Lighter Armor and Exosuit Soldier Technology

US Army researchers will brief industry next month on soldier systems technology challenges and future contracting opportunities for the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC)

Soldier systems technology challenges of interest include:
— armor for warfighters;
— human performance metrics for the system-level soldier and squad;
— models and analytical tools for the soldier as a system;
— aerial resupply on-demand for small units on the move;
— accurate low cost aerial delivery systems;
— tactical habitats in diverse geographical climates and locations;
— rapidly deployable base camps and equipment;
— waste to energy systems;
— shelter-integrated alternative energy systems;
— foods to improve physical and cognitive performance;
— identifying regional food safety threats;
— food processing and packaging;
— energy-efficient refrigeration; and
— next-generation lightweight, nonwoven, antimicrobial, and flame-resistant fabrics for clothing and shelters.

Popular Science had some graphics of soldier technology.

DARPA has created Warrior Web, a soft, supportive undersuit for the lower body. With a system of spring and rubber bands, the suit stores a soldier’s own kinetic power (from walking or running) and then releases it, lowering metabolic energy use. By augmenting existing leg muscles, the suit could reduce the exertion of carrying combat loads by 25 percent, says Lt. Colonel Joe Hitt, program manager at DARPA—possibly even enabling soldiers to run a four-minute mile. Warrior Web also helps prevent injury by stabilizing and reducing stresses on the ankle, knee, and hip joints. Though the suit adds 20 pounds, it more than compensates for the extra weight with just 100 watts of battery power, roughly twice that of a laptop. Early prototypes can be worn comfortably beneath a soldier’s regular uniform and body armor; a final version is slated for 2016. “

A Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), the robotic full-body armor essentially turns troops into walking tanks, with full-body, computerized armor that might provide intelligence and even medical care. But the suit currently weighs almost 200 pounds and requires an 80 or 90 pound backpack generator to power it. “We don’t want to add perceived weight to the operator,” said Michael Fieldson, program manager for TALOS at SOCOM, so his team has made strides on a new engine-powered prototype. “We’ve gone from a law of physics problem to an engineering problem,” he says. If all goes well, SOCOM expects a final version of the suit as early as 2018.

The Army and Marines aim to lighten body armor by 10 to 15 percent over the next decade without changing its tensile strength. The military is investing in new polyethylene ballistic fibers—which could form soft, supple vests that are nonetheless 20 to 30 times stronger than steelCK—and fine-tuning ceramic armor at the nanoscale to make complementary hard protection. The Army is also making armor more modular, so soldiers can tailor it to individual missions. To patrol without appearing threatening, for example, troops will be able remove ceramic inserts from soft armor vests and wear the vests concealed beneath their clothes. “This enables maximum range and mobility,” Lozano says, “so it gives protection at its lightest possible.” Production of next-gen armor will start as early as 2016.