After 11 years of combat, the Army is now getting around to developing body armor specifically designed for female soldiers. A group from the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Ky., will be wearing the protective armor in an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, the Army announced this week.

Women soldiers have long complained that the design of the armor doesn't work on the female body. Even armor in size extra small is too large for 85 percent of the females, making it either too loose or too long. In some cases, women were reporting bruising on their hip bones because the side plates dragged down to their hips. When they sat down, many women said the armor rode up to their chins because the torso was too long.

Women soldiers returning from deployments often complained about shoulder and neck problems because of the ill-fitting armor, and those injuries are likely to become chronic as women veterans age. Women now make up more than 14 percent of the active-duty military, more than 19 percent in the Reserves and more than 15 percent in the National Guard.

Developed by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., the body armor for women comes in eight sizes and two lengths. The vests use the same protective plates as the generic body armor, but the side plates are slightly scaled down to fit the new contours.

During testing, darts were added to the side and bottom of the vest to draw it closer to the body and provide better coverage.

Fort Campbell soldiers who participated in testing the armor are assigned to a female engagement team that will interact closely with the Afghan population, particularly women, when they are deployed later this year.

The Army said it is wrapping up evaluations on such things as firing weapons and climbing in and out of vehicles. Army officials hope to produce 3,000 of the new vests and to field them to an Army brigade to be selected next year.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434