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The Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) is a service-distinctive camouflage battledress uniform for the United States Air Force. It replaced the Battle Dress Uniform on 1 November 2011 after a four-year phase-in period.
2003–2006: Prototypes and testing
The first prototype of the ABU was unveiled in the summer of 2003, based on the Vietnam War-era Tigerstripe pattern. The early uniform prototypes consisted of trousers, an embroidered undershirt, and a blouse. The camouflage pattern, developed by Tiger Stripe Products and based upon their popular copyrighted Original Vietnam Tiger Stripe, was a blue/gray, tiger stripe pattern.
After months of "wear testing", Air Force officials revised the color scheme and camouflage pattern due to feedback received from Airmen. The new elementary semi-pixelated tiger pattern would trade its dominant blue overtones for a more subdued palette, which still includes some blue tones. However, few of the functional recommendations made by Airmen in the field were implemented into the uniform which remains very similar in design to the older BDU style uniforms. This has been a subject of many complaints from Airmen returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan who had been wearing the Airman Combat Uniform (ACU) as a temporary issue uniform. These complaints include the ABU's inability to keep Airmen cool while working in desert conditions due to the thickness of the material (13 ounces) and large interior "map" pockets, lack of storage space and the low ease of use with government issue personal body armor. While not officially recommended, USAF Airmen can cut the pockets out of the inside of the blouse because it does not alter the outer appearance of the uniform.
2007: The ABU makes its debut
On 2 October 2007, the Air Force began issuing the ABU to enlisted trainees in Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB and was issued to the Class of 2012 at the United States Air Force Academy on 26 June 2008, and is now available for purchase by all Airmen. Since 2008, it has been issued to Airmen deploying to locations in CENTCOM, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Personnel in other countries were issued DCU uniforms while inventory lasted. The ABU is available at Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) military clothing stores. Although the Air Force has officially recognized color variations in different set of ABUs, all variations are currently authorized to wear and the problem should be fixed when the patterns are finalized within a year.
2009: Airman Battle Shirt introduced
Starting in 2009, airmen who were deployed or training for deployment were issued the new Airman Battle Shirt (ABS). The ABS was developed by Massif Mountain Gear and based on the Army Combat Shirt (ACS). Like the ACS, the ABS is a stand-alone shirt designed specifically for use with Improved Outer Tactical Vest armor in warm and hot weather. It is intended to greatly increase user comfort through the use of lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable fabrics. Since it is only issued to deployed or predeployed airmen, the ABS is not authorized for wear outside of the deployed setting. The ABS features the same tiger stripe pattern on the sleeves as the ABU features.
In June 2011, The Air Force Times released the announcement of a summer weight ABU to be available in 2012. The Improved Airman Battle Uniform will be made of a 50–50 nylon-cotton blend and is the same material used by the Army for the ACU. Just like the ABU, the IABU is machine washable and also wrinkle resistant. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz gave approval of the IABU coat and pants which will be available to trainees at Basic Military Training first. No special allowance will be given to troops since they are not being forced to buy the uniform, although it will cost about the same as the current ABU.
The ABU became mandatory (completely replacing the BDU and DCU) on 1 Oct 2011, marking the beginning of fiscal year 2012, though most airmen had been wearing the ABU for several years by that point.
In May 2012, the Air Force changed the terminology of the new ABU uniforms to RABU (Rip-stop Airman Battle Uniform). "U.S. Air Force - Mobile"
2016: Civil Air Patrol adopts the ABU
The Air Force's civilian auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol, wear-tested the ABU in late 2015. In May 2016, the national commander of the Civil Air Patrol issued a memorandum allowing the wear of the ABU effective June 15, 2016. However, the uniform is worn with dark blue name tapes (with white lettering) and insignia cloth and black boots in order to distinguish CAP personnel.
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