The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is a replacement for the old Army fitness test which has been in use since 1980. The Army Combat Fitness Test is a highly upgraded version of the old physical fitness test soldiers need to ready to pass as part of their military service. It is age and gender-neutral, considered a “strenuous” test, and replaces the old three-event test with six events.
The Army Combat Fitness Test will be field-tested until its official roll-out date in 2020. Until then, the test is considered in a state of refinement based on the results of the field testing which may include as many as 40,000 troops.
How It All Started: The Road To The Army Combat Fitness Test
In 2013, Army leadership began a review of the physical demands of “common soldier tasks,” including a scientific study by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
The Army’s efforts resulted in a validation of “specific physical fitness test events” designed to quantify an individual soldier’s ability to endure the rigors of combat and combat training environments.
Later, pilot testing of these fitness test areas began independently through 2018. Published reports indicate that similar results were found even when the pilot programs independently developed their own fitness test events similar to the other studies. These results seemed to validate the philosophy and approach of the ACFT as it is currently understood.
Transitioning Away From The Old Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)
Under the system used since the 1980s, the three-event APFT scored soldiers on a sliding scale based on age and gender. Older servicemembers weren’t required to meet identical standards of younger troops, and women were scored on separate criteria.
The transition to the Army Combat Fitness Test and its age and gender neutral requirements has much to do with preparing all soldiers for a combat environment, which Army officials are on the record as saying is equally dangerous no matter who is serving in combat.
A More Realistic Army Fitness Standard
The Sergeant Major of the Army is quoted on Army.mil saying the Army needed a more realistic and “field-expedient” measure of a soldier’s physical ability to withstand the rigors of the combat environment.
Another Army official quoted at Army.mil, the commander of the U.S. Army’s Center of Initial Military Training, says the current Army fitness test is useful for measuring only approximately 40% of a soldier’s ability to “execute warrior tasks and battle drills.”
The new test is said to measure a much higher percentage.
Different Fitness Standards Depending On MOS?
There have been hints dropped in interviews with military publications and with Army.mil’s own reporting on the ACFT that suggest physical fitness standards may vary depending on the occupation of the test taker.
Senior leadership has, at the time of this writing, not indicated that the Army has settled on whether or not the MOS-based fitness standards will become a reality in 2020, but there is a precedent for this type of occupation-based fitness standard in the Army’s Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT).
OPAT is a tool used to determine whether new recruits have the physical capacity to endure specific Army jobs such as Infantry or related specialties. Before the introduction of this fitness test in January 2017, Army recruits were only required to pass the ASVAB test and a physical exam.
A February 2018 report published by Army News Service suggests that since the introduction of OPAT, certain types of injuries that occur in the training phase for new recruits have been on the decline.
A Changing Mindset For Army Commanders
One of the early indications that the new Army Combat Physical Fitness Test is a game-changer on the battlefield is senior leadership’s attitude toward the ability of its command staff to pass the updated fitness test.
The Sergeant Major of the Army is on record stating that a battalion commander is expected to be just as battle-ready in the physical sense as the troops she or he leads into combat.
The Army Field Tests The Army Combat Physical Fitness Test
In October 2018, the United States Army will choose approximately 60 battalions including active duty components, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve to take part in a year-long field test of the ACFT. The results will be evaluated and the test may be adjusted based on those results.
According to several published reports, at the time of the announcement of the testing of the Army Combat Physical Fitness Test, policies had yet to be fully written with respect to implementing the new fitness standards service-wide.
What Does The ACFT Measure?
The new ACFT will measure ten areas of fitness including muscle strength and endurance, muscle power, speed, agility, aerobic endurance, balance, flexibility, plus coordination and reaction time.
By way of comparison, the version of the Army fitness test used since the 1980s only measures muscle endurance and aerobic endurance.
ACFT retains the Army’s traditional two-mile run, but there are five new physical fitness challenges to get through first, offered in a specific order and can take just under one hour to complete.
At the time of this writing, the weight range for the deadlift event is between 120 to 420 pounds. It’s worth noting that the ability to deadlift in that weight range might speak to a soldier’s ability to carry a wounded warrior out of a combat area.
A variety of sources compare this event to the deadlift requirements of the Army’s Occupational Physical Assessment Test. The ACFT version includes three repetitions with increasing weight each time.
Standing Power Throw
This event challenges the soldier to throw a 10-pound ball backward as far as possible, testing the ability to hoist a teammate or supplies over an obstacle, among other things.
This challenge involves the traditional push-up stance and execution, but once the soldier reaches the lowest position, it’s required to remove the hands and arms from the ground and recover the traditional stance from the ground to begin the next push-up. The idea is to make the push-up harder to execute, increasing upper body strength.
Sprint, Drag, And Carry
This challenge has soldiers running a 25-meter dash five times. They must sprint, drag a 90-pound sled, and carry two 40-pound weights by hand. This is another test to ensure the soldier can carry wounded comrades, heavy equipment, or perform other strenuous combat tasks.
This challenge requires the soldier to work out core muscles by lifting their legs up to their elbows and is described as being similar to a pull-up.
Two-Mile Timed Run
This is basically the same challenge that is required of the current Army physical fitness test, but times will likely be slower due to the physical exertion required of the five challenges or events prior to the run.
How Is The ACFT Scored?
An article published by the U.S. Army official site states that it is likely that the scoring procedures for the current Army Fitness Test will be carried over to the updated version scheduled for 2020.
This could include a 100-point scoring system for each event, but the minimum requirements for those scores may, as mentioned above, be dependent on the soldier’s military occupation specialty code. An Airborne Ranger may have more stringent physical demands than a Unit Supply Specialist, and a precedent for this type of scoring already exists with OPAT.
The ACFT will be different because there will be no alternative challenges or fitness events. Instead, every soldier will be required to pass the same six events.
At the time of this writing, scoring standards include three basic areas. Scores should vary depending on the physically demanding nature of the soldier’s MOS:
- Black – an MOS with very physically demanding requirements.
- Grey – an MOS with “significant” physical demands.
- Gold – an MOS with “moderate” physical demands.
Performance minimums are to be set uniquely for each of these three categories.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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