Breaking Barriers: Rethinking Armor Design for Female Soldiers

Posted on Friday, August 4th, 2023

Written by Mehran Bozorgi

Headshot of Michele Oliver
Dr. Michele Oliver is a Professor in the School of Engineering.

Not all heroes wear capes, but they do wear armour. Meet Dr. Michele Oliver, a trailblazer from the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph, who is working towards making armour more accommodating for the real-world superheroes - our soldiers. The twist? Her study focuses on determining whether armour needs to be tailored for female soldiers, a long-ignored demographic in military armour design.

Oliver and her team are conducting an exciting study that explores how armor impacts the performance of female soldiers. They are comparing the efficacy of two types of armour currently in use: Full Torso Coverage (FTC) and Reduced Coverage (RC).

A Perfect Intersection of Science and Equality

"Why not rethink the way we design our armour, especially for females, who are anatomically and physiologically different from their male counterparts?" said Oliver. Her team assessed the impact of FTC and RC armor on female soldiers while they performed a series of tasks that mimicked real-life military scenarios, including a range of motion, treadmill march, and a wall obstacle, all while capturing data on movement, pressure, and discomfort.

The results were illuminating. The RC armor, despite exerting more pressure on the shoulders, surpassed FTC in several areas, including flexibility and obstacle traversal time. In essence, the RC armor unlocked more potential for operational effectiveness in female soldiers, indicating that design modifications catering to female soldiers can bring significant improvements. Though preliminary, results indicate that there may be a need to customize armour for women.

Innovating Female-Specific Armor

"This research avenue can help make military roles more accessible to women, ultimately addressing Canada's severe military personnel shortage," shared Oliver. "I am thrilled to see where we can take this in the future, perhaps exploring different designs, materials, and sizing systems for the armour, or even curved plates for enhanced protection."

With her visionary approach, Oliver is not only addressing an immediate need but also opening up a series of exciting opportunities. Her line of study has the potential to influence global military practices, with a positive focus on armour designs for female soldiers and potentially smaller-statured males. Furthermore, her partnerships with military personnel have been crucial in understanding their real needs and standards, bringing practical insights to her lab at the University of Guelph.

This story was written by Mehran Bozorgi as part of the Science Communicators: Research @ CEPS initiative. Mehran is a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering under Dr.s Syeda Humaira Tasnim and Shohel Mahmud. His research focus is on the development of solar-assisted cooling systems to achieve thermal comfort conditions in buildings in different climate conditions, especially in hot and humid cities.

Funding Acknowledgement: This research was supported by the Defence Research and Development Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and a Mitacs Accelerate Internship with HumanSystems Inc.,

Reference: Wendland, R., Bossi, L., Nakaza, E., & Oliver, M. (2023). Comparison of In-service Reduced vs. Full Torso Coverage Armor for Females. Military Medicine, 00(00), 1–10.

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