Evolution of the US army combat uniform has come a long way since the first khaki battle fatigues

Army Uniforms have come a long way since the heavy tunics of the 15th and 16th centuries. Even now, army uniforms are evolving in tune to various modes of combat. Till 2014, the US Army wore the Regular UCP or Universal Camouflage Pattern, but then it all changed to the new Army combat uniform known as OCP or Operational Camouflage Pattern named the Scorpion W2. The OCP uniform will be phased out by 2018.


The US army combat uniform is a high tech operational uniform, designed to become the perfect camouflage gear for soldiers fighting in diverse terrains. Camouflage uniforms have been used by the US for the last 60 years where the typical camouflage military fatigues have a history dating back to a few centuries ago.

1 In earlier days, soldiers dressed for style not war

Khaki wasn’t chosen as a regulation Uniform for its pattern or style. Even today as we label Khaki a fashion, the clothing was a necessity that provided both camouflage and flexibility in tune with the battle terrain.


In earlier wars, the British were famous for their redcoats, the heavy plumed and embroidered scarlet tunics and white trousers fashioned after the colors of the then British flag. Red was the traditional color of the Tudor Rose and the uniform was worn to represent the Union Flag which was red and white.

In earlier days soldiers dressed for style not war

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2 The formation of a new agile regiment led to the evolution of the army uniform

With the expansion of the British East India Company in India, it soon became evident that the heavy tunics were unsuitable for combat given the nature of the mountainous terrain and agility required to tackle the warring Afghan tribesman of the Northwest frontier, which is now in Pakistan. Despite of retaining their pompous scarlet coats, an officer named Harry Lumsden did the unthinkable of razing a brand new regiment that would fight as cavalry in 1848 in Peshawar. It was named the Corps of Guides, which went on to gain fame for its legendary fighting skills. Locals too joined the unit but each man had to have his own horse.

The formation of a new agile regiment

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3 The Flexible and Terrain and Combat Friendly Material Called Khaki

The Corps of Guides adopted a more agile uniform, similar in color to the terrain. It became known as KHAKI, named after the Persian word khaki which meant “ash colored”. Because of its appeal and convenience, khaki soon became the first camouflage uniform in the latter half of the 19th century. It was adopted by most nations having colonial outposts and armies overseas.

What was weird however was that, while colonial troops wore khakis, British officers and NCO wore standard British uniforms. Wonder if that made them sitting ducks during war?!

The Flexible and Terrain

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4 In World War 1, Some French Soldiers Still Fought In Heavy Colored Tunics

It was downright weird that despite of the heavy and bright colored tunics being more suitable for a parade, some forces actually wore them in World War I in 1914. The French were a prime example for their blue and red uniforms that matched those worn during the Franco Prussian war of 1870.


However as war became deadlier and soldiers bogged down in trenches, khaki became a more acceptable form of battle fatigues. Camouflage tactics finally made an appearance with clever use of dead animals, netting, trees and bushes and creating false terrain to hide from aerial observation. Steel helmets also were painted in camouflage patterns and were first initiated by the Germans during World War 1.

In World War 1 Some French Soldiers Still Fought In Heavy Colored Tunics

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5 Khaki Adopted By the Us Army

Khaki was soon made the customary field uniform by US forces to be worn in summer. The US Marine Corps also started importing khaki uniforms from England to meet such requirements during World War II.

It was General Douglas MacArthur who insisted on 15,000 jungle camouflage uniforms to be produced for soldiers fighting in the Pacific. The uniform was designed by a horticulturist named Novell Gillespie and featured a design based on the colors green and brown. The uniform featured a total of five colors based on the climate and soon it was known as the “frogskin”.

Khaki Adopted By the Us Army

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6 The Birth of the Army Combat Uniform

After camouflage was first worn during the Solomon Islands Campaign in 1943, the top brass decided that it wasn’t suited to multi-terrain. Soldiers were then made to wear an army combat uniform of basic olive green made from cotton. Absolutely every part of the uniform matched perfectly, even down to the combat boots which had also evolved significantly from the initial style, which was far more reflective of fashion than function.

Soon various commando units such as the Navy seals, the Reconnaissance team ZETA and other Long Range Reconnaissance patrols started wearing their own individual style of camouflage suited to the nature of combat. The most common camouflage uniform that was then used worldwide was the grass green and mid-brown pattern that featured black branches spread across a lemon green background. This was ultimately chosen as the standard camouflage uniform accepted by armies around the world.

The Birth of the Army Combat Uniform

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7 The evolution of the ACU into a final high tech product

During the action of Operation Desert Storm and combat in the Gulf, battle fatigues underwent a change to become the Desert Battle Dress Uniform or DBDU in 1977, also known as the ‘Chocolate chip’. However while it did well in the deserts of California, it wasn’t well received in the Middle East and Africa.

The DBDU underwent another change to finally evolve into the Desert Camouflage Uniform and this was given the name “the coffee stain” by US forces. The DCU was then widely used in campaigns in the Middle East and Iraq. The DCU did not last and in 2014 it was ultimately changed into the high tech and sophisticated Army Combat Uniform based on the OCP and is being called Scorpion W2.

The evolution of the ACU into a final high tech product

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