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Uniforms and Equipment

Opportunities from a new uniform development programme

Industrial Development

New Zealand grows a lot of wool but its textile industry lacks vertical integration. Designers rarely talk to research and development who rarely talk to growers. Military Uniform contracts provide an excellent opportunity to bring together design, manufacture and growing interests to develop solutions which could readily be translated to the outdoor wear industry.

By maintaining a constant research and development programme in conjunction with Univerities, CRIs, industry and growers the problem of military uniforms could become a significant industrial opportunity.

Defence Clothing

Defence forces wear uniforms in order to identify their unity of identity and purpose and to distinguish themselves from other defence forces. But as fighting forces they have always incorporated protection into their common appearance. They also wear different uniforms depending on the occasion. Dress uniforms are not the same as operational uniforms. Day wear is not the same as combat uniforms.
The following perspectives on uniforms need consideration:
  1. Protection (what a uniform protects from, and how)
  2. Functionality (what a uniform needs to provide to be useful)
  3. Semantic messaging (what a uniform says, and to whom)
  4. Style ( a completely personal viewpoint)
  5. Cost, durability and contracts


Protection is about the ability of the uniform to prevent its wearer suffering ill-health. Personnel in an office will only really suffer from ill-health if they don't exercise so office attire should not preclude that. Personnel in ceremonial situations can suffer from cold or rain, or over-heating. Personnel in the field can suffer ill-health from rain and cold, parasites (esp sandflies or mosquitoes), infection from filth, drowning, over-heating, fire and smoke, and falls. Personnel in combat can suffer ill-health from projectiles and splinters, explosive detonations, toxic gases or biological agents.
This identifies four levels of protection
  1. Combat: As operational but also protection from weapons
  2. Operational: requires protection from very bad weather, drowning, fire, insects and biocontaminants
  3. Indoor: requires no special protection at all


One of the biggest firms in protective textiles is Du Pont. Its materials include:
Tyvek Most commonly used on building sites Tyvec can also be used in protective and disposable apparel. It is very hard to tear, corrode or burn and it breathes.
Nomex, Flame resistant material originally developed for jet pilots flight suits.
Sorona, a thick fabric biopolymer which is soft, comfortable and wrinkle free, used in military uniforms.
Kevlar, the material used in body-armour the world over
Other manufacturers of note include:
Gore-Tex, a water resistant material for rainwear.
Possum/Merino, well known in New Zealand for its warmth and light-weight. 
Fortitude, is a fabric co-designed by gimono and AgResearch for martial arts gi's
Xtegra is a blast reducing textile mostly for lining vehicles from Advanced Fabric Technologies
CarbonX is a flame resistant textile used in a variety of fire-prone industries.
InsectShield is just one of many firms making mosquito repellent textiles.
Researchers are also working on textiles which are solar cells, monitor health and well-being  or have anti-bacterial agents impregnated in them to prevent wounds becoming infected.
It would be interesting to undertake a research programme looking at a range of clothing options based on the above technology.
For example:
Protection shell outer layer: double Tyvec + Kevlar (knee and forearm) to provide water, splinter, tear and puncture protection
Protection shell layer inner : Nomex 4.5oz (per yd) to provide flame protection
(Optional) Warmth layer: Possum/Merino jersey to provide warmth
Comfort layer: Fortitude or Sorona shirt and trousers, Merino socks
(Optional) Warmth layer: Merino
Gloves: Nomex flight gloves, Kevlar outer protection.

Camouflage Patterns

But for a job where being inconspicuous can mean the difference between being shot or not the camouflage pattern is important.
Here's a little Youtube video series of interest:

YouTube Video

If you watch the whole thing you will see why the NZDFs old woodland pattern and many of the patterns used by hunters are not particularly effective at concealing people.
At the moment the best pattern appears to be Multicam. Here it is compared to Woodland.
Multicam has been designed to work in all environments equally effectively and although it is expensive (only the US Airforce uses it in Afghanistan) it is notably superior. Multicam is now being adopted by the US Army after its initial design, the ACU, which cost $5 billion to develop turned out to be an conspicuous disaster.
Multicam is a combat protection system. There is no point employing it on office workers. In fact there is no point in camouflage uniforms when nobody is shooting at you.

