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BDS – The Grey Uniform That Almost Was

Long before Wolf grey there was something else. In the early 1990s Army Special Operations Command experimented with a layered clothing system called Battle Dress System. Leveraging the original Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) it featured a Capilene Next to Skin layer, Fleece mid-layers including a bib and jacket, a Gore-Tex undergarment and an outer layer called the SOF BDU. The underlayers became the Lightweight Environmental Protection (LEP) component of SPEAR. It was quite popular with those that used it offering material and design improvements over ECWCS which was just beginning to see widespread fielding.

The SOF BDU was a solid grey combat jacket and trouser. These were essentially over garments that were intended to be worn as an outerlayer, over any combination of the other components depending on the weather. The material was new and consisted on Nylon, Cotton and Kevlar for increased abrasion resistance. The design of the jacket was unlike anything else in the inventory with large Napoleon pockets on the chest and a hood that could be stored in the collar. It also boasted pit zips for ventilation, a rank tab on the chest and pockets mounted on the sleeves. The pants were quite similar to the M1950 field trouser and incorporated thigh tapes designed to help stabilize the load in the cargo pockets. They also added a zippered lower leg opening in order facilitate donning and doffing.

Today, when readers learn about BDS and the Charcoal colored Gore-Tex undergarment they are surprised that it wasn’t the outer most layer but beginning in the mid-80s there were lightweight 3-layer undergarments available commercially. This was before ECWCS or other camouflage shells were commonly available. The Gore undergarments were used by a variety of troops and worn under their BDUs in order to maintain camouflage. It also gave them a lightweight waterproof breathable layer.

With its solid grey color the item was rejected. Primarily due to institutional prejudice. When LEP was adopted finally adopted later in the decade, it was without the SOF BDU.

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23 Responses to “BDS – The Grey Uniform That Almost Was”

  1. Bushman says:

    Grey is just great. Speaking of camouflage properties of such a color, we should always keep in mind, that every object receiving the light, diffused by the environment. It does not mean, that patch of grey fabric turns green in the grass, but it will be greener. So the only thing we should worry about is optical density – grey could be too dark or too light. Amount of light, absorbed by grey fabric should be as equal as possible to light absorption of environment. It’s much easier to achieve than color matching. And it’s not like famous broken clock that shows right time twice per day.

    • Golf1echo says:

      Agree grey is a very usefull color, often it’s hue is referred to as 10%-90%, with 50% being a med. or 1-9. Grey typically will mute the colors adjacent to it, black will intensify it, so grey 8-9 would start to make green greener… This is why grey has such a potential.
      Best/

  2. brian abrams says:

    Eric,

    The Gore-Tex under layer you were to was then called “Stealth GTX”. At Adventure Tech, I produced a great deal of this and it was primarily distributed commercially by US Cav. We produced it in both brown(1/2 way between coyote and tan) and black. The top was simple…full zip, elasticized cuffs and no pockets.
    It had a more breathable membrane than used in outwear and was not seam taped…so not waterproof.

    brian abrams

  3. Angry Misha says:

    Is that a young….?

  4. Lawrence says:

    I remember you mentioned this clothing system briefly once before – thanks for bringing it up again.

    The thought occurs to me that if the outer layer (SOF BDU) had been made in the standard issue Woodland and Desert camouflage patterns (or some new, cutting-edge pattern like Dual-Tex), then it might have actually stood a very good chance of being adopted.

    It also strikes me that the heritage of the SOF BDU can be seen in the current PCU outer-layer.

    All in all, certainly an interesting case of “what could have been”.

  5. AJ says:

    A bit off topic, but does the feller on the far right have more hands than usual?

  6. JES says:

    Green, brown, and grey are traditional German hunting colors. Also, camo is frowned upon in traditional hunting circles.

  7. mark says:

    amazing how far the uniform system has progressed since my time in USAEUR in the mid 80’s. at that time I didnt think it could get any better than the 1950 field pant. thanks to the Germans for having a boot suitable for the weather there. its great the troops nowadays can at least stay a little warmer/drier and focused on their mission. another interesting SSD piece!

  8. OC Tactical says:

    Don’t think the two were related, but I recall in the 90’s the OPFOR at NTC had what appeared to be ECWCS jackets in either a grey or light OD color. I remember trying to work a trade for one when I was an augmentee there, never did get any takers though.

    • SSD says:

      Nothing to do with one another. BDS was submitted to SEP multiple times by USASOC and rejected each time.

    • Buckaroomedic says:

      Yup, we were issued a complete set of the ECWCS Gore-Tex in a light “field gray” color. They were exactly like the Woodland camo Gore-Tex, just gray.

  9. Kage Yohei says:

    Almost was? It’s a bit more than almost was I’ve got a full seven layer system of ECWCS referred to as PCU gear in grey, mind you the fleece and under layers are all in tan but all the Gortex items are grey. It’s SOF specific gear so I’d say that it found a way into reality.

    • Strike-Hold! says:

      True – I was referring to the outer-layer.

    • Fudman says:

      The color of PCU outer garments was technically called “alpha green” but looks like a medium-light grey to most observers and the inner garments were in coyote brown. The original wet weather level 6 was coated nylon, due to cost concerns, but was eventually replaced by Gore Tex. And Gen III ECWCS followed the introduction of PCU and mirrors many of the levels and concepts introduced by PCU.

  10. Wade says:

    I miss Adventure Tech. The Silent Strike Viper Jacket is still one of the best hunting jackets (quiet) I have on the rack and their Gore-Tex over pants with the big cargo pockets are hall of fame shell layer worthy.

    Too bad they are not around anymore as a stand alone company.

    Wade

  11. Hobey says:

    OC TAC,
    We made a couple thousand Grey ECWCS jackets for the NTC in about ’93-4. It was a departure from the endless Woodland and 3 color desert parkas.

    • OC Tactical says:

      That augmentee rotation was in 95 I think, so I’m sure it’s the same jackets. I always wanted one of those, but not once ever say any pop up for sale.

  12. Hugh says:

    Thanks for posting this again!
    Any idea on where to dig up more info on that outer gray jacket and pants design? I have tried to examine the jacket close up but can’t get a closer picture.
    Possible future home sewing project down the road.