This time the special forces tried to make an “Iron Man” suit
by Tony Stark Iron Man the suit is cool. But it’s not real.
The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit was meant to be a live version to protect US Special Operations Forces in times of danger.
The TALOS suit “was created to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of cutting-edge technologies to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, unparalleled tactical capabilities, and ultimately improve the strategic effectiveness of the FOS operator of the future,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel III, commander of Socom, said yesterday at the National Defense Industries Association’s Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium.
The joint prosecution acquisition task force was established in November 2013 and leveraged one or more breakthrough technologies to protect special operators, Votel said. Socom, he said, brought together an unprecedented group from industry, academia and government to develop the prototype.
A holistic system
Future suit prototypes have exoskeletons that increase the power of operators, Votel explained. They will also be equipped with helmets with head-up display technology. Other future prototypes will include cooling/heating systems and medical sensors to monitor an operator’s vital signs.
“It’s a holistic system with an open systems architecture, so if a new technology develops, we can exchange it,” said a member of the joint task force speaking during a recent interview with Socom at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. “Survivability is our number one principle. We must not only consider integrating current personal protective equipment systems, but also increase the movement of the guy.
This is serious science with serious risks and trade-offs, and the task force’s main effort this year was to “get as many smart people working as possible,” the task force member said.
A rapid prototyping event was held in Tampa from April to June 2014. “The idea for the event was to bring industry, Interagency [and] academia with special operators to speed up the development of technology and speed up the brainstorming of ideas for the suit and the project,” said a member of the working group.
It worked. Over 200 people from a wide range of disciplines responded to the open call. “Bringing these people together in one room allowed for cross-pollination and an incredible atmosphere of collaborative teamwork,” the task force member said.
But the rapid prototyping event was more than just charting a course for theorizing how the different parts would fit together, the task force member said. There were 3D computer modeling designers taking part, he added.
“People could explore concepts by seeing what it would look like, how it would fit together, how it would affect other aspects of the design,” one engineer said. “Usually in [Defense Department] contract, you don’t get that kind of immediate feedback. We might actually have a physical model of what we were thinking.
The team went from cutting designs in foam to sculpting in clay to 3D printing prototypes. “We were able to try out a bunch of different ideas with the experts in the room,” said a working group member.
The costume unfortunately did not materialize as expected.
Going into the rapid prototyping event, the working group members had ideas of what the problems were going to be and the event confirmed them. “He also pointed out ways to overcome those challenges and pointed out challenges that we really didn’t think were that difficult,” the band’s engineer said.
An untethered power source was a big problem, officials said. Energy will be needed to operate the exoskeleton, cool or heat the operator, and power all of the suit’s sensors. “Identifying a power source that has not been connected for an extended period of time is a technological leap forward,” an official said. “It’s something that doesn’t exist in this laptop-sized technology. If someone has an arc reactor in their basement, I know how much money they can make.
The working group examined new materials and materials used in different configurations. “If you could make super, super lightweight armor that represents a leap forward in technology, that would solve some of our other problems,” an official said. “We wouldn’t need that much power, for example.
“We seek to achieve these technological advances,” he continued. “Those jumps in abilities for guys so they can do their jobs better than they do now.”
Suit Catcher Challenges
Another challenge involves the suit’s sensors, officials said. One issue is latency – the time between when a sensor picks up something and when it’s transmitted to the brain. Night vision goggles are immediate – there’s no difference between when the sensor picks it up and when it hits the eye.
“When I move my head, the image is with me all the time,” said the engineer. “The problem with current visual solutions right now is that when I move my head, it lags and takes a second to catch up.”
Today, even the best prototype sensor solution still creates nausea after being under it for 30 minutes.
The task force never forgets that they are developing this suit for real people, for comrades-in-arms, and they have constant interaction with the operators, officials said. “The last thing you want to do is build a suit that no one wants to get into,” said one working group member.
The working group gave various technological elements to the operators to test. Recently, operators have been testing various head-up displays. They also had a user review of the first year exoskeletons. “We had operators of all the components tying them down and running through an obstacle course,” said a task force member. “We also did functional movement tests. This allows operators to come and tell us what they liked and disliked about the prototypes.
TALOS also has a number of civilian uses, officials said. Firefighters can find the initial prototype of passively charged exoskeleton suits at their fingertips, as can others working in extreme environments. The test results will be seen not only in the special operations community, but also in improved ballistic protection for all service members.
On the wall of the task force building is a countdown calendar. On the day of the interview, the number read 877 – the days remaining until the first Mark 5 suit prototype was ready for testing.
“We know why we’re doing this,” said a task force member. “It’s life-saving technology. There are challenges, but the juice is definitely worth it.” The costume design was finally declared a bust in 2019. Will a new version be attempted a Who knows, but it would be cool if it did!