Body armor is a blessing and a curse for soldiers. Modern tactical armor has saved thousands of lives from bullets and bombs, but it can also be a major problem if it doesn’t fit properly. That’s what the women who make up 14 percent of the U.S. Army face on a regular basis. Now, according to the Army News Service, the Army is preparing to test a new armor that is tailored to the female form to replace the standard men's armor that the women now use. Working on data collected in studies overseas and at stateside army bases, the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier has identified several problem areas and has developed a new armor that will be tested in 2013.

The problem that women soldiers have with the current Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) is that they aren’t just on average shorter than men, they also generally have narrower shoulders and shorter torsos in relation to the rest of their bodies. This makes the IOTV fit women a bit like socks fit a chicken. The arm holes don’t fit properly and the bottom of the armor-plated vest hangs too low. This restricts arm movement, causes the vest to rub against the hips while walking and presses it into the thighs while sitting, cutting off blood circulation.

The solution to this was to shorten the vest, recut the arm holes, add fabric to improve arm and shoulder movement and make the vest ride closer to the neck. In addition, custom adjustment straps were added to help fit the wearer. These improvements not only allow for a more comfortable fit, but allows women soldiers to hold their weapons closer to their bodies.

According to Lt. Col. Frank J. Lozano, product manager for Soldier Protective Equipment, "most females tend to have a narrow or thinner waist as it relates to the chest area, so we pulled the waist area in. Some women will want more room in the waist area so we allowed for adjustability in the cummerbund in the back which can be pulled in tighter or let out more than on the standard IOTV."

Another improvement was to cut the vest to allow “darting.” That is, putting in additional folds of cloth, such as is found in women’s blouses, to give the vest a more three-dimensional form for a firmer, more comfortable fit. This also allows a new pocket for another armor plate that can be inserted diagonally, which also improves the shape.

"The challenge right now is that when you bring in those complex curvatures, the plate loses some of its strength," Lozano said. "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."

Testing will begin next (northern hemisphere) summer when the Army sends 100 new vests to the 101st Airborne Division to be worn by 30 female soldiers. Additional spares will be sent as well in case the test group is expanded and the results of the evaluation will guide the development of the next version of the vest.

The female-specific body armor can be seen in the video below.

Source: Army News Service