The Close Combat Uniform (CCU) was a limited-issue, US Army trials uniform (circa 2003-2004) that heralded a new generation of US Army combat clothing, the first change to the US Army soldier’s combat attire since the introduction of the Battle Dress Uniform in the early 1980s.
The Army’s search for a new combat uniform began as part of the Objective Force Warrior Program (later Future Force Warrior) at Natick Laboratories, an effort to bring the US Army combat soldier into greater combat readiness for the the 21st century. Following a period of theoretical and developmental brainstorming, Natick released preliminary uniform prototypes for testing in May of 2002. A multitude of new camouflage schemes were evaluated as part of these trials, including separate patterns designed to function best in woodland, desert and urban environments. Developers also worked on improvements to the combat uniform design itself, addressing the needs of a modern infantry soldier carrying a combat load and equipment significantly different from that of his predecessor 20-30 years ago.
The results of these preliminary tests produced what eventually came to be known as the “Close Combat Uniform” (or CCU), referred to by some designers as a “concept uniform.” The first CCU (Prototype 1) was produced in January 2003 and evaluated by a test team of Stryker soldiers at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The comments, suggestions, and observations of the training team were then incorporated into the development of a second uniform (Prototype 2) that was evaluated by a different team of Stryker soldiers at the Joint Training and Readiness Center, in Fort Polk, Louisiana.
By the third stage of testing and evaluation, the concept uniform had been named the “Close Combat Uniform” (CCU), and was produced in larger numbers for testing and evaluation at the unit level using at least four different camouflage patterns. The known camouflage patterns tested at this stage were: the standard US m/81 “woodland” rip-stop, the standard US tri-colour desert rip-stop, an experimental urban pattern (referenced by evaluators as “Urban Tracks”), and an “all-terrain” type camouflage developed in conjunction with Crye Industries called the “Scorpion” pattern. (The last camouflage pattern was later modified and commercially produced as “Multicam,” and has seen limited use as private purchase combat clothing by US Special Operations personnel in both Afghanistan and the Iraqi theaters of operation.)
There were several different tests held of these concept uniforms at various posts around the United States (one source suggests five). Initial tests were held at Natick Laboratories, followed by evaluation with the 3rd (Stryker) Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 1st (Stryker) Brigades of the 25th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, WA. It is also believed some uniforms were evaluated by elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, as well as unnamed personnel at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and at Fort Bliss, Texas. Members of the Stryker Brigades interviewed for this article indicated each battalion of the SBCT (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) was issued a certain type of camouflage concept uniform for testing. So, for example, 1st Battalion might have received the woodland version, 2nd Battalion the “Scorpion,” and 3rd Battalion the “Urban Tracks” versions.
Beginning in 2003, the “tricolour desert” version of the CCU was produced on a larger scale and fielded by elements of the (Fort Lewis-based) first two Stryker Brigades deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. These were the 3rd Brigade of 2nd Infantry Division (or 1st SBCT) and 1st Brigade of 25th Infantry Division (or 2nd SBCT). The tricolour desert CCU was produced by American Power Source in two contract runs, with the second run showing minor changes or improvements over the first. The first production run had contract number SPO106-03-D-0351, and the second production run had contract number SPM100-04-D-0367. Improvements to the second run included a reinforced area running around the collar and down the front zipper line of the jacket, and modification to the Velcro configuration on the sleeve pockets.
The CCU proved universally popular with soldiers of the Stryker Brigades, and in the subsequent months following their deployment it was not unheard of for soldiers in other units to seek sources of the uniform for their own use during combat deployment. Certain features of the CCU design (particularly the sleeve pockets and Velcro patches for insignia) were so well-liked that many soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan chose to have their standard issue Desert Combat Uniforms (DCUs) modified by professional tailor shops to include these features. Such modifications have been common within the special operations community since the Vietnam War, but it was largely thanks to the research and development that went into the CCU that they became more commonly known. Other features of the CCU, such as the foam padding, were rumoured to be universally disliked and quickly discarded by troops on operational deployment.
The CCU was never officially issued to any other elements of the US Army, and production ceased in 2004 to make way for the new Army Combat Uniform (ACU). By early 2006, CCUs had pretty well disappeared from the operational theater in which they were initially employed and are today becoming a rare commodity within the military and collecting communities. Their place in US military uniform history, however, is acknowledged as a significant chapter, and will hopefully be remembered by American uniform historians in the years to come.
The CCU jacket features a full zipper frontal closure, with Velcro patches to secure the flap over the zipper, a Mandarin-type collar secured with a Velcro tab, cuffs with 2" Velcro securing straps instead of buttons, two chest pockets (with Velcro-closing flaps aligned vertically), and forward-tilting upper sleeve bellows pockets (covered by "loop" Velcro in desert tan for affixing insignia). The elbow region is designed to accept grey close-celled foam pad inserts, which are secured in Velcro-closing "pockets," although in practice these foam pads were generally considered restricting and were usually removed and discarded. Velcro-backed insignia are worn on the sleeves (including unit sleeve patches, USA flag, and any qualification tabs such as RANGER or SAPPER). Name tag and US ARMY tape are in practice sewn directly above the pockets, with the rank insignia being centered over the right chest name tape. Qualification and combat awards (parachutist, air assault, Combat Infantryman Badge) have been observed on some jackets, sewn over the US ARMY tape at the left chest.
The CCU trousers feature standard type belt loops plus a drawcord adjustment system at the waist, two slash waist pockets at the front, and very large, bellowed cargo pockets with a diagonally aligned flap that secures with Velcro. The opening to the thigh pocket can be "cinched" by means of an internal cord of black elastic with a Cordura nylon push-button adjuster. Like the elbows on the jacket, the knee region is designed to accept grey close-celled foam pad inserts, which are secured in a Velcro-closing "pocket" at each knee. There are also smaller pockets at each calf that will accept a single M16/M4 30 round rifle magazine or equivalent sized object. The bottom cuffs are adjustable with ribbed nylon cords, and the seat of the trousers is reinforced in typical BDU-fashion.
In Action photos Copywright US DOD
Text Copywright Eric H Larson (2007)
All other photographs Paul Bishop Collection