Military Textiles: Features, Characteristics and Materials

Last Updated on 27/05/2021

History and Features of Military Textiles

Md.Tanvirul Haque Bhuiyan
Dept. of Apparel Manufacturing,
National Institute of Textile Engineering & Research (NITER), Savar, Dhaka.
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Textiles for military uniforms face a complex set of challenges. Military textiles are also known as armed forces textiles. They must provide protection, durability and comfort in a wide range of hostile environments. In this assignment we will discuss the history of military textiles, the range of recent research on how military clothing can best meet soldier’s needs. The general requirements of military textiles are damage resistance, comfort, sweat management, cold-weather conditions and the integration of high-tech materials into uniforms. We will also discuss the protective role of military textiles, high-performance ballistic fibres, textiles for chemical and biological protection, camouflage materials and military fabrics for flame protection. Besides, military textile is not just about uniforms. It includes a wide variety of functions. Parachutes, safety harnesses, ropes and tenting also constitute military fabric.

military textiles
Fig: Military textiles

History of Military Textiles:

Ancient time:
Humans have used forms of protective armor in combat for at least five millennia. At first animal skins and furs were the only protection both in combat and in cold weather. Tall headwear made from animal furs (bearskin caps), feather(ostrich) or carrying tall plumes to increase apparent height of troops. The materials used were all of natural origin like as, wool,cotton, silk, flax, horsehair, furs from bears, seals, tigers, leopards etc. feather from birds such as chickens, pecock and ostrich.

Ancient civilizations used leather as a form of protection beginning in roughly 3000 BC. The use of leather has continued as a means of various types of body protection. Some 700 years later, ancient cultures such as those in Egypt learned to alter leather by boiling and tanning it. Leather was very effective in warding off blows from bludgeoning weapons and can be found serving this role in some cultures and subcultures up to the present day. The first fabricated weapons of note in warfare were swords and spears, so more advanced armor was at first designed specifically to address these threats. The Egyptians were using armor to protect from slashing and cutting weapons as early as 1500 BC. The first forms of armor were probably cloth garments with bronze scales or plates sewn mounted on them. The Syrians apparently developed lamellar armor between 900 and 600 BCby mounting small rectangular plates upon a garment in parallel rows. Later, the Greeks made armor from bronze plates that not only fitted over the individual parts of the body, but were shaped to fi t over the part of the body where it would be carried. Chain mail seems to have been invented by the Celts in Europe, but it was quickly adopted by the Romans and many subsequent civilizations.

14th to 16thcentury:
As early as the 14th century, armor was given a proof rating which guaranteed its protective qualities against weapons of the time. With the advancement of firearms, armor had to withstand and absorb impact from large caliber projectiles. The weight of armor increased up to about 50 kg, which was a burden on the wearer. The leather garment originally created to be worn under armor was used alone, because it gave the wearer mobility. A debate began then about what was more important, optimum protection or comfort and mobility.

17th to 19th century:
During all of the armor developments of the ancient and medieval cultures, the greatest threats to soldiers and their armor were the ballistic weapons. Of these, the bow and the crossbow first posed the most dangerous challenges to survival on the battlefield. Eventually, armor became thick and heavy enough by using layers of leather and metal to with stand most hits by even longbows or crossbows, so a further development in lethality was needed. This step came in the form of the gun.

20th century:
In this century scientific experiments were done to make perfect military textile. Scientist were concerned about the material, color, fabric construction, comfort, effectiveness and quality of military textiles.

The British forces adopted khaki colored cotton made uniforms in 1902. This cotton uniform gave insufficient protection from different climate. So, wool worsted twill fabric uniforms were used afterwards. All non-clothing materials, like- tents, covers, nets, load carriage items, sleeping systems made from natural fibres (wool, cotton, flax, jute, hemp, sisal).

In 1930, the new fibre ‘Nylon’ was used for light strong parachute canopies and the development of Ventile cotton fabric (water proof but water vapour permeable fabric) for aircrew survival clothing. The British Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Corps created and issued protective vests to flight personnel beginning early in the Second World War. These early ballistic resistant armors were known as ‘flak’ jackets because German Anti-Aircraft Artillery was known as FLAK (Flie gerabwehr kanonen). Thus, flak jackets are ballistic-resistant garments intended solely for the purpose of defending a body from shrapnel, or explosion fragments, and not from bullets. These first flak vests contained steel plates carried in multiple plies of nylon fabric that protected against relatively low velocity shrapnel.

‘Denison smock’ is a fabric which was used for military purpose. It was lightweight windproof cotton gabardine fabric and bearing camouflage in 1941 (UK).

In 1944, a sand colour vehicle cover was introduced for desert warfare. USA introduced the layered combat clothing concept in 1943. In 1970, the olive green 100% cotton satin drill fabric was invented. The 1st four color printed combat material was introduced in 1972 in UK.

