The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will soon replace the 40-year-old Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The new physical requirements are set to be implemented in April 2022 after COVID-19 and continuous scrutiny over the test's structure caused delays. Despite the ACFT’s forward movement, the question remains – will the ACFT help or hurt the force?
Can’t Seem to Get it Right
The ACFT has seen several changes since its conception and is currently on its third version. Despite its attempt to be a gender-neutral alternative to the APFT, its high female fail rate was met with strong criticisms of gender discrimination. Standards were then reduced across the board but did not largely impact female scores.
Now the ACFT is on its third version. This time, alternative exercises are an option and job and gender specific standards have been eliminated. However, performance is separated into percentiles and separated by gender in an attempt to reduce unfair promotion opportunities for women.
Recognizing the many flaws of the ACFT, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act required the Army to stop its implementation to allow Rand Corp. to conduct an independent study. The study will not only show how females are impacted by the ACFT, but also deployed soldiers and recruitment and retention rates.
Is the ACFT Practical?
Many have questioned whether the test is worth the money. In contrast to the APFT, the ACFT requires several different types of exercise equipment. The price tag to ensure all soldiers have access to the proper equipment has already cost the Army $63.8 million. This does not account for fielding costs and the logistical headache required for units to conduct the test.
Additionally, Guardsmen and Reservists may struggle to implement the test. Fitness gear is not supplied to individual units, requiring soldiers to travel long distances to conduct the test. Guardsmen are also regularly deployed or engaged in state missions. Weekend training periods are usually not sufficient for National Guard units to complete training and an ACFT.
A Force that is Fit
Despite the plethora of negative opinions, top leaders still believe the ACFT will improve overall readiness. The new test aims to better reflect the challenges in today’s combat environment. The hope is that the ACFT can better assess a soldiers cardiovascular and muscular endurance, strength, balance, coordination, and agility, all crucial to combat operations. Additionally, the ACFT is only one step in the Army’s plan to improve the holistic health and fitness of its soldiers. Regardless of the Rand Corp. study results, the ACFT and the Army’s plans for a stronger, healthier force still need more work.