ON THE BOUNCE? US Army Seeks to Field Soldier Exoskeletons

In a recent letter released to Army general officers, Chief of Staff of the Army Mark Milley outlined a plan for reform of the Army’s development and procurement arms. In it, he also made mention of the Army’s plans for future individual weapons and equipment. Among those, the General mentioned a new piece of kit for the soldier: Exoskeletons. From the letter:

6. Finally, Soldier lethality that spans all fundamentals  – shooting, moving, communicating, protecting, and sustaining. We will field not only next generation individual and squad weapons, but also improved body armor, sensors, radios, and load-bearing exoskeletons. Putting all this together, we must improve human performance and decision making by increasing training and assessment, starting at the Soldier level. This will require a rapid expansion of our synthetic training environment and deeper distribution of simulations capabilities down to battalion and companies, with simulation capability to model combat in megacities, a likely battlefield of the future.

Milley’s letter paints dynamic picture of the future Army: Soldiers with exoskeletons and advanced weapons and body armor fighting complex fights in super-dense megacities against uniquely 21st Century threats. However, this image may seem a little unrealistic to some. Though passive load-bearing exoskeletons have seen some use in the past year, the concept of augmented soldiers still seems like science-fiction to many, as do the megacity battlefields on which Milley envisions they will fight. Is Milley pushing for much-needed reform and modernization, or are his ideas on what that means too close to wishful thinking? It’s impossible to know right now, but what is certain is that the current posture of the Army and its demands on the soldier are unsustainable. As mentioned by CSA Milley in recent Congressional testimony earlier this year, soldier readiness is in a critical condition, and nearly 20,000 soldiers are permanently non-deployable, most due to musculoskeletal injuries.

H/T, Defense One.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Harry’s Holsters

    Headline: Soldier Load Outs Increase Exponentially

    • Herr Wolf

      What a joke- like those stupid robotic DARPA dogs

  • PK

    If load-bearing exoskeletons are adopted which can help carry, say, two hundred extra pounds… then soldiers will be handed two hundred twenty extra pounds each. More of the same.

    • uytyu

      Its ike PCs and laptops, when new models are more powerful softwar companies make more heavy softwares.

    • Hinermad

      I used to work for a manufacturer of military equipment. Like one of our marketing managers used to say in his customer presentations, “We load our troops down with 200 pounds of ‘lightweight’ gear.”

  • Some Guy
    • Major Tom

      Needs more Gundam

      • LGonDISQUS

        LG stands for lalah’s ghost~

        • Melvi Mala

          Sieg Zeon!

      • Some Guy

        Gundams are heresy.

        • Anonymoose

          Space Marines in Gundams would be even better than Space Marines or Gundams by themselves.

        • Major Tom

          Now THAT is a heretical statement!

    • Ryfyle

      You know they’re just give folks Knee Braces right?

    • KidCorporate

      The Chief of Staff of the Army Protects.

  • Brett baker

    Has anyone told the General that in the rest of the world, megacities are mostly slums?

    • Herr Wolf

      A lot of these guys spend their whole careers inside the Beltway.

    • Warren Ellis

      They’re both slums and massive towers. Say you’re fighting in Seoul, that’s one of the great megacities of over 10 million people I believe.

      Much of the world is becoming more urbanized so at some point, modern militaries may have to fight in some urban megacity.

    • TeaPartyPagan

      It almost makes one wonder just WHERE they are *planning* to fight…

  • LGonDISQUS

    Y’know, I’ve been debating whether like… some kind of electric powered kickscooter with a few inches of ground clearance would be better.

    Hour run time @ 15mph. 25mph boost mode for twenty or so. Think of the 18″ x 4″ x 3″ battery packs on the high end Specialized/Trek ebikes. Easily swappable out of the foot tray.

    MSRP could be $500 or so, $220 military procurement cost. Near disposable in terms of price.

    Someone starts shooting when you’re packing gear – slow down, chuck it, and engage.

    • Samuel Millwright

      I’m working up a manned gpmg/hmg/agl/weapons squad gp tripod thing sorta based on what you’re thinking of….

      It’s pretty damn spiffy but I’m working on making it even more spiffy so when we finally fight the chinese and we’re still using the woefully obsolete ma deuce whose gun alone weighs simething like 30 pounds more than the chicom 12.7×108 equivalent and it’s (way god damn better than ours) tripod combined a jp grade fuel burning engine not private snuffy is humping the big fat deuce around!

      Boy are those chinese gonna be surprised at some of the places we’ll be able to get 50’s emplaced when they’re mounted on my tripod dealie!

      You’ll hear “how the **** did they get that the- THWAP! and see heads literally explode on a frequent basis if everything goes to plan LOL

      • LGonDISQUS

        Photos?

        • Samuel Millwright

          Dude!!!

          You have no idea how bad i just want to upload videos 3d models the information packet the paperwork for the patents and EVERYTHING else to show you guys!!!

