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U.S. Army seeks ‘Iron Man’ armor for commandos

AFP-JIJI

U.S. Army researchers are working on building high-tech body armor that would give soldiers “superhuman strength,” in a real-life version of the suit from the “Iron Man” films.

The blueprint for the “revolutionary” Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) would include an exoskeleton to allow a soldier to carry heavy equipment, built-in computing power, beefed-up protection to stop bullets and a system to monitor vital signs, officials said.

“TALOS” refers to a bronze automaton of Greek mythology that Zeus deploys to safeguard his lover Europa.

“Some of the potential technologies planned for TALOS research and development include advanced armor, situational awareness, command-and-control computers, power-management systems and enhanced mobility exoskeletons,” according to a U.S. Army statement issued last month.

U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees elite Navy SEAL and Army Ranger commandos, put out the call last month for research papers on potential technologies that a “smart” combat suit could incorporate. The request for papers will extend through next September, and then commanders and officials will weigh how to proceed, said spokesman Roger Teel of the army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM).

The new combat armor might also employ “liquid armor,” reminiscent of the “Terminator” films, although the technology is still in an early stage of development, Teel said.

The liquid would transform into a solid if a magnetic or electrical charge was applied.

“There is a liquid armor that they are looking at developing,” said Teel, adding that scientists at MIT are studying the idea. “It could possibly be turned on with a battery switch” to deflect gunfire, he said.

TALOS “is an advanced infantry uniform that promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection,” according to an earlier statement from RDECOM.

In a crude animated demonstration video released by the army on how the combat suit might operate, a soldier in science fiction-inspired gear stands in a doorway as bullets bounce off at close range from an unidentified enemy.

Despite previous weapons programs that amounted to little, officials say the technologies for the ambitious project are not out of reach, even if they sound more like the stuff of myth or movie.

The concept of providing virtual displays of battlefield forces in a soldier’s helmet screen resembles similar efforts already under way for a sophisticated helmet for pilots flying the new F-35 fighter jet.

Officials said the TALOS project is the brainchild of Adm. William McRaven, head of special operations command, who rose to prominence presiding over the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.