According to this press release the Army has spent $13.6m developing its own multiple terrain camouflage system (MCU) with a crowd called Hyperstealth. which it is introducing in November 2013.
A useful blog post on the new uniforms is here. The army picture above shows a disturbing level of conspicuity in a red pine forest. The grey is similar to the ACU.
 By contrast

Multicam reflects the ambient light

The question is when people's lives are at stake what should the budget actually be? The New Zealand Transport Authority spends $4 m to avoid a death on the roads, spending the equivalent of only three times that on a key safety system for people sent into harms way seems a bit cavalier
The Army has followed its usual bulk approach and bought enough to provide camouflage for the entire defence force. But actually we will only ever field 1000 troops at most. Why not focus the spend on 1-3,000 sets and spend more per person by getting a real life-saving product rather than a budget approximate?
The rest of the time troops could easily wear suitable outdoor wear without a protective camoflauge pattern.


The functionality of a uniform depends very much on what it is being used for.  We have defined four levels of protection but there are also types of functionality. These are as follows:
  1. Ceremonial: the uniform is entirely for show on special occasions and is effectively a form of art
  2. Formal: the uniform is for formal occasions where it should look business-like and professional.
  3. Casual: the uniform is for every-day wear suitable to the protection level required
  4. Protective: the uniform  is solely concerned with the things it is designed to provide protection against.
The current uniforms are
without a doubt they are incredibly old fashioned, tired designs and look they owe a great deal to World War Two. 
Given we have a large outdoor fashion industry these are no credit to the country.

Tools and standard wearable kit

Some of the functionality useful for NZDF operational staff would include:
A watch, ideally with GPS, and sports diagnostic capability. Remember operational personnel have to stay fit, know what time it is, and where they are. This is the kind of tool any civilian athlete would buy for themselves. This would replace the Garmin hand portable GPS systems, possibly with a Garmin wrist system.
A multi-tool. McGyver uses one, NZDF personnel should have one too.
The Eberlestock Terminator F4 pack is the new army back-pack. There is no real reason to replace it.
Polarising Safety eyewear.
No, not to look cool, but also to protect the eyes (personnel with injured eyes tie up others) from splinters and to see threats through glare. The NZDF uses Revision Desert Locust ballistic goggles. There is no reason to change this.

Semantic Messaging

Uniforms have a message built into them. The peaked cap and epaulettes of the civilian airliner pilot is an attempt to evoke the Navy captain's authority, although as pilots now work behind sealed doors there really isn't any reason they shouldn't wear pyjamas. They don't wear pyjamas because customers want the confidence that the flight crew are professional and responsible people, and not a bunch of hippies.
Uniforms speak to us through memory and association. Consider
Yes, Hugo Boss designed the SS's uniforms which Erwin Rommel warned his son against.  The Anzac Uniform from the Gallipoli campaign The US Marines. The guys that kept NZ from the Japanese Imperial Army


The Defence Force at present bases its uniforms on British traditions. Its a great big dress-up party with uniforms for a million different occasions many of which are to do with excessive drinking. I have friends who do this for fun and they do it better. But I don't expect the taxpayer to subsidise them.

The message a reformed uniform would want to project is one of infinite practicality and economy. Rather than look like cockatoos it makes the defence force look like a professional, efficient and focused organisation with a tough job that does less strutting and more delivery.

So let's start at the top.


 Garrison or cap

 Bush hat or Boonie

 Non La
Baseball cap
A hat to intimidate with because it hides the wearers face. Useful in the cold. Used by NZ SAS.
A hat for showing off badges with. Practically useless but small. Used by the NZ Army.
A fairly useless hat for badges.  Used by the RNZAF.
The Boonie. A relaxed sunny weather hat. Droops and looks non threatening. Very useful as well. Used by the NZ Army.
Screams Asian even though it is a very practical and useful hat in sun or rain. Too rigid to be easily packed.
Suggests gum-chewing bully. Shields the eyes but useless over neck, face or ears.
Sun hat
Sunhat built for protection, it suggests an insular nature by covering the ears and looks like WW2 Japanese. Very practical. Hunters cap.  Useful earflaps but no neck protection. Looks civilian rather than military.
The Slouch hat is used on formal occasions by the NZ Army but is not a bad field design either. Better used in hot places than cold.
The classic beanie is a simple head covering to keep the head warm. Its simple lines suggests understated efficiency.
The peaked cap is an authoritarian symbol used by Police and officers.
The traditional sailors hat as used by the RNZN. Sorry, but it looks so gay it's ridiculous.
Recommendation for operational uniform

 Winter field hat
 Summer field hat
Ranks and field formal hat
Officers formal hat

All three ranks hats pack into minimal space, are practical, cheap to produce and require minimal maintenance. This would also reduce the number of hats our troops need to carry. Officers of the strategic units (eg captains of ships or aircraft) can wear the traditional peaked cap.


