Lawmakers in the Senate are proposing a new hurdle in the Army's race to replace its outdated physical fitness test.
The Army is moving forward with a plan to replace the current Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, with the new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, on Oct. 1, despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, including reduced access to training equipment.
But the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 would pump the brakes, requiring the Army to study the effect that the more challenging ACFT would have on deployed soldiers, as well as recruitment and retention efforts.
Army officials faced uncertainty about the test in March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced leaders to suspend all fitness tests to prevent the spread of the virus.
Rather than delay implementation, the Army announced in mid-June that all soldiers would begin taking a version of the ACFT, but the scores will not count against them until March of 2022 in an effort to allow the force to grow into the new six-event test.
But the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the NDAA states that Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy "may not implement the Army Combat Fitness Test" until a study is completed by an "entity independent of the Department of Defense," according to language in the bill.
The study would determine if the ACFT would "adversely impact members of the Army stationed or deployed to climates or areas with conditions that make prohibitive the conduct of outdoor physical training on a frequent or sustained basis," the language states.
The study would also determine whether the ACFT has any effect on "recruitment and retention in critical support military occupational specialties (MOS) of the Army, such as medical personnel."
McCarthy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The House must still pass its version of the defense policy bill and reconcile it with the Senate version before it continues to final passage and goes to the president to become law.
Army officials stressed that APFT scores will remain valid until March 2022. Soldiers will begin taking the ACFT Oct. 1 so their scores can be entered into the Army's database, and fitness officials can begin to look for performance trends, Army officials have said.
The Army also announced that it will temporarily allow soldiers who cannot pass the new leg tuck event to perform an alternate exercise. Soldiers will have to attempt the leg tuck before being allowed to perform a plank exercise for a minimum of two minutes.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.