Military Intelligence

US army developing ‘Iron Man’ body armour for soldiers of the future

Superhuman suits worn by comic book heroes may not be science fiction if US army scientists succeed in developing advanced body armour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 6:15am

Agence France-Presse      in Washington


US Army Sergeant Matthew Oliver showcases an example of futuristic soldier armour at the Chicago Auto Show last year. Photo: SMP

US army researchers are working on building hi-tech body armour that would give soldiers “superhuman strength” in a real-life version of the suit featured in Iron Man films.

The blueprint for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) would include an exoskeleton to allow a soldier to carry heavy equipment, built-in computing power, beefed up protection to stop bullets and a system to monitor vital signs, defence officials said.

“Some of the potential technologies planned for TALOS research and development include advanced armour, situational awareness, command and control computers, power management systems, and enhanced mobility exoskeletons,” according to a US Army statement.

US Special Operations Command put out the call last month for research papers on potential technologies that a “smart” combat suit could incorporate.

The request for “white papers” will extend through September 2014, and then defence officials will weigh how to proceed while taking into account growing pressures on the Pentagon budget, said army spokesman Roger Teel.

The new combat armour might also employ “liquid armour,” reminiscent of the Terminator films, though the technology is still in an early stage of development, Teel said.

The liquid would transform into a solid if a magnetic or electrical charge was applied.

“There is a liquid armour that they are looking at developing,” said Teel, adding that scientists at MIT were studying the idea. “It could possibly be turned on with a battery switch” to deflect gunfire, he said.

TALOS “is an advanced infantry uniform that promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection,” according to an army statement.

In a crude animated demonstration video released by the army on how the combat suit might operate, a soldier in science fiction-inspired gear stands in a doorway as bullets bounce off at close range from an unidentified enemy.

The project’s acronym, TALOS, refers to the automaton of Greek mythology made of bronze that Zeus deploys to safeguard his lover Europa.

Despite previous weapons programmes that came to little, officials say the technologies for the ambitious project are not out of reach, even if they sound more like the stuff of myth or movie.

The concept of providing virtual displays of battlefield forces in a soldier’s helmet screen resembles similar efforts already underway for a sophisticated helmet for pilots flying the new F-35 fighter jet.

As the proposed suit would draw on a range of technical disciplines, the military expects the project to be developed jointly by academia, government scientists and technology firms.

Although the project evokes comparisons with Tony Stark’s superhero suit from the Iron Man movies, no one is claiming the smart armour will enable soldiers to fly. “It’s not going to be all that,” Teel said. “But it’s going to be special.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Iron Man’ soldiers taking shape in lab.