As far back as 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command began playing up its development of a Marvel-esque super-suit for close-quarters combat. While being more technologically primitive than the limits of Stan Lee’s imagination, the model would vaguely resemble Tony Stark’s first attempt at creating what would become his signature Iron Man armor.
That’s certainly the image the military seemed to be projecting with its 2013 concept video for its Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, project.
That video raised expectations on what the military was hoping to accomplish with TALOS.
Unfortunately, recent comments from a high-ranking SOCOM official have put a damper on what TALOS will truly be capable of when it’s finally operational.
“It’s not the Iron Man. I’ll be the first person to tell you that,” said SOCOM Acquisition Executive James Smith earlier this week at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual SO/LIC forum, effectively crushing the hopes and dreams of comic-book fans everywhere.
Smith told the forum crowd that the technology for TALOS is currently “out of reach” from what that video indicated SOCOM was trying to achieve.
He also said that in addition to the final version not matching the “glossy drawings” they were aiming for, they’re not at all ready to put it in the field.
“When we get the exoskeleton here in a few months, we will have the best exoskeleton in the Department of Defense,” Smith said. “It will not be something our operators will feel comfortable putting on a close [combat] environment today. So, moving, shooting, communicating in the face of enemy fire — not quite there yet.”
In an ideal world, TALOS would have consisted of a light, easily maneuverable exoskeleton worn underneath bulletproof body armor with the ability to process large amounts of remote information and track the health of the wearer. It was never designed to fly or shoot lasers, but Tony Stark would have probably been mildly impressed.
SOCOM put out an announcement in January 2018 seeking a new round of proposals from contractors for potential TALOS designs.
“The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative capabilities to the SOF operator,” the announcement read. “TALOS is an overarching vision to drastically improve the dismounted operator’s survivability and capability.”
Just last June, it was reported that the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center would partner with the 10th Mountain Division to test out a similar ONYX exoskeleton developed by Lockheed Martin.
Smith said that SOCOM will use the lessons learned from the TALOS project to work on developing new military technology a bit more realistic than an Iron Man suit.
“We’re not going to stop looking for better body armor, better situation awareness, better lethality,” he said. “We’re going to keep looking at all of those things.”