The first prototype of the ABU was unveiled in the summer of 2003, based on the Vietnam-era Tigerstripe pattern.
The early uniform prototypes consisted of trousers, an embroidered undershirt, and a blouse. The camouflage pattern, developed by Tiger Stripe Products and based upon their popular copyrighted Original Vietnam Tiger Stripe, was a blue/gray, tiger stripe pattern.
After months of "wear testing", Air Force officials revised the color scheme and camouflage pattern due to feedback received from Airmen. The new elementary semi-pixelated tiger pattern would trade its dominant blue overtones for a more subdued palette, which still includes some blue tones. However, few of the functional recommendations made by Airmen in the field were implemented into the uniform which remains very similar in design to the older BDU style uniforms.
This has been a subject of many complaints from Airmen returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan who had been wearing the U.S. Army-issued Army Combat Uniform (ACU) as a temporary issue uniform. These complaints include the ABU's inability to keep Airmen cool while working in desert conditions due to the thickness of the material (13 ounces) and large interior "map" pockets, lack of storage space and the low ease of use with government issue personal body armor. While not officially recommended, USAF Airmen can cut the pockets out of the inside of the blouse because it does not alter the outer appearance of the uniform. On 2 October 2007, the Air Force began issuing the ABU to enlisted trainees in Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB and was issued to the Class of 2012 at the United States Air Force Academy on 26 June 2008, and is now available for purchase by all Airmen. Since 2008, it has been issued to Airmen deploying to locations in CENTCOM, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Personnel in other countries were issued DCU uniforms while inventory lasted. The ABU is available at Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) military clothing stores. Although the Air Force has officially recognized color variations in different set of ABUs, all variations are currently authorized to wear and the problem should be fixed when the patterns are finalized within a year. The ABU became mandatory (completely replacing the BDU and DCU) in FY12. In 2010, MultiCam wasauthorized to replace the ABU-pattern on the Airman Battle System-Ground in the War in Afghanistan by Air Force ground forces. In June 2011, The Air Force Times released the announcement of a summer weight ABU to be available in 2012. The Improved Airman Battle Uniform will be made of a 50–50 nylon-cotton blend and is the same material used by the Army for the ACU. Just like the ABU, the IABU is machine washable and also wrinkle resistant. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz gave approval of the IABU coat and pants which will be available to trainees at Basic Military Training first. No special allowance will be given to troops since they are not being forced to buy the uniform, although it will cost about the same as the current ABU.