Oct. 10, 2013 -- It probably won't have Tony Stark's jetpack or his Google Glass-like computer, but engineers at the U.S. Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) are working on an Iron Man-like set of body armor for Special Ops soldiers.
The body armor, called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit or TALOS, is scheduled for a demonstration with the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) on Nov. 19 at the MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, according to a report by the Defense Media Network.
SOCOM Chief William McRaven said that TALOS is one of his big priorities. "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," he said at a news conference in July. "I think we can get there."
Jim Tinsley, a partner at the defense consulting firm Avascent, said that not all types of body armor are created equal. "The Marine Corps started adding more body armor to soldiers, but SOCOM is loath to do that since it'll decrease mobility," he told ABC News. "What TALOS aims to do is to get around physics and make lighter body armor, but also make it stronger."
It seems counterintuitive that making body armor lighter could offer a soldier more protection. RDECOM is planning to use magnetorheological (MR) fluids in TALOS to resolve this paradox. "MR fluid armor relies on magnetic fields that can be varied to create different degrees of hardness and flexibility," said Tinsley.
But the choice of MR fluids in TALOS comes as a bit of a surprise to Tinsley. "The consensus has been that shear-thickening fluid, which reacts to a force or impact by hardening, is more practical than MR and more likely to be commercialized sooner," he said. "Maybe there's been a breakthrough in MR that hasn't been publicized yet."
In addition to TALOS' protective capability is its ability to combine several types of technologies, such as physiological sensors and power supplies, into a single piece of equipment. "Each of these technologies were developed in parallel," said Tinsley. "Now, RDECOM is looking to SOCOM as an early adopter and seeing how to integrate all these technologies."
November's demonstration of the body armor also serves as a way for SOCOM to evaluate what it truly wants in TALOS. "SOCOM will kick the tires, so to speak," Tinsley said. "In addition, the suit might come with seven options and SOCOM may only want to use three."
The decision comes down to outfitting several soldiers quickly, Tinsley said. "SOCOM will try and adopt some of the more realistic things first, like integrating power supplies into the suit to reduce the need of mobile batteries," he said. "Some of the more futuristic things may be pushed off to the side."