The Army Combat Uniform, or ACU, is a new combat uniform (battledress) to be worn by the United States Army. It uses a universal camouflage pixelated pattern of camouflage. It blends green, tan, and gray to work effectively in woodland, desert, and urban environments. It also features numerous design improvements based on input from soldiers.
The process of replacing the Army's current BDU "woodland" pattern (used since 1981) with the ACU was to begin in April 2005; however, the process actually began two months earlier through the Rapid Fielding Initiative and is scheduled to be completed by December 2007. Currently, multiple camouflage patterns and caps are in use at Army posts.
The ACU and its component materials will be manufactured by the existing industrial infrastructure in the U.S., which produces the current battle dress uniform.
Related Army Site: U.S. Army Combatives
The Army Combat Uniform
The color black was omitted from the uniform to distinguish it from the Marine Corps colors and to minimize the color black, which, according to the Army, is not commonly found in nature .
The olive drab, tan, and green battle dress uniforms are now replaced by a neutral gray-green and light tan with dapples.
In combat, the gray would tend to match the environment after use; for example, dust could cover up the gray. Gray is also a neutral color and thus, does not tend to catch the eye as more saturated colors would. Body armor is being made to match the camouflage, although it is not in common use yet as the Army transitions to the new uniform. Often, body armor is mismatched with components of the desert uniform and is replaced when units get the new body armor in the form of conversion kits that allow the current armor's camouflage material to be replaced by the ACU style material.
The cost to each soldier is $76 per uniform, as compared to $58 for a BDU, but clothing allowances in soldiers' pay have been adjusted to compensate for the more expensive uniform. All insignia is at an extra cost, as are name tapes and branch tapes. Soldiers who purchase uniforms from websites or surplus stores generally have to purchase IR squares to be sewn on.
In peacetime, the colorful red, white, and blue American flag is worn instead of the subdued infrared-absorbent version. Subdued unit patches are always worn. The full-color U.S. flag cloth replica is worn so that the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the reverse side flag.
Special skill badges worn are of a pin-on variety only. The skill tabs, which are the President's Hundred Tab, Ranger, Sapper, and Special Forces are worn on the left sleeve pocket flap. Out of the four authorized skill tabs, only 3 may be worn at any one time on the ACU. A tab that is an integral part of a unit patch, such as the "mountain" or "airborne" tab, are not counted against the 3 tab only rule. The Army Black Beret is authorized for use with the ACU.
Sewn on rank is only authorized on the ACU Patrol Cap, ACU Boonie Hat, and Kevlar Camouflage cover.
The U.S. Army Chaplaincy insignia is the only authorized branch insignia to be worn on the ACU. It is centered 1/8 inch above the U.S. Army name tape. The insignia must be pinned on, vice sewn on.
In garrison, the infrared (IR) squares are to be covered with the tabs. In the field, the tabs can be folded back and hook-fastened to the underside of the pocket flap, exposing the IR squares.
Unlike BDUs, ACUs are not to be starched. As per the ALARACT message amending AR 670-1, "Soldiers will not starch the Army Combat Uniform under any circumstances. The use of starch, sizing, and any process that involves dry-cleaning or steam press will adversely affect the treatments and durability of the uniform and is not authorized."
The jacket is worn hook fastened and zipped. The Mandarin collar is normally worn down. The jacket must not extend below the top of the cargo pocket and must not be higher than the bottom of the side pocket.
Sleeves are required to be worn down at all times. Unlike with BDUs, rolling sleeves is not permitted.
The hook fasteners for internal pads on the elbows and knees must be closed at all times.
In addition the pant legs must be bloused and must not extend pass the three eye-et of the boots as per AR 670-1
Starching the uniform has been shown to result in discoloration. Additionally, personnel have been instructed that the uniform must be washed with a mild detergent that does not contain "optical brighteners." Detergents with optical brighteners may cause discoloration to the uniform, which would nullify the purpose of the very specific camouflage design and result in possible unwanted detection of personnel using the uniforms in combat.