The Air Force has awarded a contract to begin producing and developing improved body armor for women, which will fit better and provide more protection for them.
The first deliveries of the new armor are expected to come this fall, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said in a Wednesday release. It will be worn by women serving as security forces airmen, as well as female airmen whose jobs require them to operate in combat, contingency operations and other dangerous situations.
The new armor will be specifically fitted to women’s bodies, to prevent them from being exposed to risks by poorly fitting body armor designed for men.
“Our female airmen had gaps due to poor fitment issues,” said Maj. Sally Rodriguez, program manager for the center’s Female Fitment Program Office. “The new gear fits properly, which improves protection and offers better comfort for gear that has to be worn in difficult environments and conditions.”
The program office awarded the contract to TSSi of Harrisonburg, Virginia, for its Aspetto Mach V system, after an evaluation that included laboratory and field assessments, the release said.
“The feedback during our field assessment was overwhelmingly positive,” Rodriguez said. “This is something our airmen want because it offers a great benefit to their health and safety.”
Daryl Mayer, a spokesman for the life cycle center, said the Air Force will buy 5,600 vests through the end of fiscal 2021. The dollar value of the contract was not immediately available, he said.
Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Arnold Bunch said this program shows how the command takes feedback from airmen in the field and provides what they need.
“I’m proud of the team pulling together to do what is right for our airmen,” Bunch said. “They deserve gear that offers the protection they need while allowing them to complete their mission.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein in March 2018 said that the Air Force needed to review a range of equipment that was designed for men but being used by women as more roles in combat and elsewhere were opened up to them. Goldfein told reporters everything from boots to flight suits would be reviewed. This body armor update is part of that drive.
“We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits, is suited for a woman’s frame, and [one] can be in for hours on end,” Goldfein said in 2018. “We owe it to women to get this right.”
And in May 2018, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers that the military was trying to acquire enough properly fitting equipment for female military service members moving into combat roles.
But, Dunford cautioned, it was going to “take some time.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.