staff met with office personnel April 21 for an update on clothing issues Airmen face as they support global mission requirements.

Gen. Norton Schwartz said addressing current and near-term uniform needs takes precedence over introducing long-range new initiatives.

"It is paramount that we provide fully functional and appropriate uniforms for our Airmen as they carry out our worldwide, joint mission," General Schwartz said. "It's critical that we respond to Air Force uniform needs since they affect every Airman, every day -- so we need to get it right."

Changes are also in the works for the airman battle uniform. "Too hot" is how many Airmen described the current ABU. After working with other services and industry textile experts, Air Force officials will field a lighter weight fabric for the ABU coat. Called the improved airman battle uniform, the ABU coat will be updated with a durable, lighter weight, and more comfortable fabric.

To further reduce weight, the IABU design will remove the inner coat liner and interior pockets. The lighter weight IABU will replace the current ABU coat for both summer and winter wear. Prior to production, the Air Force Uniform Office staff will verify the fabric can be consistently manufactured to avoid color variation experienced with the initial ABU rollout. Projected availability date is summer 2010 and will be phased in as current inventories are exhausted.

Also known as the all-purpose environmental camouflage parka, the ABU cold weather parka has been short in supply, forcing extended wear of the battle dress uniform camouflage parka. Working with officials from the Defense Logistics Agency and AAFES suppliers, increased production of APEC parkas is underway. Over 145,000 APEC parkas have been delivered to date, with a total of 400,000 projected to be delivered by the end of 2009.

Since introduction of the ABU, multiple variants of the sage green boots include standard issue, cold weather, hot weather, temperate weather, aircrew, and steel toe, and each is certified and fielded to meet Airmen's needs.

However, Airmen working in maintenance, industrial, and medical areas have vocalized difficulty in keeping the suede green boots clean. As an interim solution, Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, recently issued a policy allowing commanders to authorize wear of black boots in specific industrial work areas.

The Air Force Uniform Office staff is investigating stain-resistant materials that facilitate boot care. The results of an initial test in March 2009 did not show marked improvement over the current design. As a follow-on effort, a second boot wear test will begin this summer to evaluate alternative concepts from industry.

General Schwartz said if the follow-on test "doesn't work, this will be the last test and we'll go back to something that does work (in industrial areas)."

In response to a U.S. Air Force Central Command requirement to increase protection for Airmen in ground combat roles, the Human Systems Program Office staff with technical assistance from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is fielding fire-resistant equipment to protect Airmen from burns caused by explosive devises or fire experienced during ground combat.

Beginning in March 2009, fire-resistant equipment is being issued to many Airmen prior to deployment. Specifically, Airmen in ground combat roles receive fire resistant equipment to include the airman battle shirt, a fire-resistant combat shirt worn under body armor, and the airman battle ensemble, a fire-resistant version of the ABU with different pocket configuration.

Unlike uniforms that are available to all Airmen, this fire-resistant equipment is issued to Airmen for specific missions. Therefore, with the exception of predeployment training, this equipment is not authorized for wear as a uniform item outside the area of responsibility.

Airmen's feedback directly helped lay the groundwork for significant improvements of the physical training gear. The new PT fabric received positive response from test participants and has been approved for production by General Schwartz.

After extensive prototype design testing, the following changes are on-track for fielding new PT uniforms in September:
-- The improved PT running suit redesign includes a thinner, more flexible fabric to address common complaints about fabric "noise," and streamlines the design by removing the collar hood and shoulder vents. The improved design also reduces bulk by decreasing the amount of fabric in the running jacket mid-section and pants lower leg. Additionally, a new liner includes antimicrobial properties and will shed moisture at a faster rate than the current version. 
-- Improved PT shorts to be introduced this year feature a softer, more flexible fabric, side-pockets, increased inseam length, and redesigned inner liner. 
-- An improved PT shirt resembles the current short-sleeve shirt, but will feature a lighter weight, higher performance fabric with moisture wicking properties and odor reduction. 
-- The Air Force has also authorized optional PT gear for wear. A new long sleeve T-shirt and sweatshirt are now available for purchase through the Army Air Force Exchange System. In addition, optional running shorts will be introduced this summer. 

Over the past several years, Air Force leaders considered replacing the current Air Force service dress coat with a design similar to the version worn in 1946 by Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold.  Known as the "Heritage Coat," an evaluation was recently conducted to assess several prototype designs.

To keep the focus on near-term uniform needs, General Schwartz directed that no further effort be made on the Heritage Coat project at this time. The complete project will be available to Air Force leaders should they deem implementation appropriate in the future.

Visit the Air Force Portal under the Portal Quick Link "Uniform Information" for additional information and updates. 

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