The US Army is developing a combat-ready and fire-resistant bra that will support female personnel by providing high-impact support to protect breasts and, in turn, improve "overall soldier performance and lethality".
While the new military bra stops short of being bullet-proof, it is layered with high-impact materials to better protect female breast tissue and the plan is to integrate them into existing equipment and body armour.
The US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) is developing an Army Tactical Brassiere (ATB) after it was discovered that current sports bra options available to serving personnel are "functionally inadequate" and "do not meet needs of female soldiers".
DEVCOM's mission is to produce a tactical bra that not only protects the female soldier but also reduces "the cognitive burden on the female soldier caused by discomfort and ill fit".
If successful, the tactical bra will improve the female soldier's overall readiness and performance levels because they won't be distracted by unsuitable and ill-fitting clothing.
The ATB will become the first official uniform bra the US Army has offered female soldiers since women were first allowed to serve their country in February 1901.
This shift comes two years after the British Army started issuing specialist sports bras to its female recruits during basic training.
The Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) was launched 20 years ago to streamline the process for distributing the most advanced equipment to deploying units and individual soldiers to improve "soldier combat effectiveness, survivability and operational quality of life".
However, what they are currently offering via the US Army & Air Force Exchange – the Department of Defense’s largest tax-free retailer for military communities – needs an upgrade so DEVCOM is taking on the task.
It was also discovered that female soldiers would benefit from being taught how to choose the best size and fit to support their breasts and reduce any damage from their incredibly physical careers.
DEVCOM is also looking into perfecting a sizing system for improved accuracy and discovering the perfect material for high-impact support with fire-resistant protection.
These tactical bras will be worn during physical fitness activities and combat/utility environments – they will not be your average sports bra available to civilians.
They need to be the best of the best to ensure female soldiers can focus on the job at hand and not struggle with an uncomfortable and impractical uniform.
The developments in the US echo similar moves in the UK to design more suitable clothing for female members of the Armed Forces.
A scientific study, led by British Army Recruit Health and Performance Research with experts from the University of Portsmouth, showed that 85% of new recruits were experiencing breast health issues relating to inadequate breast support and poor bra fitting during basic training.
The research, revealed by the Ministry of Defence at the end of 2021, helped guide the requirements for the new bras for military recruits.
British Army Captain Joanne Ellett, who is also a GB Bobsleigh athlete and Army Rugby 7s player, has been championing improved breast support in basic training.
She said: "As a female in the military, you already stand out, you're in the minority.
"If you have larger breasts, you feel like you stand out again.
"A correctly fitted bra means you can have more confidence and perform better.
"A sports bra is part of your kit. Without one, you're unable to do your job to the best of your ability," she added.
The British Army now offers three sports bras for free to its female recruits in a bid to alleviate symptoms of ill-fitting underwear.
In the US, there are four tactical bras being worked on by DEVCOM.
It hopes these options will:
- Optimise solutions that improve and maintain maximum physical readiness.
- Improve motivation and longevity performance quality of the female soldier participating in training and/or other physically demanding activities
- Decrease the negative impact of improper fit and lack of breast support
- Increase the female soldier's ability to independently select a well-fitting performance brassiere
Concept A is a pullover-style sports bra with padded cups and structured seaming. It features mesh venting, adjustable racerback straps, an inner dog tag pocket and fire resistance protection.
Concept B is a pullover, shelf-style sports bra with contoured seams, racerback straps and fire resistance protection.
Concept C is an optimized compression sports bra featuring an adjustable front panel for customised support, cross-back straps, contoured seaming and fire resistance protection.
Concept D is a combination cup sports bra featuring adjustable cross-back straps and underband contoured seaming, zippered front closure and fire resistance protection.
In the UK, it was discovered during the development of the British Army sports bras that offering a variety of performance brassieres as part of female kit helps the soldiers more successfully complete the variety of different physical actions required.
For example, the British Army says that wearing an underwired sports bra is not suitable under body armour.
A spokesperson for DEVCOM said: "If the ATB becomes an official Program of Record as a result of the upcoming Army Uniform Board, we would see that as a win for female soldiers across the Army, who would then likely be issued the ATB upon initial entry to the Army.
"Once the ATB becomes a Program of Record it would transition to our partners at PEO (Program Executive Office) Soldier, who would then be responsible for acquisition and fielding to soldiers."