Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2024 on a bipartisan, 24-1 vote. Among the many bullet points in the bill’s executive summary, the NDAA “restores the Army’s Physical Fitness Test (APFT) as the test of record and requires a 24-month pilot program, briefing to Congress, and a one year waiting period before a new standard can be implemented.”

The NDAA is now headed to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.


The Army Physical Fitness Test is a three-event evaluation of one’s physical abilities, testing your upper body strength, core, and endurance. The events are:

  • Push-Ups
  • Sit-Ups
  • 2-Mile Run

Overall, the younger you are, the more stringent the standards. In general, a man between the ages of 17 and 31 who can max out the Army Physical Fitness Test is probably seriously considering Ranger School. One hundred times out of a hundred, a woman who maxes out the test looks like a recruiting poster soldier.


Some officers did not like the APFT, however. They felt it was too easy, and an inadequate measurement of physical fitness. So rather than raise the standards, in 2013 they decided to throw out the entire thing. And rather than find a body-weight fitness program to keep costs down, they decided that what every company in the Army needed was enough gear to literally fill an LMTV every time the test was scheduled.

They called it the Army Combat Fitness Test, which should have been the first sign that the American taxpayer was about to be swindled. First, because it does not measure combat fitness. But mostly because in claiming for itself such an unassailable aim, Army brass nearly succeeded in making the test beyond criticism. Who, after all, doesn’t want an army proficient in “combat fitness”?

Currently, the Army Combat Fitness Test consists of six events:

  • 3-Repetition Maximum Dead-Lift (60-pound hex bar, plus plates weighing 140-340 pounds)
  • Standing Power Throw (10-pound medicine ball)
  • Hand-Release Push-Up Arm Extension
  • Sprint-Drag-Carry (sprint, drag a 90 pound sled, and then lateral shuffle then carry two 40-pound kettlebells)
  • Plank (maximum score for 17-year-old: 3:40 minutes)
  • 2-Mile Run (maximum score for 17-year-old: 22 minutes)

I cannot believe they didn’t find a way to mandate one of those giant tires that CrossFitters can’t get enough of.

I think the numbers I’ve listed here are correct, but the score sheets look like something the IRS would put out. Originally, the idea behind the ACFT was to have one standard for all soldiers: the Combat Standard (I guess), but women kept failing the test and so they broke it down by gender, and First Sergeants kept failing so they broke it down by age. So now when Chinese paratroopers land on Fort Benning, we’ll just throw 17-year-old men at them and work our way to the right and bottom of the score sheet.

By the time you read this, there is no guarantee the events listed will be correct. I have been covering the ACFT since 2018, and every time I list the events, they are changed in some way. The Army’s official website keeps getting less and less clear about the specifics—probably to save money on web design. And they need to save some money, too, because the ACFT has cost the Army $78 million and counting. (The cost to conduct the allegedly-inadequate APFT for an entire battalion would cost about three dollars, for a stopwatch, clipboard, and pencil. But that’s just not the Army Way.)


The tens of millions of dollars necessary to conduct the test should have killed it instantly. As one insider told me, “There’s no need for this equipment. If the goal is to be combat focused, then why doesn’t the test use combat elements? If you’re going to be carrying stuff, and it’s supposed to mimic the carrying of ammo cans, why not just carry ammo cans? We already paid for them! Why are we spending money on kettlebells?”

Aside from that absurd, if not criminal, price tag, to say the ACFT has flaws is putting it mildly. Around 84% of women failed the new test. When the Army revised it, 44% of women still failed it, and only 66 women out of 106,000 scored higher than a 500 (a maximum score is 600), which would have barred them entirely from elite schools.

In part, the failures were because of the absurd events of the test. One scholar—a science and technology congressional fellow in the U.S. Senate—studied the test and was dumbfounded by what he discovered. As he wrote in a report:

According to data from the Army’s own study, leg tucks are not predictive at all of actual, regular, and recurring duties. Indeed, using leg tucks as a criterion creates an unfair adverse impact… Moreover, the ACFT may undermine military readiness. In moving from the original Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) to the ACFT, the Army has made their fitness test of record 20 times easier for young male recruits and 1.3 times easier for young female recruits. At the same time, the test is more difficult for older female soldiers, precisely those who are already disproportionately underrepresented in senior leadership positions.

The leg tuck was first made optional (thus decreasing combat readiness, by the Army’s logic), and then removed entirely. Eventually, the whole point of the test—a single “combat fitness” standard for every single soldier in the Army—fell by the wayside, and the Dungeons and Dragons scoresheets became the norm.


Congress has had its eye on the ACFT for a while, even delaying its implementation in 2021, pending a study by the RAND Corporation. (The study led to the demise of the leg tuck.) The test’s obliteration in the National Defense Authorization Act now moving through the Senate is notable because the NDAA is how Congress shapes major military policy.

Every year, Congress passes a defense authorization bill and a defense appropriations bill. The first sets goals, funding levels, policies, and long term strategies for the Department of Defense. The second gives the Defense Department the money to do it. For example, in the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress might tell the military to modernize its night vision technology. In the Defense Appropriations Act, there might be a small section giving the Army $7 billion to spend on “specialized equipment and training devices.” The Army will take some of that money and do as they were instructed.

Authorizations and appropriations are divided up to ensure activities and expenses are reviewed and scrutinized. It also allows for flexibility in multi-year project spending. If the Armed Services Committees want a hypersonic missile program that takes a decade to implement, each year the appropriations committees can allocate more or less funding, depending on how the program is going.

We have not yet seen the complete text of the National Defense Authorization Act, and in any event, it will change quite a bit by December 31, the date by which it must be signed into law.


The Army Combat Fitness Test is not dead yet. Though the NDAA is likely to sail through the Senate, the House of Representatives has its own version, which will need to get out of committee and onto the House floor. Afterward, the House and Senate will have to hash out the differences. Once they do so, it will have to pass both houses of Congress before being signed into law by President Biden.

All this will likely take the entirety of 2023. (Last year’s NDAA did not reach the president’s desk until December 23.) But the passage of the NDAA but the Senate Armed Services Committee, and likely approval by the Senate, is a pretty big deal. There is a real chance the ACFT is finished—and not a moment too soon.


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David Brown is a regular contributor to ClearanceJobs. His most recent book, THE MISSION (Custom House, 2021), is now available in bookstores everywhere in hardcover and paperback. He can be found online at