WASHINGTON -- Army officials hope to issue form-fitting body armor for hundreds of female soldiers by next summer, part of an effort to provide better protection and cut down on non-combat injuries from the current bulky vests.
Officials from Program Executive Office Soldier announced earlier this month that they will field 100 prototypes this fall to a few female engagement teams from the 101st Airborne Division. Critiques from about 30 women will be used to evaluate and refine the models.
It's the latest step in a three-year effort to develop armor that "addresses the physical differences between the sexes."
Female soldiers for years have noted problems with the standard-issue military body armor. Too-long plates, too-wide shoulders and too-square configurations of the vests lead to uncomfortable pressure points and potentially dangerous gaps.
Lt. Col. Frank Lozano, product manager for Soldier Protective Equipment, said in a statement that changes in the female body armor allow for a more customizable and secure fit, and more freedom for those soldiers to move their arms and shoulders.
"Most females tend to have a narrow or thinner waist as it relates to the chest area, so we pulled the waist area in," he said. "Some women will want more room in the waist area so we allowed for adjustability."
The prototypes include shorter front plates and a new exterior plate pocket which allows those ceramics to be shifted more easily.
Women make up about 14 percent of the active-duty Army. They currently select body armor from the 11 sizes of the standard Improved Outer Tactical Vest, developed originally for male troops.
Officials from PEO Soldier said they are also working on improvements to that body armor, looking at armor plating that better conforms to soldiers' body shapes.
"We're working with some armor manufacturers to invest in a manufacturing capability that finds the right chemistry to develop the soft and hard armor necessary to have a complex curved plate at a light weight that still defeats the threats," Lozano said.
Researchers from PEO Soldier believe those advances are still years away from reality.