Should body armor be gender specific? Sexual Dimorphism says “Absolutely”

Should body armor be gender specific? Sexual Dimorphism says “Absolutely”


By : Dalia Paratore

The US Armed Forces is addressing the reality of a mixed-gender military. This addresses the fact that women tend to be smaller, have a different anatomy and have a need for body armor and helmets that accommodate female hair, hips and chests.

The Pentagon is making more body armor options available for female service members in their ranks: 21% of the Air Force, 20.2% of the Navy, 15.4% of the Army, and 9.1% of the Marine Corps. When designing the new protective gear, the military worked hard to come up with a design that fits smaller male soldiers and women. Female body armor isn’t all about size; it also takes into consideration anatomy, which leads to rethinking of how the gear should fit: not just smaller but the right proportions.

Then there’s the issue of Law Enforcement. The NIJ develops standards using Special Technical Committees (STCs), which bring together law enforcement or corrections practitioners and technical experts. Members of these committees are tasked with investigating how best to improve testing of body armor for women. For example, soft body armors designated as female differ from male and gender-neutral vests in that they can incorporate curved or shaped protective panels to accommodate the female bust. Depending on design and anatomy, the female form may push the front armor panel forward, enlarging the underarm gap and therefore lessening the area of coverage between the front and rear panels.

Steve Cassidy, owner of EOD Gear in Franklin, TN specializes in supplying custom tool and armor solutions for special operations units within the military, federal agency and public safety units, says, “We tend to focus our efforts on dismounted operations when possible.  There are female built plate carriers available but they generally focus on public safety vs combat roles.  Will smaller stature lead to using smaller plates resulting in higher unit costs due to manufacturing?  Or will the industry stay with the standard 10x12 plate for everyone from small to very large?  There are philosophical and financial issues to overcome.  How much armor is the correct amount as it relates to size, coverage, weight and mobility?”  The reality is that women make up 3% of the soldiers in its Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialty, the units that deal with roadside bombs such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bomb suits had not been specifically designed for smaller men or women, the Army added an extra-small size that better fits and protects women. 

Another instance of this rethinking of protective gear is The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Female Fitment Program Office. This year they awarded a contract to begin production and development for body armor designed to better protect female Airmen during combat and contingency operations.  The new body armor will be specifically fitted to the female body preventing exposure to risks.

Chris Harrison, Vice President of Paratore Enterprises, Inc who holds the U.S. representation of NP Aerospace out of the UK, “our company is getting more requests for female specific hard armor products.  The armor must fit the anatomical differences that women have as well as be lighter in order to allow female soldiers and female law enforcement officers to be more nimble while being as protected as their male counterparts. Solutions these days are limited”

Another example of improved designs is how helmets have been rethought. The popular X-Back configuration of the chinstrap holder does not accommodate hair buns and longer hair. The straps are in the wrong places so the helmet ill fits female heads by not being on securely. As a result of this type of feedback, the Army is introducing the H-Back configuration with an open space to provide room for a bun. The new straps are configured to provide women with better peripheral vision while keeping their earlobes from getting cut.

Women have become part of the backbone of our Military and Law Enforcement, Sexual dimorphism, a biological principle across all animal species, means human females tend to be slightly smaller than human males. Women and men also have a variety of different physical traits, obviously. The result, then, is that body armor built for men is often less than ideal for women.  If we can protect our women better we are better protecting ourselves. More comfortable, better-rested troops who are better able to move in their gear, lead to a better protected nation.

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Paratore Enterprises, Inc team has over 50 years of experience in providing strategy and consulting in marketing, sales and business management for organizations in the Defense and Tactical space, as well as retail and commercial markets. We provide know-how in vendor relations, trade show/event tactics, dealer of record implementation, competitive/differentiator analysis, sales and development. We enable companies to better expand their market share, target their audiences, improve reach, reduce churn and improve pipeline management.  

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