WASHINGTON, D.C. – “If you can’t pass the Army Combat Fitness Test, then there’s probably not a spot for you in the Army,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.

On July 9, the U.S. Army announced a new physical fitness test—the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT. The test is designed to replace the APFT with a gender- and age-neutral assessment that will more closely align with the physical demands Soldiers will face in combat. Field tests for the ACFT will begin in October 2018, and by October 2020, all Regular Army, Army National Guard, and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers will be required to take the test.

“That doesn’t mean you’ll immediately get kicked out,” he added. It means there will be some sort of remedial program, the details of which are still being worked out.

Esper addressed a range of issues during a Defense Writers Group breakfast Aug. 29.

The current Army Physical Fitness Test, which has been around some 40 years, is flawed, Esper said.

“I grew up in the Army with the APFT and I personally never thought it was a good indicator of combat physical fitness, nor did many of my colleagues. The testing has proved that out,” he said.

The secretary said studies done by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command show that the APFT captures “maybe 30 or 40 percent relevance of what you demand in combat … the ACFT is upwards of 80 percent.”

Combat ready, physically fit soldiers

The main purpose of the ACFT is twofold, he said. First, the test ensures soldiers are ready for combat. Second, preparation for the test improves physical fitness as it relates to injury prevention.

Esper said losing soldiers to injuries during physical training or field exercises contributes to decreased readiness, because injured soldiers can’t deploy.

At one point, upwards of 15 percent of soldiers were categorized as nondeployable, he said. That’s about 150,000 soldiers across the entire force. Now, that figure has been reduced to 9 percent, and there are vigorous efforts underway to lower that percentage still more.

“If you’re not physically fit for combat, then we’re not only doing you an injustice, we’re doing an injustice to your colleagues and peers as well,” Esper said, explaining that if a soldier can’t deploy, that means someone else has to deploy twice as much.

“At the end of the day, we need soldiers who are deployable, lethal and ready,” he emphasized.

Beginning October 2020, all soldiers will be required to take the ACFT, which TRADOC fitness researchers term “gender- and age-neutral.”