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For years, U.S. Special Operations Command has been working on a suit for special operators that would essentially provide power and resiliency beyond normal human capability and it appears the project is one year away from a major milestone.
USSOCOM is making progress and development officials evaluate that next year, they’ll be able to put an operator into a powered exoskeleton and test the system’s capabilities.
The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, as USSOCOM formally calls it, is comprised of a baselayer, an exoskeleton which is essentially a robotic skeleton, and a layer of armor. Concepts of the suit show armor from head to toe and include a complex helmet with built-in situational awareness and communications capabilities. Beyond the bones, it will rely on a complex robotic network of actuators that will move the body effortlessly through strenuous tasks.
There are components or aspects of the base layer, be it the thermal-state management, the constellation of sensors for different biological and physiological reading awareness that certainly have applications, useful applications, not only to the military.
In fact, the program has already fielded base layer systems that help with passive thermal regulations through tubes that move fluids around the body, either warm or cold, depending on the outside environment and the heat the body is already giving off.
Breakthroughs have been achieved in the optical field. The concept for a display built into the helmet is just a small clear plate that is positioned underneath the eye, so a simple glance down shows a wealth of knowledge regarding an operator’s surroundings.
One of the major issues with armor is that what is needed for full protection is still required to be thick and heavy and scientists continue to work on protection that weighs less and is less bulky. Ideally, protection would weigh as much as a layer of fabric and feel like it, and scientific breakthroughs continue to work toward that.
The lithium polymer battery developed through the program is putting out a considerable energy density.
According to defensenews.com, those developments provide ample opportunities or options for other efforts like powering unmanned systems or other dismounted requirements.
Once the team finishes some of the subcomponents, it will then contemplate how to integrate the technology into the force. If the operators say it’s useful, then the developing team will get it out to the force structure as fast as possible.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has been developing an exoskeleton designed only for the legs called ONYX. It incorporates a rigid load-bearing framework to transfer weight off the wearer to the ground; compact actuators at the knee to increase strength; and an artificial intelligence that adjusts the machinery to move seamlessly with the wearer — unlike past earlier exoskeletons that often resisted the body’s natural movements.
Previous development efforts conducted by Lockheed Martin to create full exoskeletons (HULC, FORTIS) failed due to restrictions on movement, weight, technical complications, etc., according to breakingdefense.com.