Armor All: New Body Armor Design Issued for Women in the Military

Building better gear for women warriors.

When Major Kathleen Yancosek was stationed in Afghanistan, she found herself doing battle against her own body armor. The bulky Kevlar vest, designed for a man, swam on her 100-pound frame. Whenever she sat down, the vest rode up over her chin (a phenomenon female soldiers call “turtling”). When she walked, it banged against her hips, leaving them black and blue, and the “groin plate”—made with male genitalia in mind—hit her in the knees. The armholes were so far apart that she found it hard to even shoulder her weapon.

Thankfully, help was on the way: When Yancosek called Deana Archambault, a former colleague at the Natick Soldier Systems Center, to complain about her problems, Archambault told her that the local U.S. Army research and development facility was already building a better vest. “It was like, Duh, women are not small men,” says Archambault, who helped redesign the vests to fit the female form. “Our shoulders are more narrow, our torso length is not as long.” In trials, women wearing the redesigned vests were faster and more efficient as they ran through obstacle courses, and they reported that it made them feel safer overall. “It fits like a prom dress,” Major Yancosek says. The finished product is in the process of being issued to 24,000 female soldiers.

Below, Captain Kelly Sullivan, of the Massachusetts National Guard, models the new armor.


Photograph by JJ Miller. Hair and Makeup by Laura Dillon/Team

1. A notch in the back collar of the vest can accommodate a woman’s ponytail or bun, keeping her helmet securely in place.

2. Narrowed shoulders and armholes allow a better range of motion.

3. Darting that’s built into several sections of the vest provides a snugger fit.

4. Two inches were removed from the waistline of the vest. The new version is slightly shorter as well, making the “turtling” issues and hip bruises less likely.

5. The waistline, built for the female form, has fewer Kevlar plates and weighs 25 pounds—five pounds lighter than the original model.