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  (Source: The Disney Company)
Suit will enhance an operator's strength and will protect against small arms fire

Late last month the U.S. Military's Special Operations Command (SOCOM) broadened its call for comment looking for ideas on a high tech suit that could be fielded potentially within the next three years, with a less advanced preliminary prototype completed by the end of 2014.  

The request for an expensive new military technology comes at a problematic time as the government shut down at the start of October, and is on the brink of potentially massive budget cuts.  But experts believe that the suit will be critical to America maintaining military dominance in coming decades, and many comic book enthusiasts are salivating at its potential to make many some elements of superhero fantasies a reality.

I. TALOS: SOCOM's Iron Man Option

SOCOM overseas the U.S. Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEALs), U.S. Army Green Beret, the U.S. Air Force's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers), and other elite units.  In May, this elite sections of the U.S. Military drew a lot of attention when it announced a call -- commonly known as a "request for information (RFI) -- for research on high-tech exoskeleton suits.
Halo 4
Halo Master Chief and Iron Man are possible analogies to the new TALOS suit.  
[Image Source: Microsoft Studios]

The super-suit -- somewhat like Marvel Comics' (The Disney Comp.'s (DIS)) Iron Man or Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Master Chief" from the Halo universe -- is dubbed Tactical Light Operator Suit (TALOS) and is ordered to have the ability to enhance strength, block gunfire (offer "full-body ballistic protection"), and more.  SOCOM suggests the suit may even have some tricks Iron Man didn't always have -- such as though-controlled heads up displays (okay, he has that in the newer comics).

Talos wide
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Oliver showcases an example of what a soldier may look like in the year 2032 at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show. [Image Source: Army PAO]

The RFI -- placed via the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) Office -- requested that responders limit their scope to technologies that would be available within a year.  Additionally it asked the participants to assess whether it would be feasible to field TALOS within 3 years.

DARPA Warrior Web
The DARPA Warrior Web project is similar to TALOS in many ways, and the Army suggests it could be used as a starting point. [Image Source: U.S. Army]

Later that month, the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) SOCOM Senior Enlisted Advisors Panel, Senior Enlisted Advisor Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris acknowledged both the tough intellectual property and budget realities facing the suit, saying:

[Making TALOS a reality] might mean that you [the contractor] have to lay out intellectual property on the table next to a competitor.  We’ve got to get over that [fear], because if you can develop the articulated armor, the heads-up display for this, but you can’t develop the power, than how are we going to come up with something truly revolutionary?  [The RFI  mandates this as] any and all TALOS solutions must include all necessary software and hardware to accomplish the mission.

Shit [sic], as we look at possible sequestration and things like that and we go to … extend life-cycles of existing things we have today, you guys are going to have to come up with more innovative ways.  [We need] to work together as industry to be the revolutionary partner that we need as we move forward in the future.
Warrior Web
What the U.S. Army thinks a future soldier might look like [Image Source: U.S. Army]

Also in May, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) responded to the request, suggesting that the suit should have an inner layer with embedded sensors to monitor "body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels."

T1000 Melting
The new suit may use "liquid metal" technology similar to the T1000. [Image Source: Tristar Pictures]

The Army response also suggested that the program use an upcoming Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) bulletproof armor technology nicknamed "liquid metal".  The technology features magnetorheological fluids -- special metal-based fluids which can turn from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a charge is applied.

II. Brilliance or an "Uparmored Pinocchio"?

Things continued to roll, with a demonstration in July various components of the suit were demoed by various potential contractors and U.S. Military research departments:



In a short press release on Sept. 20, SOCOM made a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) -- which increased the visibility of the information gathering, potentially enticing more contractors to participate.

The request explains:

The BAA goal is to foster collaboration with government, academia, and industry representatives on the TALOS effort. Prior studies and analysis have determined a number of technical challenges exist for the SOF equipment that require improvements for missions into the future. Those challenges include trade space between weight, protection, power, and mobility, cost, and system component integration.

Jim Geurts, USOCOM acquisition executive, comments, "USSOCOM is interested in receiving white papers from a wide variety of sources, not just traditional military industry but also from academia, entrepreneurs, and laboratories capable of providing the design, construction, and testing of TALOS related technologies.  The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative TALOS capabilities to the SOF operator."

TALOS PAO
SOCOM wants to build the suit next year, field it by 2016. [Image Source: RDECOM PAO]

Not everyone is enthused at the potentially pricey getup.  Comments Scott Neil, a retired special forces master sergeant and Silver Star recipient, to the The Tampa Tribune at a recent TALOS-oriented convention:

My sense is it is an uparmored Pinocchio!  Now the commander can shove a monkey in a suit and ask us to survive a machine gun, IED, and poor intelligence all on the same objective. And when you die in it as it melts to your body, you can bury them in it! But in all seriousness, I'd like to see them invest in another kind of suit — a business suit. Not one of the operators who has been wearing 80 pounds of body armor and kit will be in Socom after hundreds of millions are spent, but we will be fighting a new fight — transitioning back to be ordinary Americans.

The current BAA closes in September of next year.  SOCOM's intent to is to produce a prototype by the end of 2014, if it receives sufficient support.  That objective is still very up in the air, but for now it's fun to at least think about this comic book worthy hodge podge of bleeding edge (no pun intended) wearable technology.

Sources: SOCOM [BAA], The Tampa Bay Tribune, MIT, FBO





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