          …. But….

          My patent attorney who’s very generously doing all this in the hopes of future payment if someone wants to license some or all of what I’ve got has said he’d murder everyone i ever loved anx 12 kittens if i share stuff before he says i can….

          This seems fair if a bit extreme to me and i don’t want him to murder kittens so i can’t share yet!

  • SDFA

    Stronger soldiers with more weapons training vs tech exoeskeletons, smart rifles for weak soldiers.
    Tecnology is helpful but i think US ARMY havent present how WWII was won.

    • Blurb

      Nukes?

    • Brett baker

      Unrestricted submarine warfare, firebombing enemy cities, killing a lot of the people You’re liberating, and having the Russians and Chinese do most of the fighting. While I support these strategies, I Don’t think they’re going to happen, next big war.

      • Anonymoose

        China didn’t do squat. Chiang and his slanty-eyed Nazi pals spent the entire war chasing Mao around the continent and selling their aid packages for profit instead of fighting the Japanese.

        • ARCNA442

          Then I wonder where the estimated 3 million Japanese casualties in China came from?

          Also, it was generally the Communists that were attacking the Nationalists while the latter fought the Japanese.

        • EC

          The Japanese had 27 of 51 divisions in China proper, and an additional 13 divisions in Mongolia. Most Western sources claim that 22%-39% of all Japanese losses in WWII occurred in China. The official Japanese numbers are 25%-43%, though this possibly does not include injury casualties.

          Compared to Okinawa (only 3-4 Japanese divisions, many of which were conscripts or armed civilians), we had it relatively easy. The Japanese had 9 divisions at Shanghai (many of their crack forces) and at least 5 divisions at Nanjing. Our fights on islands in the Pacific were a breeze compared to what the Chinese were going through.

          Sure, Chiang was definitely hoarding what few troops he had after most of the fighting from Shanghai. He didn’t really have much to fight with, and the failed counter-attack in 1941 was probably evidence of this. That being said, at that point the Japanese weren’t able to go on the offensive either. These Chinese were fending for themselves until late 1941, and realistically there were no major American actions in the Pacific until mid or late 1942 (none of which would really have an immediate effect on the war in mainland Asia).

    • Some Guy

      The US army won through Industrial capacity. The USA was the production facilty for the allies and soviets, the rest they contributed really does not matter when compared to the output of the US(just look up the numbers of leand lease).

      The USA was not the perfect force it was far from it(any other nation was far away as well), but after the war they did the right thing and adopted the things that worked like mission tacticts, the MBT, the GPM, the recoiless rifle, etc.

      • LGonDISQUS

        God bless Lemay and McNamara.

    • Samuel Millwright

      Luckily we don’t listen to incoherent people such as yourself for our procurement or tactical decision making

  • SDFA

    Megacities?i tought future wars would be in Mars 🙂

  • Don Ward

    Fighting in megacities? No problem. That’s what why they invented the m58 miclic, to clear the enemy out block by block…

    • PK

      I laughed far too hard at this suggestion. Thanks for that!

  • Audie Bakerson

    We’ve had the tech to make it for a decade at this point. The problem always has been, and continues to be, the power source.

    • Thomas S

      Pretty much.

      Hopefully all of this extra development time will lead to more capabilities at reduced power cost.

      I don’t know that mass fielding of this stuff is going to happen soon (say next decade) but someday it will happen.

      It is possible to do so someone will. Too big an advantage to give up. Once someone does, everyone else will need to or fall behind.

      • Audie Bakerson

        We’ll see exoskeletons used as glorified forklifts long before we see them on the battlefield.

        • Samuel Millwright

          Considering that this is already happening 5 years is about right…

        • PK

          That’s close to what they are used for currently, since 2014, on a fairly narrow test basis. The FORTIS has been used by the US Navy to reduce fatigue from handling tools high up.

          The FORTIS exoskeleton is an unpowered, lightweight exoskeleton that increases an operator’s strength and endurance by transferring the weight of heavy loads from the user’s body directly to the ground.

          The objective of this effort is to mature and transition exoskeleton
          technology to the Department of Defense industrial base and perform testing and evaluation for industrial hand-tool applications at Navy shipyards.

          • Ryfyle

            A fancy lumbar support.

          • PK

            Pretty much.

      • Samuel Millwright

        It’s definitely going to be well started in the next 5 years at the socom level at least.

    • Samuel Millwright

      Power source is or will be g2g shortly, there’s a couple other problems they’re going to slam into but you shouldn’t worry about those ones…

      Wanna know why?

      Because I’m sitting on about half a dozen solutions to problems they’re not at yet and i doubt I’m the only one LOL

      • Brett baker

        How many, though, would end up being the equivalent of the radiators on Char B tanks?

