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NEWS | Oct. 29, 2019

Armor for All: How Female Soldiers are Helping Shape the Future of Body Armor

By David Jordan PEO Soldier

Combat Soldiers come in many shapes and sizes. The Army has worked to ensure that all Soldiers have equipment and armor that fits comfortably and retains high-level protection. PEO Soldier has developed the Torso and Extremity Protection (TEP) system, which is comprised of components that will accommodate the diverse Soldier body types within the Army. Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum participated in the first 100% female human factor evaluation of the TEP system that PEO Soldier has conducted. The Soldiers were tasked to test out the latest developments of the Soldier Protection System (SPS), to include the TEP components and Vital Torso Protection Hard Armor Plates (VTP).

The TEP system, which includes the Modular Scalable Vest (MSV), the Ballistic Combat Shirt (BCS), and the Blast Pelvic Protector (BPP) is designed to provide Soldiers with modular, scalable protective equipment that allows customization for mission-specific requirements. PEO Soldier recognizes that missions differ and therefore equipment capabilities should allow for the agility of movement, while reducing weight, yet offering increased protection.

The TEP system was not only created for modularity and scalability, but also with female and small statured Soldiers in mind. Prior to the development of the female Improved Outer Tactical Vest (F-IOTV) in 2012, female Soldiers typically wore equipment sized for males, which caused discomfort on long convoys and during certain combat movements. Three additional vest and plate sizes will be added to the Army's inventory to address smaller statured troops: extra small short, small short, small long . Adding these additional sizes now gives the Army eight total sizes of MSV’s and plates.

Soldiers spent the week participating in obstacle courses, tactical movement drills, and ingress/egress drills to provide feedback for the HFE. Soldiers outfitted in different configurations of the TEP system, interchanging the BCS and Army Combat Shirt while all utilizing the MSV. They then provided feedback on each variation of the system that they conducted the event in. PEO Soldier utilizes Soldier feedback in the testing and the evaluation process to influence the design and capability of the gear.

Staff Sergeant Silvest Zarate, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, when asked how the TEP System compared to the IOTV expressed how she preferred the fit of the new body armor system.

“Compared to the IOTV’s the MSV is smaller and configures better to your body,” said Zarate, “And with the shooter cut plate insert I have a better range of motion. Compared to the legacy plates that would sit more in my armpits, the cut allows for more freedom of movement and I really like that.”

"PEO Soldier recognizes that missions differ and therefore equipment capabilities should allow for the agility of movement, while reducing weight, yet offering increased protection."

Common feedback from female and smaller statured Soldiers was that the configuration of the IOTV would become restrictive when conducting normal tasks like riding in vehicles. With the cut of the MSV, it seems that issue has been resolved.

“The IOTV for me was too long,” expressed Zarate. “When I would sit, as a smaller person, it rides the IOTV up into my neck. But with the MSV and the way it’s cut, it doesn’t allow for that to happen. It overall is just more comfortable and I can operate without having to think about how my body armor fits.”

Female Soldiers play an integral role in close combat operations for the Army. Therefore, they require equipment that allows them to be lethal while still being comfortable and maneuverable. PEO Soldier is working to address the need of female and small statured Soldiers by expanding sizes to develop a tighter fit for all shapes and sizes.

That development also led to the creation of the BCS, which has soft armor ballistic inserts (SABI) within the shirt that allows for handgun and fragmentation protection. Compared to the Ballistic Ancillary Torso System (BATS), which offered the same protection but required the system to be placed over the combat shirt.

“I love the BCS. Its more comfortable not as restraining. The BATS is not bad right now, but I have issues with its positioning around the chest area and how it rides up into my neck area. With the BCS it did not do that, it stayed in place and still maintains the same ballistic capabilities that I had before.”

The Army is a diverse force and having equipment that is comfortable and fits properly allows Soldiers of all shapes and sizes to excel in performance. Having gear that can be modified and scaled to mission requirements allows Soldiers to focus on the mission at hand.

The women of 10th Mountain Division were just the latest in PEO Soldier’s evaluation process of the TEP System. The four days of exercises and drills they participated in will be a factor in any future update to the system. With their feedback and input, they are contributing to the next phase of body armor for the next generation of warfighter.