Armed Forces: Females

Ministry of Defence written question – answered on 17th June 2022.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Defence)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what progress his Department has made on its six month sprint to address uniform and equipment improvements, as committed to in the Government's response to the Women in the Armed Forces Report.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

The uniform and clothing sprint has provided focus and effort to materially improve the provision of clothing and equipment for women across the Services with the following deliverables in train and completed:

The Personal Clothing System has been redesigned to improve the sizing and fit of the Combat Jacket, Trousers and Under-Body Armour Combat Shirt (UBACS), making them more inclusive for the user population. Proposed changes were reviewed by the Women in Ground Close Combat Forum, the Infantry Trials and Development Unit and other users in February 2022, alongside the technical clothing leads at Team Leidos. The improved garments are being trialled in Warminster by a range of users through June. Following a successful trial, the endorsed designs and sizes can be added to the existing contract. The garments should be available from December 2022.

Tranche 1 of the Narrow Scalable Tactical Vest (NSTV, part of the VIRTUS System) and accompanying Small Yoke have been delivered and are being added to the stores system by Army Logistic Support. Training on fitting of the survivability equipment is being improved with updated information available, along with NSTV, from August 2022. User feedback will be sought via an online questionnaire hosted on the VIRTUS Defence Connect Page, and will identify areas for further improvement/requirements, which can be addressed through Post-Design Services tasks.

All new recruits who require breast support and who are beginning their initial training in single Service training establishments are now issued with sports bras under separate single Service procurement arrangements.

Following the Defence Committee's Women in the Armed Forces report, a full review has been carried out on all Royal Navy (RN) uniform items to ensure equality for all. The developments already being taken forward include sports bras, overalls, rank boards and RIG22 (the new replacement for the existing Royal Naval Personal Clothing System). Further to the recent Army decision to support tailoring of Mess Kit post-maternity leave, the Navy are investigating transitioning to this policy (there is already an exchange policy for daily and formal uniforms on return from maternity leave).

The new 'RIG22' will replace the current RN Personal Clothing System and was introduced at the start of this year for hot climate deployers. It is a dynamic clothing system which maximises fire protection and is functional, modern and practical. Currently, there are 29 size options for the trousers and 31 size options for the shirts to ensure a better fit for more personnel than the items they replace. A female-specific Thermal Layer for RIG22 has been procured, and a female-specific Base Layer is in development. Maternity variants of the RIG22 Shirts, Trousers, Thermal Layer and Outer Layer (rain jacket) are also in development. The first issues of the new shirt and trouser commenced in January 2022 and almost 500 personnel now have the new kit. The rollout continues in earnest and by the middle of this year it will have been issued to almost 2,000 personnel. Phase 2 of the rollout, which will cover the remainder of the RN and Royal Fleet Auxiliary will commence from spring 2023.

RN personnel are authorised to purchase their own sports bras until a long-term contract has been let. The long-term contract for provision of sports bras to recruits will be active from mid-2023.

A full review has been carried out on all Royal Air Force (RAF) uniform items to ensure equality for all. The developments already being taken forward include amending the hip to waist ratio for female No 2 skirts and trousers, introducing the option for females to wear No 5 trousers and an updated maternity wear line.

A Special Cases for Uniform Entitlement policy is currently in progress and being ratified with the aim to allow RAF Officers to claim either tailored No 1s and new set of No 2s or a new set of No 1s and No 2s on return to the service after maternity leave/menopause. This is not exhaustive to pregnancy/menopause but forms part of the policy. The claimants have two years to claim with a supporting medical letter.

The RAF aim to address the requirement for a sports bra fitting service and supply of sports bras by providing an allowance to women prior to Phase 1 training. A temporary policy is currently being ratified which will allow for all women to claim for a sports bra, with a more permanent policy being introduced next year to allow women undertaking Phase 1 training to claim back the cost of a sports bra on entering service.

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