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SOCOM Admiral pushes for Iron Man-style combat suit

By

October 11, 2013

Not the TALOS combat suit (Photo: HarshLight)

Not the TALOS combat suit (Photo: HarshLight)

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The US Navy's top SEAL, four-star Admiral William McRaven, is pushing hard for a modern suit of armor called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). Though not exactly an Iron Man suit, it's that ballpark. As a result, a Broad Agency Announcement has now been issued seeking proposals and research in support of the design, construction, and testing of TALOS, with a basic version hopefully seeing service within three years.

The TALOS program has often been described as developing an Iron Man suit for special ops teams, but a better analogy might be the powered armor in Robert Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers. Among the advanced capabilities of interest to the TALOS development effort are advanced armor, improved strength and stamina, thermal management of the soldier, efficient power systems, and integrated medical monitoring/treatment system. At present, there are no plans to include flight capability.

The announcement is quite unusual in that it has no set-asides or cost-sharing requirements. Grants made for research and development will be for a period of less than one year, and projects requiring in excess of $2 million for that period will require serious justification. White papers submitted in response to the announcement will be evaluated on a quarterly basis. The total budget available has not been announced.

SOCOM has also issued a new Request for Information that seeks input on longer-term revolutionary and novel technologies that have the potential to impact the TALOS program on a longer timescale, but currently have a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of five or less. These TRLs correspond to the range between basic research on a technology through partial demonstrations of new technologies.

These technology demonstrations, to be held in mid-November, have the goal of identifying technologies and innovative developmental approaches which could potentially supply revolutionary, game changing capabilities and developmental approaches to the TALOS program as well as to USSOCOM supported Research and Development in general.

Artist's concept of an early version of a Warrior Web suit, likely to be a major part of a...

Artist's concept of an early version of a Warrior Web suit, likely to be a major part of an eventual TALOS suit (Image: DARPA)

So what is a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit likely to offer a Special Ops soldier? A few of the more dramatic ideas have surfaced, giving us some notion of where the program might lead.

One high-priority area is to include a lighter, but more effective armor system, that includes effective protection of the head and extremities. While a good deal of current research in this area is looking at shear thickening fluids, which become stiff on impact, a new thrust into the use of magnetorheological fluids that become solid and gain extreme strength when subjected to intense pulses of magnetic fields or electric currents. Technologies that will improve protection against blast waves will also be sought.

Even an early version of TALOS will include passive or low-powered exoskeletons to improve strength and endurance of the individual soldier. These will probably follow closely the progress of DARPA's Warrior Web program, which is seeking a 20 pound exoskeleton-based suit that can roughly double the long-term performance of a soldier. Later versions are likely to be limited only by their power supplies.

Situational awareness and C4 (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers) capabilities are under constant development in military circles, and the best are likely to be incorporated into TALOS.

Finally, greatly enhanced medical diagnostic and treatment abilities will also be integrated into TALOS. Depending on shock to allow soldiers to function after being wounded is not the best idea in the world. Instead, it will likely include enough diagnostic capability to provide an accurate picture of the physical and mental capabilities of a wounded soldier. Real-time treatment of some injuries and conditions by, perhaps under the supervision of a medic, is also a possibility. The suit is nearly certain to allow remotely-activated oxygen and drug treatment, but wound stasis being perhaps the most revolutionary.

DARPA's Wound Stasis System is being developed to, simply put, prevent soldiers from bleeding to death if at all possible. The way this operates is based on a new polyurethane polymer foam developed for the purpose. It can be injected into the abdominal cavity, or into penetrating wounds, where it then expands to 30 times the original size, in the process sealing off and compressing wounds, thereby reducing the rate of blood loss six-fold in early tests. The foam does no adhere to tissues and does not trap blood in pockets within the foam, as the expansion of the foam occurs too quickly.

TALOS is a wide-ranging program, requiring development and application of technologies across the technical spectrum. It would have little chance of remaining a coherent program without the fervent support of one of the US military's most senior officers. "I'm very committed to this, I'd like that last operator that we lost to be the last operator we lose in this fight or the fight of the future, and I think we can get there," McRaven told dozens of industry representatives during a planning meeting held in July. Time will tell, but it seems likely that powered combat armor is on the horizon.

You can see a video on TALOS below.

Source: Federal Business Opportunities

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
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16 Comments

fiction in action.....

Tyeef Islam
11th October, 2013 @ 07:37 am PDT

Ah the woes of technological infancy. The admiral looked cross-eyed after taking off the VR goggles, and they expect to have a suit within a year?

sk8dad
11th October, 2013 @ 01:39 pm PDT

I think this article is a bit premature—this is simply an RFP (Request For Proposal) from Admiral McRaven to to military and tech vendors on a pretty loose wishlist, and I'm certain, not meant for public consumption—the accompanying video seems very crude and thrown together.

yrag
11th October, 2013 @ 08:24 pm PDT

"for a period of less than one year, and projects requiring in excess of $2 million for that period will require serious justification."

