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The HULC exoskeleton is almost unnoticable at first and feels natural for the soldier, yet it massively enhances their physical capabilities.  (Source: Lockheed Martin)

The suit allows soldiers to effortlessly carry more defensive or offensive tools, like bulletproof steel shields, heavier guns, or extra body armor.  (Source: Lockheed Martin)

Soldiers can lift up to 200 pounds with the HULC.  (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Bring on the mech wars

For those yearning for some good old fashioned mech wars, your hopes may be realized on a battlefront in the near future.

To complement combat airshipslasersdrones, and a variety of other exotic "future weapons", Lockheed Martin is looking to outfit soldiers with powerful exoskeletons that would greatly amplify their physical movements and turn them into resilient angels of death.

Dubbed the Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC, Lockheed Martin has supplemented a $1.1M USD contract with much private investment to try to sell the military on the idea of combat exoskeletons.

Lockheed Martin recently shared details on the progress of the suit with 
Wired.  The HULC in its current form weighs 82 lbs, but when the solider straps in, they feel virtually nothing.  It could in theory support an impressive array of strap-on combat accessories such as missile launchers or a massive 94-pound black steel shield capable of stopping most munitions dead in their tracks (Lockheed Martin has only demonstrated non-weapon accessories like the shield, but said that it should be capable of being weaponized).

The agile outfit is fully "ruggedized" and waterproof.  It can withstand billowing sand and dust, as is commonly present in the Middle East.  Its lithium-ion battery pack can power a 20 km (12.5 mile) march on a single charge.  The suit can travel at 7 miles per hour, faster than a brisk walk, and fast enough to keep up with a slow-traveling tank (tanks top out typically at around 40 mph, but frequently travel much slower when performing tactical or support maneuvers).

The suit allows the soldier to effortlessly lift 200 lb -- far more than an average private sans suit could ever dream of.  And the battery pack weighs only 18 lbs, is rechargeable via Humvee electrical connections, and holds charge for three to four days.

The suit is amazingly flexible allowing you to stand up from a prone or kneeling position rapidly, and without putting almost any weight on the soldier's joints.

Going ahead Lockheed Martin wants to further seal off the unit's hydraulic and electronic systems from the elements and from undesirable electric emissions, which could give away your location.

In the spring of 2011, the exoskeleton will enjoy its first tests by real soldiers in the U.S. military.  And in 2012 Lockheed Martin will test the exosuits in Afghanistan.  The feedback from those tests will probably determine whether the U.S. Armed Forces get serious about investing in the technology.

Lockheed's long-time rival Raytheon is making a competitive model dubbed the XOS 2.

Regardless of which model triumphs, the U.S. Military would be wise to promote this technology.  After all, soldiers are soft and organic, and thus vulnerable to improvised explosive devices and armor-piercing rounds.  It's hard to carry enough body armor to change that fact.  An exoskeleton could not only provide greater protection against these threats, but it could prove a fearsome offensive weapon.  The sight of a legion of heavily armored mech soldiers supported by tanks charging towards them would be enough to send most enemies running from the battlefield.

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200 lbs? 12 mi?
By Schrag4 on 10/26/2010 12:34:31 PM , Rating: 1
I actually feel like the men and women who fight for us really ought to be able to lift 200 lbs and march 12 miles without such a suit. I understand that it would be nice to do these things and still not be worn out afterward, but I don't feel like these are anywhere in the ballpark of super-human achievements. I mean, I sit behind a desk all day long and I know that with a couple of months of PT I could easily do this. I bet I could do it now (although I'd be in considerable pain for a few days afterward since I'm not in shape).

Maybe they want to limit the lifting potential so users don't accidentally crush themselves when the suit fails or when they lose balance.

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By priusone on 10/26/2010 12:43:35 PM , Rating: 4
A lot of guys I meet at the VA have back problems caused by carrying excessive weight. Our service members can go the distance, but it will potentially impact them later in life.

On foot, I never left the wire with less than 800 rounds for my SAW, not to mention water and whatever else might be needed. Screwed up my feet pretty good doing it, but that kinda goes with the job.

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By lyeoh on 10/26/2010 2:38:56 PM , Rating: 2
If it weren't for pesky stuff like joints, ligaments, bones muscles and stuff wearing out, the military might probably try to modify metabolism so that soldiers could operate on "sprint mode" without getting tired as long as their metabolic augmenters don't run out of fuel (which could be cooking oil or diesel).

Cooling seems important too:

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By ClownPuncher on 10/26/2010 1:46:14 PM , Rating: 2
They are doing it with 140+lbs of gear on. Yea, it's tough.

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By Noya on 10/26/2010 2:08:11 PM , Rating: 1
I'm sure they could carry a distributed 200lbs, but their mobility would be pathetic.

I've read the loaded weight is usually around 100-120lbs (shoulders go numb) but for actual combat missions they cut the load to 50-60lbs (armor/helmet, weap/ammo/gren, food/h2o, gear/batteries).

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By Omega215D on 10/26/2010 2:39:23 PM , Rating: 1
You sit behind a desk all day... I don't think you should be making such a comment until you enlist and see for yourself.

RE: 200 lbs? 12 mi?
By Smilin on 10/26/2010 3:37:08 PM , Rating: 3
You misunderstand I think. This is lifting 200lbs ontop of an already full load, not just 200lbs by itself. Heck they almost do that already.

Besides it's not just about having soldiers "man up". They CAN lift heavy loads but do you really want them too? It would be better if they could arrive at a battle rested...and with lots of extra ammo. :)

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