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Army Studying How Body-Armor Fit Affects Performance

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U.S. Army scientists are trying to show how better-fitting body armor can improve a soldier’s performance.

Members of the Anthropology and Human Factors Teams at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are conducting a range-of-motion and encumbered anthropometry study to better understand the link between fit and performance with the Improved Outer Tactical Vest Gen III.

"We have this belief that if the fit of the body armor is really good, then the performance is going to be maximized," Dr. Hyeg joo Choi, the principal investigator for the study, said in an Oct. 9 Army press release. "So the question is how can we quantify a good fit so that soldiers' performance is maximized?"

To help answer that question, Choi and her fellow researchers collected measurements from 23 soldiers at Natick, including 21 males and two females.

"We look at the body size first," Choi said. "And then everybody is tested in approximately three different [vest] sizes. Out of these sizes, we basically look at what the best performance size would be."

Fit was been identified as an issue after the IOTV was introduced in 2007, according to Human Factors project lead Blake Mitchell. This was a particular problem for female soldiers, he said.

In 2009, Mitchell, anthropologist Dr. Todd Garlie and other experts went to the field and measured 139 female soldiers. Their results contributed to the 2012 issuance of IOTVs designed specifically for women.

Data collection began in June for the current two-year study, which used the vest portion only of the Gen III IOTVs.

"There wasn't any mission-essential gear included with this study, which might impact performance a little bit more," Garlie said.

Choi's early data suggest the current legacy size chart should be updated to reflect body size changes, which will be consistent with what Natick's ANSUR II anthropometric survey revealed in 2012 -- today's soldiers are bigger than they were 20 years ago. The key measurement for IOTV fit, said Choi, is chest circumference.

"There are some people who are not really affected by the body armor size," said Choi, "and then there are some people who didn't really perform that well in any of the sizes."

Mitchell said she hopes that Choi's work will provide not just updated sizing information for the IOTV Gen III, but design guidelines going forward.

"So that it's not just this body armor system, but it can help drive future body armor system designs," Mitchell said. The study may also support the development of other protective clothing and equipment systems.

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