Way back in 2013, SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven announced plans to develop a high-mobility suit of armor that could better protect the first special operators tasked with entering contested spaces. This new suit was to be developed around an exoskeleton that would not only permit a high degree of mobility, but also bolster the operator’s natural strength and balance. It would include a necessary augmentation to support ballistic protection and a suite of on-board systems intended to aid in the operator’s ability to engage with opponents once inside.
The program, called TALOS, for Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, was quickly dubbed the “Iron Man” suit by the press, drawing comparisons to the Marvel super hero that uses a bulletproof exo-suit of his own (though a more apt comparison might have been the Power Armor depicted in the Fallout Series of games).
The first four years of development had a budget of $80 million, with testing of a near-complete system expected to take place in the summer of 2018. But 2018 came and went — and SOCOM acknowledged that their TALOS system won’t be making it to the fight any time soon. Keen on making lemonade out of their TALOS lemons, however, SOCOM has identified 10 subsystems developed for the TALOS program that they believe can be repurposed for more rapid use than the system itself.
One such subsystem is Lightweight Polyethylene (PE) Armor for Extremity Protection developed to serve as the external shell of the TALOS suit. This armor is designed to cover a greater portion (44 percent) of the operator’s body than existing body armor systems (19 percent). The additional coverage is largely relegated to the war fighter’s shoulders, obliques, forearms, and groin and has been rated to protect the wearer against small arms fire. Despite the added protection, the armor actually weighs in at three pounds less than current loadouts.
Originally, this armor would have been the external layer of a larger system based on an exoskeleton that would increase the wearer’s strength and endurance. While there have been great leaps in exoskeleton technology in recent years, and it seems likely that utilitarian systems may soon find their way into military use for logistics purposes, developing a suit that can operate with a high degree of reliability for extended periods of time with no access to external power sources remains a daunting enterprise.
In the meantime, SOCOM is evaluating whether or not the armor designed for TALOS can be a benefit to special operators in the absence of the supportive exoskeleton. Thanks to its reduced weight and added protection, there seems to be real promise in the concept, but questions about range of motion, overall mobility, and cost will still need to be answered before we start seeing Mandalorian-style armor making its way into team rooms.
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