Congress Wants More Control Of Special Operations ‘Iron Man Suit’

Congress Wants More Control Of Special Operations ‘Iron Man Suit’

Matt Cox, had an online article in yesterday’s (April 29, 2014), with the title above. Mr. Cox writes that Congress is “tightening its control over U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) new, “Iron Man” battle-suit, expressing concerns that program officials are already mishandling the complex effort.”

Mr. Cox adds that USSOCOM, “recently launched a new website to promote its vision of elite commandos, outfitted in futuristic, battle-suits — like those depicted in Hollywood blockbusters such as Marvel’s Iron Man series. The Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit effort, known as TALOS, would provide operators with full-body ballistic protection and increased physical performance. It would also feature embedded antennas and computers designed to give operators increased situational awareness. It’s even supposed to keep the wearer cool in hot weather; and, warm in cold climates,” noted Mr. Cox.

“Despite,” what Mr. Cox says is/was “aggressive marketing efforts by USSOCOM,” members of the House Armed Services Committee want to know more about the program before more funding is approved. “The Committee understands that present efforts are being used to survey current technologies and to better inform future requirements documents, and that USSOCOM intends to deliver a fully functional prototype assault suit by August 2018,” according to language in the Fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill released by the SubCommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities. The Committee is concerned that these requirements are not being properly coordinated with related, or complimentary efforts that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Command.”

According to Mr. Cox, “the bill’s language includes guidelines to go with USSOCOM’s $17.5M budget request to support TALOS. The Committee directs the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to brief the defense congressional committees by August 1, 2014 on the TALOS project, and similar efforts to include: the overall TALOS requirement for USSOCOM: including requirements validation; a list of funded activities for fiscal years 2013-2014, as well as planned activities for Fiscal Year 2015 and beyond, — including efforts through DARPA Natick Soldier Systems Command, the other military services, the Rapid Innovation Fund, and industry.” Additionally, the Committee requested details on “the coordination efforts undertaken by USSOCOM, DARPA, Natick Soldier Systems Command and other similar ongoing research and development activities; project timelines, including the development of prototypes and anticipated funding; any other developmental efforts underway that could satisfy USSOCOM’s TALOS-like requirements; any other items the SECDEF deems appropriate.”

Mr. Cox notes that the “TALOS Team plans on partnering with industry and academia — to help overcome some of the huge, financial hurdles involved with developing such complex, multi-component technology. USSOCOM intends to funnel $80M into research and development for the four-year effort. Defense industry officials maintain the program will likely cost hundreds of millions more to perfect the sophisticated technology.”

“While USSOCOM is the proper authority to define Special Operations Forces peculiar requirements, it may not be the appropriate entity to lead such developmental technology efforts, like TALOS,” the bills language states. While the Committee understands the Natick Soldier Systems Command is currently developing and partially funding one of the two, Generation-I prototypes for USSOCOM, the Committee is concerned that USSOCOM is also funding outside private sector research, and that overall efforts lack proper coordination and oversight, systems integration, and collaboration, and prototype evaluation.”

Sarah Weinberger wrote an article last year for the BBC with the title, “Iron Man To Batman: The Future of Soldier Suits,” where she notes, “if exoskeletons evoke images of super-soldiers flinging cars, the reality could be just as dramatic.” “The exoskeleton is essentially a wearable robot that amplifies its wearer’s strength, endurance, and agility” said Raytheon last year.

Alexander de Avila, writing in PolicyMic, said the “TALOS suit won’t be ready for use in combat anytime soon, but it could have significant implications for the 21st Century urban warfare. While expected to be bulky and unwieldy at first, any type of technology that offers a soldier relief from the standard caliber bullets, has the potential to be a meaningful battlefield achievement.

I can envision that the Iron Man battle-suits of the future will only be functional — based on each individual soldiers DNA, so that the adversaries and others cannot utilize it capabilities during a conflict — if captured. It would also be interesting and enlightening to know the state of research in this area by our peers, near-peers and adversaries. Where are we, in relation to others in the state of research? Are we way out front? Even with others? Or, behind in some cases? V/R, RCP


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