Military eyes real-world 'Iron Man' suits

A program to add technologies to a futuristic outfit for special operations forces may debut a prototype as soon as next year.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 4, 2013 1:58PM
Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man, and Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man 3 (© W.Disney/Everett/Rex Features)By Justin Bachman, Bloomberg Businessweek

While some may view the Mark series of suits in the "Iron Man" comics and movies as science fiction, the Pentagon sees a real-world goal.

A program to incorporate several technologies in a futuristic suit for U.S. special operations forces has started soliciting technical designs to help deploy the first one as soon as next year. 

The aim of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos) is to give special ops fighters greater protection inside armor that can withstand bullets, all while downloading live video data from drones and other sources. 

The suit would have a powered exoskeleton that could help a soldier move quickly while carrying heavy weight. “It also would carry a built-in oxygen supply in case of poison gas, a cooling system to keep soldiers comfortable, and sensors to transmit the wearer’s vital signs back to headquarters,” according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.

The suit won’t imitate the movies in one critical way, at least for many, many years: There will be no zooming around the globe at jet speeds. Flight is a fanciful, Herculean technical hurdle, and isn’t core to the suit’s primary goals. A more practical challenge shared with the fictional Tony Stark is perfecting the proper battery to power such a suit, given the perennial conflict between size and weight and the need to keep the suit flexible and not burdensome.

The project is being overseen by the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Unlike a traditional defense contracting program, the Special Operations Command is gathering technologies required for the project and will itself integrate them into a final suit prototype. A second demonstration of various components for the suit is scheduled for Nov. 20, roughly four months after the initial session in Tampa. 

About 60 products have been submitted so far, although no funds have been allotted to any company, said Lieutenant Commander Li Cohen. The first fighters assigned to the suits will likely be on “kinetic missions,” she said, where there’s a high probability of combat and weapons fire.

The program is on track to have a “first-generation capability” by summer 2014, according to a video produced by the command. “I am very committed to this because I’d like that last operator that we lost to be the last one that we ever lose, in this fight or in the fight of the future,” Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, says in the video.

The program has attracted interest from dozens of mostly smaller firms, although Raytheon (RTN) is one of the larger Pentagon contractors that’s expressed interest in Talos and similar efforts. The company declined to comment because the work is competitive. One technology that Raytheon has been working on for several years is an exoskeleton system that would allow a soldier to move heavy weights.

Clark Gregg, the agent who plays Agent Phil Coulson in the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" movies and on the ABC (DIS) television show S.H.I.E.L.D., visited Raytheon’s research facility in Utah in 2010 to observe and test the exoskeleton. Raytheon posted a video on its YouTube channel. Consider it a teaser trailer of sorts.

More from Bloomberg Businessweek

Nov 5, 2013 7:49PM

While cool in a sci fi way! I don't know how safe US citizens feel about the continuing government arms race. Especially, regarding technology that can be used for Urban Pacification, or stifling civil dissent against citizens speaking out against government misconduct, or corruption! And it doesn't matter what political party is in the Whitehouse...Since, Bush, and Obama era, we have seen the Abuse of the so-called Patriot Act, the NSA spy ring, TSA,DHS,FBI, DRONE attacks, and other rouge government operations. Is this something that will really benefit the US citizen?!

Nov 6, 2013 12:26AM
we will spend trillions on this and it will never go to troops in the battlefield. It will end up going to small black ops forces while our troops continue to be given sub-standard equipment and sent to die to keep the lie alive for our elected officials.
Nov 5, 2013 6:42PM

If, as in the photo above, it comes with Gwyneth Paltrow as 'standard equipment', ... then I definitely want one!  ;-))



Nov 6, 2013 3:23AM
This is something that has been percolating through the Defense Industry for years now. We saw it with The Future Soldier Program.  Spec Ops has always gotten the goodies while the regular BOGs have gotten leftovers. I was using PV7's when I left 82nd in '01. Next Unit was 2 generations BEHIND and 82nd was still at least 2 generations  behind what The Green Berets were using. Same with the M-4. First deployment in '04 they handed me a brand new M-4 to replace my M-16A2, which was broken in just fine for me, as we were loading up to get on the plane. Thing was tighter than Dick's hat band and took me running 4 magazines through it in Kuwait just to get it to shoot enough to zero and re-qualify with. 
Nov 6, 2013 10:17AM

I would rather spend the money on our science programs and infrastructure.

Nov 7, 2013 1:22PM
Sounds more like Halo armor to me. Next they will make super soldiers because the suites will be too much for a regular soldier.
Nov 6, 2013 11:24AM
Really? a more feasible development program would be found in the ODST armor from Halo (halo . wikia . com/wiki/ODST_battle_armor).  Unless you are looking for strength augmentation from the suit, this is way more cost effective to develop, the limitation being the helmet HUD and communications link.  The proposed materials used are readily available and there are no complex moving pieces, nor does it have to be vacuum rated though it would be handy for biological weapons I'd guess.
Nov 6, 2013 10:37AM

At first I thought what a horrible idea, the government can't even do their most basic job without messing it all up.  But when I read its going to be actual spec-ops guys working on this, that got me kind of excited.  I have seen several fore-runners to this in the last 10 years, between power-suits and tying in drone feeds directly to a ground forces' (by way of ballistic glasses that have a built in HUD).  This could be very interesting to see, and very possibly change infantry combat for the foreseeable future.

Nov 5, 2013 6:26PM
I won't be supporting this. At all.  Not that it matters...just saying.
Nov 6, 2013 12:40PM
How about world peace? Then we don't have to build body suits to kill hundreds of people. 
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