HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- As the U.S. Air Force debates switching from its Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) to the Army's Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform, troops here gave Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson a sneak peek into the possible replacement's fit and function.
Wilson changed into an OCP-pattern uniform Thursday before attending a mission demonstration by an Air Force Special Operations Command special tactics team at Hurlburt and Eglin Air Force Base's training ranges.
During the exercise, she spoke with airmen about their opinions on the uniform.
"The focus has been, 'How do we make it easier [and] what works for airmen,' " Wilson told Military.com the next day. Military.com accompanied her on the base visit.
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The uniform must be right "for both men and women. From a cost perspective, but also from a functional perspective," she said.
Reiterating feedback from airmen during the trip, she added, "[A] uniform isn't only a uniform, it's a piece of equipment. And that's not a bad way to think about it. How do we give our airmen the equipment that they need to be lethal and do their job?"
Airmen have criticized the ABU -- first issued to recruits in 2007 -- because they are required to add it to their wardrobe but don't utilize it as much as other uniforms, many say.
AFSOC officials said OCP is more about switching camo patterns, not necessarily getting an altogether new uniform.
Airmen and pilots operating downrange already wear the Army Aircrew Combat Uniform, known as the A2CU, which has OCP-patterned fabric and the same fire-retardant properties as a flight suit.
But some airmen also wear a two-piece, OCP-pattern camo utility pattern that does not have the same fire retardant material; it does have different pocket placement and velcro closures, among other characteristics.
The cost associated with switching uniforms is another concern.
According to a leaked presentation, titled "ABU to ACU-OCP Transition Decision" and posted in March on the Facebook page Air Force Amn/Nco/Snco, it would cost roughly $450 million to switch airmen to the ACU within 24 months if the start date begins Oct. 1.
That's only if the Air Force wants to move as quickly as possible. Other options include pushing the decision to next year, costing the service $125 million for a 48-month transition, with all airmen receiving new uniforms by 2024.
But there are advantages to streamlining the service to a single combat uniform. And the current uniform often requires tailoring to fit properly, Wilson said.
For example, the service is working on how to best accommodate female pilots and aircrew with uniforms and gear that fit well.
Wilson said the Air Force has come up short in that area.
"Women have been integrated into the force for a long time, and some of uniforms still don't fit right. And not just our uniforms, [but] our equipment," she said. "We're trying to make sure [OCP] works for all airmen, not just some airmen."