John-Thomas Didymus

The US military is developing a new Iron Man-style "Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit" (TALOS) for use by its elite Special Operation Forces (SOF).

According to the official website of the US Army, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) of the US military is collaborating with industries, research laboratories and university scientists, including MIT engineers, to develop a special full-body bulletproof exoskeleton that will give soldiers "superhuman strength and greater ballistic protection."

The exoskeleton will likely consist of liquid body armor being developed by MIT researchers. It "transforms from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied."

TALOS will enhance the performance of troops by providing a powered exoskeleton with built-in computer systems that is able to haul heavier gear, "provide full-body ballistic protection" and a "physiological subsystem" that is able to react instantaneously to environmental cues, monitor the wearer's vital physiological signs such as core body temperature, skin temperature and heart rate.

The armor will incorporate night vision gadgets and help to heal wounds sustained in combat by applying wound-sealing foam.

It will incorporate basic life support system, including air, oxygen and heat supply.

US Army chiefs are enthusing about the promise of the project.

US Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven said TALOS could make soldiers almost invincible on the battlefield by imparting superhuman strength and capabilities.

The suit could be used in special operations such as the recent operation by US Navy SEALs in Somalia.

Navy SEAL commandos on a daring mission to capture an Al-Shabaab leader suspected of involvement in the bombings of US embassies in East Africa, were forced to abort mission when they met heavy resistance.

Officials enthuse that with TALOS, special ops commandos will be practically invincible in combat.

In a recent statement, the acquisition executive of USSOCOM, Jim Geurts, said SOCOM is "interested in receiving white papers from a wide variety of sources, not just traditional military industry but also from academia, entrepreneurs and laboratories capable of providing the design, construction and testing of TALOS related technologies."

According to Geurts, "The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative TALOS capabilities to the SOF operator." reports that while addressing industry representatives during a meeting at the SOCOM headquarters in Tampa, Fla. last July, McRaven said "I'm very committed to this, I'd like that last operator that we lost to be the last operator we lose in this fight or the fight of the future, and I think we can get there."

In a statement, Lt. Col. Karl Borjes, with the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), said it is technically feasible to create a “comprehensive family of systems in a combat armor suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armor, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring and integrating a weapon into that …”

In spite of the recent publicity, it is known that research in the field of exoskeleton technologies has been going on for more than a decade.

Lockheed Martin, for instance, recently attempted to test its Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) exoskeleton in Afghanistan.

The idea has its critics.

Retired Special Forces officer Scott Neil commented cynically in an interview with the Tampa Tribune.

“Now the commander can shove a monkey in a suit and ask us to survive a machine gun, IED and poor intelligence all on the same objective,” he said. “And when you die in it, as it melts to your body, you can bury them in it!”

With various components of the suit already under development, it is hoped that a prototype will be available next year for testing with an advanced model available by 2016.

According to MIT Professor Gareth McKinley, "The acronym TALOS was chosen deliberately. It's the name of the bronze armored giant from 'Jason and the Argonauts.' Like all good superheroes, TALOS has one weakness. For the Army's TALOS, the weak spot is either the need to carry around a heavy pump for a hydraulic system, or lots of heavy batteries. We don't have Iron Man's power source yet."