        • Samuel Millwright

          Honestly, it kinda frosts me because the power source is actually what’s holding us up right now not because we don’t already have things that’ll work but mostly because the air farce are douchebags like always…

          Shades of lowcost turbofan all over again…

          (The air force has done this engine thing before more than once, they’re rat bastards and honestly some decades they do more to help our enemies than they’ve ever done to help us win fights.)

    • Ryfyle

      I chalk it up to the Leads project admin wants a 40 acre Ranch to retire on.

  • DESTRO YAKISOBA
  • TeaPartyPagan

    The only problem I see with “load bearing exoskeletons” is that unless the are mechanically assisted, they will still need the soldier’s muscle mass to get that load moving… and to stop it. Let’s say it IS mechanically assisted. Isn’t that just one more thing to worry about? Sure, if it fails, he can just shuck out of it, but then the soldier will proceed without the loadout he planned for and trained with, leaving him MUCH less effective. He will not just be handicapped himself, he will handicap his whole unit.

    • Samuel Millwright

      Hurp derp

  • Jay Abramson

    Someone reads Heinlein….

    • Brett baker

      If you Can’t make at least 1 SF reference, You’re not allowed on this site.😁

  • Jim_Macklin

    A full armored “suit” doesn’t ave to have legs or even arms. It could be an individual “tank” with flight or ground and water mobility. It could be the size of a small car and capable of 48 hours before refueling.
    Even the STAR WAR Imperial troops suits could be powered now. If Kevlar and titanium and powered by electric motors and fuel cells, the soldier could have enhanced O2 supply and water as well as strength to lift 1,000 pounds and walk 100 miles at 10 mph.
    Just add camo or electronic invisibility. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5724c6f68add00027e4cb83d5ce14c326ec296608c3ebe1dc3c76c62132d358b.jpg

    • Diamondback

      And not be able to see a damn thing, thus begetting Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship… :p

      • Jim_Macklin

        2017 cars feature cameras and radar/sonics that see 360 degrees around the car. The F35 fighter sees everything up, down and around.
        A fighting powered suit can protect your natural eyesight from strobes, explosion, even a flash from a nuke .
        E.E. “Doc” Smith too.

  • noob

    Megacities? When the Japanese took Singapore they captured the main water source in Johor outside the city limits and turn off the taps.

    Faced with the prospect of 1.2 million people dying of thirst under siege conditions, the British forces led by General Percival surrendered.

  • LazyReader

    And what’s the power source, unless it’s an extension cord or a tank of gasoline. Batteries are still too cumbersome so the range of these exosuits are still gonna be limited. Unless they can stick a nuclear reactor the size of a softball… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f5fd72cce47c8ce797f0ad4a1fc96050d7c0081607f38325db5f9d3f0e05c56.gif

    • Samuel Millwright

      Jp4 but yes

    • Ryfyle

      they probably have one, But Lockheed really want their own Lodge out on Brian Head. You might see Marines just buying from Cyberdyne.

  • Seamus Bradley

    BIG $$$ BOONDOGLE!!!!!!

    • Samuel Millwright

      I love how the overwhelming consensus response to this is crap like you said….. It’s comforting to know the masses are still morons who don’t know their ass from what’s actually possible with technology as usual…

  • gusto

    if we now have self driving cars, drones operated from across the world

    why do we still have to stick a grunt inside a suit and send them into the fray?

    • Brett baker

      Jamming.

      • Samuel Millwright

        He’s obviously never tried teaching a robot to do a burpy

    • some other joe

      Because wars are won by holding ground and ground can only be held by some poor sonuvabitch squatting on it and saying, “This Is Mine!”

  • Jack Donnelly

    The Army, DARPA, and SOF have been wasting money on this since at least the early 1980s. Better to wait until a reliable, safe and compact power supply is invented – by then all of the other work will be obsolete. The mechanics will be relatively straight forward but, no power means you are confined to a cable and a source. Picture a guy zooming around the ocean on a Hydro Powered Jetovator….

    • Samuel Millwright

      It’s called jp4… Done

  • Joe

    “Megacities!!!” Yeah, that thinking got us UCP; I can’t wait to see what OCP-Urban ends up looking like (Multicam Black isn’t it).
    When the Army actually starts putting battery packs in electric combat vehicles, I’ll give this exosuit concept a little more attention.
    Giving every combat arms soldier their own individual uparmored Polaris with M240 CROWS and a Tesla battery makes more sense at this stage of development.

  • Kaban

    Hell, it’s about time.

  • Ryfyle

    Something tells me that this “load bearing exoskeleton” Is really just a weightlifting belt and knee braces. Get read for the ACE bandage ankle support that the army throws a few thousand at.

  • Ryfyle

    Exoskeleton is now a fun euphemism for “Cash Sink”. Your never going to see an exoskeleton in action at the Army’s Expense. But you will see Lockheed CEO’s with new Country Cabins.

  • tiger

    So instead of a Six Million Dollar Man this likely costs Twenty and lacks the cool sound effects????

  • Wzrd

    This should’ve been a caption contest photo.