Chicken feed funds. The only thing preventing powered armor from getting traction in the armed forces is the power to weight of the power pack at a reasonable cost.

This is being aggressively pursued in the private sector to satisfy average Joe.

He is looking for the $20-30k electric SUV with an idiot proof power cell giving the vehicle its 0-60 in 4 and 400 mile range.

Joe also has ADHD so he wants it now now NOW !

It will also take a war where the US is fighting a foe that has equivalent technology before they shift the focus away from the Air to the ground. ie - where US air superiority is matched, forcing the unlikely alternative.

Every little step in this direction will eventually lead us to the creation of the beloved and revered Space Marine. :)

Something tells me it will take 400 not 40,000 years before we get him. But we will get him !

Nairda
13th October, 2013 @ 09:55 pm PDT

@Nairda

Robots will be used in place of humans before the end of this century for warfare.

Humans will not fight each other (atleast when it comes to great powers fighting like US Russia China etc.) but robots will be used instead, it is already happening. What makes you think that anybody would put a human in a suit and send them to fight when you could use a machine which can be made more efficiently and mass produced, has no feelings and has a much lower level of err than compared to a human.

FabianC
14th October, 2013 @ 02:38 am PDT

By the time they get the suit ready for a human to use, a full humanoid robot will be also ready and more suitable. A humanoid drone or avatar is probably going to be more useful than just a fancy suit of armour.

Greg P
14th October, 2013 @ 02:39 am PDT

Re: FabianC

Suspect it will take a while for machines to get up to speed and be fully autonomous to the point of matching human cunning.

The power suit will be an interim solution as there will likely always be one man on the ground providing higher level decisions for the "swarm"

ie - powered suit human commander(s), supported by autonomous:

*mechanised (tank like)

*smaller mobile weapons platforms (Bigdog like)

*recon drones (land and air)

This will be seen as a suitable solution because human elements will mostly be away front the front so casualties will be low.

The combination will work well because for one, humans take it personally and history shows some prefer to be where the fight is even at their peril.

And for the second less nice reason being that human population will explode in the future, so the price of life will be less. Or the price of winning the war is life itself if in the case that future wars are over fresh water or food.

Nairda
14th October, 2013 @ 08:37 am PDT

Aye, but aside from the possibility of a 'real' war between two or more major powers, the biggest battle the millitary currently fights is against public opinion and morality. Robots in an old-fashioned battlefield killing armed combatants is one thing, but in the more realistic environment of a city, town or village... 'robots' (human operated or autonomous) accidentally killing innocent civillians would be a serious issue. Available technology or not, there are good reasons you would take humans into combat over killing machines.

Themadcow
14th October, 2013 @ 08:59 am PDT

It would be much cheaper to ban war.

ezeflyer
14th October, 2013 @ 09:27 am PDT

Okay so we have mentioned space marines - but not robocop, battlemechs or the obvious terminator - seems like it might be a bit scary soon as either we all need to learn to live together or someone wll get smushed

myale
14th October, 2013 @ 09:27 am PDT

Perhaps all of the previous stories of nanfoams and self healing plastics/ sealant/ceramic would be cool for this and could be the solution to weight

myale
14th October, 2013 @ 09:31 am PDT

I do not feel that a full Ironman is not possible at this time, however a telepresence human controlled robot is!

Combining a robot body parts made of recycled plastic soda bottles, a piezo electric hydraulic system that minimum power requirement motion control method, flexible linear encoders, digital radio communications, 2 digital cameras, 2 completely dexterous prosthetic / robotic hands, and a new method of making binocular glasses, is completely possible with almost off the shelf parts.

Randolph Garrison
14th October, 2013 @ 09:51 am PDT

@ezeflyer

"It would be much cheaper to ban war."

How do you plan on enforcing that?

Silverbird
14th October, 2013 @ 10:54 am PDT

Agree the emphasis of spending a lot more money in the air vs on the ground. As for those who believes robots will take over? Really? Unless, robots can do EVERYTHING: i.e. secure a parameter. The answer is flat NO.

In this world, you don't have full control of the area until you put a soldier foot on the ground...Otherwise, you just imagine that you have the control of the area. Ask the Russian about Afghanistan and/or remind the Americans on Vietnam.

War is hell. It takes a lot of work hold onto a piece of land...

Luan To
14th October, 2013 @ 02:02 pm PDT

Yes, let's ban war and while we're at it let's ban mugging and armed robbery and assault. Oh wait, those are already illegal, so I guess we don't have to worry about THOSE any more.

Takis
14th October, 2013 @ 02:36 pm PDT

I can see them making a hybrid of drone style long distance control, but using a robot in the field. This way they get the thinking power/order taking when they wish, and the "Oh the robot went nutz and shot everyone"! Deniability that criminal Govts so love.

PaulYak
19th January, 2014 @ 10:16 am PST
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