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.