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FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Army equipment officials have recognized after a decade at war that women are built differently than men – especially when it comes to proper-fitting body armor.
Speaking at the recent 2012 Maneuver Conference at Fort Benning, Ga., equipment officials discussed how engineers are adapting body armor so it provides a more comfortable fit for female soldiers as well as housing advancements in soldier-power technology.
Since the Army’s initial fielding of Interceptor body armor in the late 1990s, equipment officials have made multiple improvements to this life-saving vest. The latest version of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest includes removable armor protection for both sides of the torso and shoulders and more effective groin and pelvic protection.
Despite all of these improvement efforts, female soldiers have always had to be satisfied with body armor that’s essentially designed to fit best on the male form.
Army equipment officials are now working to change this with an effort designed to field female-specific body armor before the 2014 withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“The Army has gotten direct feedback from Afghanistan that the body armor that we have fielded is not optimized for female soldiers; we recognize that,” said Col. Robert Mortlock, Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment.
Female soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., will soon complete the testing of 100 body armor systems designed to address fitting problems experienced on deployments.
“We found that female soldiers could not properly seat their rifles into their shoulders, so they couldn’t fire their weapon properly,” Mortlock said.
The new design has also been altered in the front of the chest to fit female soldiers better.
Female vests will be shorter as well.
“The feedback from female soldiers was when they were running or getting on airplanes or sitting down that the body armor was too long and was chafing their hips and thighs so we shortened the vest,” Mortlock said.
He explained that the new designs will allow females to adjust the fit around their midsection more effectively.
“We will take those design improvements and incorporate them,” Mortlock said. “We are looking to incorporate eight new sizes of body armor by next summer.”
But that’s not the only change coming for body armor. Combat brigades will soon be issued body armor that’s been altered to carry what’s known as a “conformal battery” shaped like a body armor plate.
The lightweight power source is being issued to help power new technological advancements such as Nett Warrior, the wearable, command-and-control kit that evolved out of the Land Warrior program.
Nett Warrior includes a handheld Rifleman Radio, which is part of the Joint Tactical Radio System. The Rifleman Radio will connect soldiers to the Army’s tactical network, giving them the ability to track the locations of their fellow soldiers on a tactical smart phone.
The technology could revolutionize small unit operations, but it still requires soldiers to carry more batteries, equipment officials said. The conformal battery is designed to cut down on the number of disposable batteries squads have to carry on multi-day missions.
The 2.5 pound battery is designed to fit behind the side body armor plates and provide 150 watt hours of power to Nett Warrior and other electronic equipment soldiers carry.
USB cables routed through the vest and connect to the devices, said Lt. Col. Tim Wallace, Product Manager Medium Power Sources.
“While it’s powering all these devices, it’s keeping the batteries that are already in the equipment fully charged, so when this runs out of power, the batteries in the systems are still fully charged,” he said.
The Army recently began fielding conformal batteries to eight brigade combat teams that are receiving Nett Warrior systems.
Equipment officials did not have specifics on how much weight in batteries the conformal battery would save, but said the new battery would make a difference.
“What we have seen so far is that over a 72-hour mission, a squad can reduce the number of batteries it needs by about 30 percent.”