In a release, the Air Force said that the new armor has several different features from the standard tactical vest. It has a curved chest plate, lighter weight and shorter size than the armor distributed to other airmen, the release said, and it also uses a snap buckle instead of velcro.
“Outfitting the security forces members who protect the [intercontinental ballistic missile] mission is a priority,” 1st Lt. Nicole Murphy, an installation deployment officer for the 90th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said in the release. “We are conducting a test run by giving female troops the Improved Outer Tactical Vest to ensure it meets mission standards, then outfit all security forces troops on base.”
F.E. Warren has received 536 vests, Murphy said, which will be distributed to female defenders across the base’s six security forces squadrons. Airmen from the base’s 90th Security Forces Group, which protects the base’s nuclear missiles, tried on the armor at the logistics squadron’s Individual Personal Equipment Section.
Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Moody Air Force Base in Georgia will also test the new armor, the Air Force said.
It will be rolled out to further bases in phases, the release said, and the final bases should have theirs in fiscal 2022.
Besides security forces, female airmen whose jobs require them to operate in combat, contingency operations or other dangerous situations will also wear the new vests.
Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in 2018 that a review of all equipment — everything from boots to flight suits — was under way to make sure women weren’t being made to use items that don’t fit their body.
When women had to use equipment such as body armor that was designed for men, it wasn’t just uncomfortable: It put them at risk. Body armor that doesn’t fit properly doesn’t protect the wearer as well as it should, the Air Force said.
The Air Force said in June that it planned to buy 5,600 of these vests by the end of fiscal 2021. The contract to make the vests was awarded to TSSi of Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.