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Singing the ACU Blues

by Ward Carroll on April 9, 2007

Below is a response from PEO Soldier to Military.coms story The Army Uniform Doesnt Measure Up — which was posted April 5, 2007.

Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier welcomes Soldier feedback on all its products, including the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). Feedback from Soldiers has already led to several improvements to the uniform, many of which have been incorporated in ACUs delivered since March 2006.

The ACU is intended to last an average of 180 days in combat. It is made of the same 50/50 nylon/cotton blend fabric as the Enhanced Hot Weather Battle Dress Uniform (EHWBDU) and Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) with the addition of a wrinkle-free treatment. Technical testing has shown ACU fabric exceeds all of the performance requirements, including tear strength, of the BDU and DCU fabric. Soldier feedback indicates they generally prefer the functionality of ACU over the BDU, especially while wearing Interceptor Body Armor.

Operational requirements call for the ability to quickly strip the ACU of all identifying patches. Given the state of todays technology, that means hook and loop backing for cloth patches and pins and clutches for metal badges. The ACU uses hook and loop fasteners extensively. A durability problem with some of the early production of the fasteners was identified. Incorporating an improved hook tape with stiffer backing, alternate methods of sealing the edges of the tape, and improved sewing methods significantly improved the fasteners durability.

Soldiers also identified a problem with the closure on the trouser cargo pocket. This issue was traced to the hook tape which is apparently causing the loop tape to stretch and lose holding power. PEO Soldier is working with the suppliers of hook and loop tape to resolve this. Meanwhile, the cargo pocket has an elastic drawcord with a barrel lock that acts as a backup closure.

In response to the durability of the crotch, it has been redesigned using a heavier thread, more fabric in the seam, and stronger stitches. This redesign has more than doubled the strength of the crotch. Additionally, PEO-Soldier is awarding contracts to incorporate repairs to strengthen the crotch of the earlier ACU trousers still in the supply system.

Fire resistant (FR) uniforms are the subject of a recent Operational Need Statement (ONS) to provide additional FR uniforms. PEO-Soldier developed a fire resistant version of the ACU that provides similar FR protection to Nomex, but offers improved durability, breathability, moisture wicking, and comfort. ACU production contracts have been amended to produce the FR ACU, and deliveries are expected to begin July 2007.

There has been much discussion about the Universal Camouflage Pattern used on the ACU. Extensive laboratory and field tests were conducted on 11 candidate patterns and colors during development. MultiCam, then called Scorpion, was one of the patterns subjected to a series of laboratory and field evaluations, in multiple, realistic, operational environments under varied terrain and lighting conditions in 2003-04. The camouflage pattern selected was determined to provide the best overall effective concealment in multiple, operational environments, including urban, woodland, and desert scenarios.

The lighter colors required to obtain effective camouflage in multiple environments have posed a challenge for stain removal. Extensive laundry tests of the ACUs have been conducted to determine if the ACU soils more easily that the darker woodland BDU. Tests show the ACU and BDU stain similarly, but the darker color of BDUs hid stains. PEO-Soldier has been working with industry to incorporate a stain-release finish without compromising the performance of the wrinkle-free finish or other treatments, such as permethrin.

PEO-Soldier remains fully committed to incorporating Soldier feedback in the continual improvement of the ACU.

– Christian

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