Features of Military Textiles:

  • Light weight fire retardant fabric is necessary for the clothing of the Naval and Armed forces personnel. Especially for the person engaged in engineering works and working in the heated condition.
  • Moreover, military clothing should be capable to protect them from cold and should have buoyant properly.
  • Some clothing of such property is manufactured on commercial basis. Candadian forces are using such type of clothing. These types of clothing are made of Nomex fiber.
  • Head hoods and hand gloves made of Kevlar fiber are used by the Newzeland naval forces. Beside those clothing, different type of flame retardant clothing is manufactured and used by the naval and armed forces.
  • NASA (National Aeronautic Space Authority) has prescribed clothing of special property to protect the soldiers from the critical environment during warfare.
  • As such clothing, cotton fabric has been considered as the best because of comfortability, electrical resistiivity and skin sensitivity. Chemically treated cotton fabrics are used for the manufacture of such clothing. Two ply fabrics are used for the clothing. The chemically treated cotton fabric plies are 244 grams per square yard mercerized knitted single jersey fabrics.
  • These fabrics are flame retardant finished with THPOH/NH3 and DAP/Urea in two steps. As a result, these type clothing shows better flame retardancy and burning retardancy properly, this is approved by NASA.
  • Blanket made for the soldiers is made of two-ply fabric made from glass fibre and in between two-ply fabric.
  • Fibrous silica is used. Beside those, as heat resistant clothing needle felt nomexfibre, ceramic and graphite fibre woven fabric. Silicon rubber coated fabrics also used on this.

Future requirements of soldiers:

Future requirements of soldiers
Fig: Future requirements of soldiers

Characteristics of military textile:

  • The requirement should be such that there should not be “thread breaks” up to 50,000 abrasion cycles when tested as per IS: 12673:1989.
  • Air permeability of the fabric shall be at least 5cc/sec/cm2 when tested according to IS 11056:1984.
  • Water vapor permeability (watermethod)Shall be 1400g/m2/day (Minimum) when tested according to ASTME-96.
  • The use of either FR (fire resistent) fibers or FR coating should also be included in the present specification to meet surface ignition test when tested as per ISO 15025 (no hole formation, no melting and no dripping).
  • Therefore, it is recommended that the WR (wrinkle recovery) rating (after 24 hours) of the combat shall be minimum 4 when tested according to AATCC 128-2004.

Protective materials:
All ballistic resistant materials have certain common characteristics. The use of polymer materials has made the protection to weight ratio very favorable for their use over metals or ceramics. Lower weight also permits greater mobility and better capability for police or military personnel to perform their assignments with reduced threats from attackers. In addition to the desired characteristic of low weight, there are also important demands for flexibility and thermal transport. Stiff, inflexible ballistic garments inhibit performance even at low weight. Garments or materials that trap body heat and moisture are unpleasant for intended wearers and are cited as one of the main reasons such garments are not worn in the line of duty.

You may also like: Anti Ballistic Fabric: Materials, Protection, Properties and Application

The materials that are used now a days for making military dresses, are-

  1. Polyester
  2. Cotton
  3. High Tenacity Polyester
  4. Kevlar®
  5. Coolmax®
  6. Meta Aramid®
  7. Lycra
  8. Nomex®

Here Kevlar®, Coolmax®, Meta Aramid®, Nomex® these three are registered manmade fibre.

Kevleris the registered trademark for a para-aramid synthetic fiber. Developed by Stephanie Kwolek at DuPont in 1965, this high-strength material was first commercially used in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tires. Typically, it is spun into ropes or fabric sheets that can be used as such or as an ingredient in composite material components.

The reaction of 1,4-phenylene-diamine (para-phenylenediamine) with terephthaloyl chloride yielding kevlar.
Fig: Kevler

You may also like: Kevlar Fiber: Types, Properties, Manufacturing Process and Applications

Coolmax, a trademark of Invista, is a brand name for a series of moisture-wicking technical fabrics developed in 1986 by DuPont Textiles and Interiors (now Invista). The fabrics employ specially-engineered polyester fibres to improve “breathability” compared to natural fibres like cotton. ‘Wick away’ or ‘wickaway’ is a general term used for fabrics that are engineered to draw moisture away from the skin through capillary action and increased evaporation over a wider surface area.

Fig: Coolmax

Nomex is a registered trademark for flame-resistantmeta-aramid material developed in the early 1960s by DuPont and first marketed in 1967.

Fig: Nomex

Construction of fabrics are –

  • 3D XD – Spacer fabrics
  • 4D XD – Spacer fabrics
  • Meshes
  • Nets
  • Plain fabrics

Treatments for these fabrics are –

  • Camouflage printing
  • IRR Finish
  • Flame Retardant Treatment
  • Antibacterial finish
  • High Visibility Dyeing
  • Silver treatment
  • Dyeing to customer’s own shades
  • NATO color range

Protective gloves and shoes:

Protective gloves and shoes
Fig: Protective gloves and shoes

Global market scenario:
Armed forces textile is a part of technical textile. Protection and military application of smart textiles is expected to remain the largest market segment over the next six years.

  • In advanced countries more than 40% of total textile manufacturing activity involves technical textiles.
  • China has devoted around 20% of its textile production in this field.
  • Asia is emerging as power house of both production and end-use consumption of technical textiles.
  • Asia Pacific is expected to be the fastest growing regional market, with an estimated CAGR of 25.2% from 2013 to 2020.


  1. Advances in military textiles and personal equipment Edited by E. Sparks
  3. Military textiles by Eugene Wilusz

You may also like:

  1. Kevlar Fiber: Types, Properties, Manufacturing Process and Applications
  2. Aramid Fibers: Types, Properties, Manufacturing Process and Applications
  3. Application of High Performance Fibers for Special Purposes
  4. High Performance Polyethylene Fibers – An Overview
  5. Comparison of Normal Fibers and High Performance Fibers
  6. Anti Ballistic Fabric: Materials, Protection, Properties and Application
  7. Carbon Fiber: Its Manufacturing Process and Uses
  8. Ballistic Protective Textiles – An Overview

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