Army officials are evaluating a version of the stalled Army Combat Fitness Test that would account for biological differences between men and women, according to Training and Doctrine Command.
The ACFT officially became the Army’s test of record in October, but Congress mandated a pause on further implementation pending an independent study to determine how it will impact deployed soldiers, recruiting and retention.
Changing elements of the test might also satisfy lawmakers who worried late last year about the disproportionately high failure rates among women. One proposal is that the ACFT could score soldiers on a servicewide percentile, separated by gender, Task and Purpose first reported Thursday.
TRADOC spokeswoman Lt. Col. Margaret Kageleiry said that so far the ACFT is remaining gender-neutral, but the Army “is looking at means to apply those scores based on gender to account for biological differences.”
“We are addressing these concerns in coordination with Army senior leaders, Congress, and with those it impacts the most, our American Soldiers,” Kageleiry added in an email.
Soldiers are currently expected to train for the ACFT, but scores won’t count against them until a much later date.
“On the current path, we believe it will be mid” fiscal 2022, Kageleiry said. Until then, the Army is working to collect data on different policy options, she added.
How exactly the Army plans to account for biological differences in the ACFT isn’t yet clear. Suggested changes — including adding a plank alternative to the hanging leg tuck — were leaked to an Army forum on Reddit in January.
One scoring system documented in slides obtained by Task and Purpose suggested placing soldiers into tiers by percentiles, rather than the points they receive on the test. All the events would remain the same, but soldiers’ scores would be ranked within their gender instead of putting men and women in the same category when competing at promotion boards.
“We know there is a physiological difference between men and women,” reads one slide. “The Army has to account for this and remove the competition between genders or Congress will never allow ACFT implementation.”
The ACFT’s increased difficultly is often attributed to its emphasis on core and upper body strength through exercises like the maximum deadlift and hanging leg-tuck.
A letter penned by two senators this fall stated that Army data shows “a consistent” 65 percent failure rate for women and 10 percent failure rate for men. The letter cited a University of Iowa study that showed eliminating the leg-tuck would significantly reduce those failure rates.
The ACFT has sparked concern that its stricter requirements could force troops out of the service, require soldiers to devote an inordinate amount of time to prepare for it and necessitate a burdensome amount of equipment to execute, especially in forward-deployed areas.
A provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act required an independent study to determine the “extent, if any, to which the test would adversely impact” soldiers “stationed or deployed” to areas that make it difficult to conduct “outdoor physical training on a frequent or sustained basis.”
The provision also asks for the study to determine whether the ACFT “would affect recruitment and retention in critical support military occupational specialties … such as medical personnel.”
Army leaders involved in crafting the ACFT have consistently said that it is a far better gauge of a soldier’s preparation for combat tasks than the older test, which involved only push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.