Military footwear

Jackboots originated from riding boots but became the symbols of totalitarian repression during the Nazi era.
Tankers boots are used by troops who fight sitting in armoured vehicles. They avoid the use of laces which can become tangled in machinery and cause injuries, however they are not built for walking.
Infantry combat boots (US Army) are designed for long periods on foot. The US switched to tan from shiny for obvious concealment reasons.

The standard NZ army-issue infantry combat boot is made by Miendl who are one of the best boot manufacturers in the world, so there is really no reason to change. They are great but very expensive with the average pair costing $450!
For general day wear when combat boots are not necessary running shoes allow for impromptu exercise challenges. Shoes such as the Adidas Bounce combine a semi formal look with genuine running shoe performance.

Clothing Design

Military fashion covers a surprisingly wide range of looks. In general the aim is to present a combination of machismo and efficiency.

US soldiers look encumbered with technology . In fact
they are hence the Lockheed Martin
pack carrier. Even
more technology.
German soldiers still manage to look efficient even though they too carry a lot of technology.
Modern Russian soldiers look a lot shabbier, but one also gets the impression that they are personally tougher, simply because life is not easy for them.
Israeli soldiers look loose (probably because of the heat) but you know how effective they are.

Now consider the following

Arc Teryx's alpha jacket (in Multicam)
Wiggy's "barren grounds" jacket. (in Multicam).
5-11 Tactical jacket (in Multicam)

All made by different companies but with very similar design features.
Now lets look at what Kiwi firms make:

Cool but not rugged
Rugged but dull
By comparison it is notable that
a) the NZ firms prices are way too high and
b) that most aren't really up to the same standard of design for a military customer.
However the main fashion features common to all are:
  • High neck
  • Covered fastening
  • Plenty of pockets
  • Waterproof cuffs



The NZDF bought the Advanced Combat Helmet a few years back. Since then the Marine Corps developed the Enhanced Combat Helmet is the best there is.

as per the general notion that the NZDF should have a few of the best rather than a lot of the acceptable this would be the combat helmet of choice.

Body Armour

The NZDF uses the BAE RBAV body armour which is one of the better releasable body armour systems.
One of the most dangerous things about body armour is it's weight. Typically around 10kg. Heavy armour can drown people, slow them down or be such a hot and uncomfortable drag on long boring patrols that people don't wear it. During World War Two 66% of casualties were injured in the legs. No armour is going to protect legs. This is not to say that armour is a waste of time as most casualties are caused by fragments but there is only so much it can do. The best armour is tough, light and provides buoyancy. 

Strangely enough New Zealand has a body armour company in the form of Armasure. This company seems to be a distributor rather than a manufacturer, however and makes no technological claims.

There is no immediate need to replace the BAE body armour system but the Arsenal should keep a watch for replacement plates and systems using newer technology.


High technology camouflage patterns are very effective at reducing the risk to personnel in environments where they are likely to be shot at. Camouflage would be used for field exercises and in situations where it increases safety.

Fortunately most of the time defence force personnel aren't in this situation. Most of the time personnel are busy working in New Zealand. Even when they are doing SAR or routine patrols there is no real need for camouflage.

To date the services have used different coloured uniforms to distinguish themselves from each other. The new structure only distinguishes the strategic units from the field operational units.


 High Vis Contrast
 Hi Vis Contrast
Grey colour achieved by blurring multicam. This brownish grey is common to trunks and stones. Not intended as a camo pattern dirt and water will darken it to  turn it into one if needed.
 Translating the mushroom across to the blue spectrum matches the sea.

The high visibility colour is used in operations where safety is important.
For example at roadblocks or at sea.


 Combat Uniform
This uniform must keep troops safe from all hazards they may expect to encounter in combat. Variations for foot and driving combat may be required. This would include body armour, ammunition and other equipment carriage. Probably based on MultiCam. No more than 2-3,000 uniform sets would be needed.  This would cover tropical, alpine and night. Issued to people entering a combat area.

Operational Uniform

This uniform is a general purpose set of clothing for physically active wearers who may deal with a range of climates. The wearer might be working at a desk or in the field or suddenly be involved in training with. Rank insignia should be low key. The look is ideally light on extraneous decoration and focused on efficiency. Clothes should be practical, easy-care and hardy.  Shoes should allow for immediate activity while retaining a semblance of formality. Wearable technology like wrist-watches should be adopted.
Hi-Viz accessories for civilian health and safety situations are also required.

Formal Uniform

This uniform is for formal occasions where the operational uniform is too relaxed. This is the only uniform where a tie is worn. Used on public occasions, in court, or formal dinners. The uniform should be easy to store and compress, wrinkle-free, and relatively low key.