Defence scientists are studying the impact of load-bearing equipment as the first women prepare to start training for infantry units. The recruits will be expected to pass the same rigorous tests as their male colleagues at the Army’s Infantry Training Centre in Catterick. Studies show female hearts and lungs are 25 percent smaller and bone density thinner, raising the likelihood of stress fractures in legs and hips.
However, there has been an increase in musculoskeletal injuries among all soldiers.
The Project TrainHer trial is using the latest technology to measure the volume of oxygen and blood that an average woman can pump around her body compared with a man. Due to conclude in 2021, it is likely to suggest backpacks designed to recognise physiological differences.
Female-specific backpacks are already available commercially. Manufacturers such as Osprey say packs feature “ergonomically shaped hip belts” and specially adapted shoulder straps, neck support and back plate.
The Armed Forces would be one of the first to reject “one-size-fits-all” packs.
The average weight carried by British soldiers in Operation Herrick, Afghanistan, was 123lb. It is common for soldiers to privately buy more expensive models once in their units but most injuries occur earlier in basic training.
Ministers changed the regulations so that from 2018 women could serve in close ground combat. Many of the first volunteers have come from those already in the Army.
More than 500 questionnaires have been sent out to women who had to carry a backpack and kit during their training.
In the US, more than 160 women have successfully passed rigorous tests to serve with Airborne and US Marine Corps and Special Forces units though they are not issued with special backpacks.
A senior member of the Ministry of Defence evaluation team said: “At present it is a one-size-fits-all and the design does not necessarily suit the female shape.
“Of course some cope, but we need to be a bit more intelligent about the kit we procure in the future as women sign up to join the infantry.”
He said they will look at changing the centre of gravity of the backpack as well as diet and women’s calcium intake.
TrainHer and TrainHim are part of a six-year, £20million programme to optimally train, feed and protect the health of Army personnel.
Last night, minister for military personnel and veterans Johnny Mercer said: “In order to address the threats we face, we must continue to adapt our Armed Forces, making best use of cutting-edge science and research.”
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