Pentagon Could Reverse Gender Neutral Test, Citing “Biological Differences” Between Men and Women

Briefing slides obtained by Task & Purpose have revealed that changes to the scoring system and activity of the new US Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) are under consideration to account for the “biological differences” between men and women. The reevaluation of the ACFT comes just weeks after Congress delayed its implementation over concerns that the new test creates an unfair disadvantage to female soldiers.

The Army’s ACFT, which Active duty and Active Guard Reserve Soldiers are required to take twice a year, helps soldiers “achieve peak physical fitness and mental endurance under pressure”, empowering soldiers to complete a variety of combat tasks. The test includes CrossFit style weight training and a two-mile run which soldiers must pass with a minimum score of 60.

Briefing slides obtained from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command for senior Army leaders show “pre-decisional” changes to the ACFT program are under consideration. As reported by Task and Purpose, Army leaders had hailed the ACFT as “crucial to soldier development” despite concerns raised last year regarding how women would perform in the new test. Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, the Center for Initial Military Training, stated:

“I am confident that the Army will adapt .. It's no different than if you look at, let's say a SAT. You go in the first time, some people do very well in all categories, some people don't do well in math and realize they've got to go study and practice the math piece to come back and do well — that's what the diagnostic part of this implementation here is, to figure out where the strengths and weaknesses are.”

The ACFT test includes a gender-neutral scoring system, which would place men and women in the same category when examining results around strength. However, the test has been slated as “discriminatory” by some members of the military, with one Major stating that the test will “negatively impact women due to sheer size differences, muscle strength baselines, and require extensive training for women to be able to compete 'equally' with men for output results vs measuring fitness”. 

Preliminary fitness test results leaked in September 2020 showed that there was an overall failure rate of 84% for women and a 70% pass rate for men. The fitness test consists of six events including a two-mile run, maximum deadlift, hand-release pushups, and a leg tuck. The ACFT was initially planned to be implemented across the service last year, but Congress stepped in and ordered that the Army halt further implementation efforts as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The implementation of the ACFT was prevented until a study could determine whether the test was fair for women. Congress cited initial Army data that showed women struggled to pass the test, especially its leg tuck event, in which soldiers hang from a pull-up bar and tuck their legs up to their chins.

The new proposals would give soldiers the option to undertake a two-minute plank instead of a leg tuck, removing the military “occupational speciality-specific” requirements and eliminating competition between genders by scoring men and women in percentiles of their gender. According to the briefing slides:

“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 goal of the ACFT is to reward the most physically fit, this accomplishes that accounting for biological differences”.