Robot Armor Cage Match in the Works

Anyone who can remember Popular Mechanics magazines as far back as the 1950s can remember illustrated stories on the coming super-suits — those metal exoskeletons that would let humans lift incredible amounts of weight and run as fast as a speeding bullet. The concept got a boost in 1986 when Sigourney Weaver donned an oversized one in a movie to fight an alien.

But at long last they may finally be a reality.

One year after unveiling its Human Universal Load Carrier, or HULC, Lockheed Martin now has a $1.1 million Army contract to test out its robotic suit, and it had its latest version – 4th generation – on display this week at Modern Day Marine at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The suit permits a wearer to carry up to 150 pounds as if it were a fraction of the weight.

The newest version weighs about 60 pounds — some 10 pounds lighter than last year’s model — and also affords better mobility than the one unveiled in 2009, Keith Maxwell, a Lockheed Martin business development manager who was wearing the muscle suit at Quantico on Sept. 29 tells The Marine Corps probably will start testing the suit for itself sometime next Spring, says Maxwell.

But HULC may be in for some competition from “Iron Man,” the name some media have given to the XOS-2, a Raytheon product that’s muscling in on the exoskeleton business.

Where HULC is sleek and wears right up close to the body, the XOS-2 is bulkier, its metallic arms, legs and joints extending well outside the body. In a Raytheon video, a wearer is shown lifting 200 pounds of weights with no effort.

But while Raytheon showed a number of products at its exhibit space at Quantico this week the XOS-2 was not among them. But it will be at the National Harbor outside DC next month for the Association of the US Army Exposition, said one Raytheon rep. According to a map of the expo, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin will not be far away from each other.

So will there be a HULC versus Iron Man smack down in Washington?

That would be fight worth paying to see. Even without Sigourney Weaver.

— Bryant Jordan

  • eric

    according to Jane’s:

    The US Army has seen recruits in basic training suffer a growing number of injuries because they are increasingly unhealthy.

    Nutrition standards are getting worse throughout the United States and it is limiting the number of personnel that the military can recruit and safely train, said Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, the deputy commanding general for initial military training at Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

    • bobby

      I agree with that. I’ve met recruits that choose something other than a combat mos specifically because they aren’t fit enough, or have the motivation to be. I like this forklift. Good building point.

  • Nick

    How would you get back up if you fell down? What happens when you fall and you land on a rock with all of the extra exo-skeleton weight on you? The current agility levels and strength/weight ratios of the “suits” still don’t seem to be at a level where it is something you would want to carry into combat.

    • Dave M.

      In the 2nd video the guy was doing pushups with the suit on so I don’t think falling down and not being able to get up is going to be a problem. (not to mention I’m sure the army would test every possible scenario they could think of before deploying them in combat operations)

      • Bill

        “Running agility” is more of what I question. They Raytheon platform looks great on-base heavy lifting though i.e. missiles, heavy munitions, etc.

        • Matt

          From what I read in a magazine about the Raytheon it was going to be used more for engineers and mechanics who have to lift/move loads to get their jobs done. If there was a combat model produced they would make it more agile. On the other hand, with the current Raytheon you could slap armor onto the frame and make an encased suit for the soldier to wear. Sacrifice speed for defense and firepower capabilities. There is a very broad scope for uses and designs, we just have yet to see specifics.

  • Matt Musson

    Beats hell out of a forklift!

  • Project_Thor

    Man, i’d hate to have to take a dump let alone wipe my ass…

    • Jeff Fraser

      Probably kill yourself…

  • Guest

    Still susceptible to I.E.D. It would be very cool to see some firepower slapped on there, say, a cupla miniguns? Ammo wouldn’t be as big of an issue then. The possibilities are cool. I misunderstood the title tho, It sounded more like they were ready for armor applications on said suits.

  • crackedlenses

    Needs to be able to carry armor enough to compensate for the decreased and mobility, otherwise you’ve just given the terrorists a new target for their AKs and Enfields that doesn’t get to cover as fast…. All very cool though and a step in the right direction…..

    • Moose

      In the long term, that is precisely the plan. Of course, in the not to far off mobility might be better with an exoskeleton than without.

      • crackedlenses

        That I would like to see…. it will be awhile before we get to battle suits…..

    • ziv

      I imagine the first 3 or 4 years the suit will be used primarily to load heavy equipment/armaments. But within 8-10 years I could definitely see the armor used as a Platoon level gun-truck of sorts. You wouldn’t have him out front but your XOS soldier would carry a SAW and an XM-25 grenade launcher with a laser sighting system for both direct and indirect fire. The suit would be armored to provide increased protection for the soldier and it would interact with the laser designators deployed by the other members of his Platoon allowing for him to assist any squad up to the limit of his grenade launcher, which is 500m point and 1000m area. That would really increase the utility of the XM-25 while protecting the guy that is utilizing it.

  • STemplar

    Maybe some use on an artillery crew. Maybe at a FOB for assistance in building fighting positions. Maybe a CSAR role for evacuating an injured pilot. I see utility uses. In combat though there would need to be more power, armor, and mobility

  • Ed Cardenas

    Having been an FO I know that when the Army makes something smaller/easier to carry, they expect you to carry more. What does the soldier in the field do when his exoskeleton stops working and he’s stuck with more equipment than he can carry?

    • Jon Jonsson

      destroy said equipment thoroughly or wait for heavy lift capability i.e vehicle or chopper

  • prometheusgonewild

    I could see these tied to a Bradly/Striker or Helicopter. A bunch of these suits could come out of the vehicle and set up a perimeter for non-suited infantry.
    Good for coming into potentially hot situations. Good for checkpoints or securing choke points like bridges and intersections.
    They could uses a small power cord by using a high voltage system wrapped in Kevlar. Have it reel out when moving forward, real back in when backing up.
    Granted, mobility is and issue. But a small price to pay for heavy armor, multiple weapon capability, huge ammo reserve and the ability to carry heavy weapons like mortars and heavy machine guns like they were toys.
    Not to mention the ability to power every wiz-bang technology you could cram into it due to unlimited power reserve…..
    Not to mention the “Oh Crap” factor that these will give potential adversaries….. Would you like to go head to head with the package I have described?
    I do agree with the fellow above, I would want to have to take a sh#t while wearing these. Enema and a Piss-bag may be in order:)

    • crackedlenses

      Hold on a sec, all this hasn’t come of age yet. We’re just looking at this from a utility perspective. This isn’t quite ready for the combat stage…..

      • johnny

        Yea, I’ll go head-to-head with it. I’ll shoot the thing all your suits are plugged into first, then knife all your troops to death at leisure.

        • anonimous

          easy said that done

          • blight

            It’s easier if you fight from a distance. Or use anti-tank weapons. The cost of such a suit would justify a shaped charge, and you can’t put tank level protection on a person.

        • prometheusgonewild

          If they are coming out of a Bradly or a Striker, good luck with that…..
          Now you have shot at an armored platform with heavy weapons. And a bunch of armored guys with enough ammo to start shooting and not stop for an hour are coming for you.
          Thats when you should use your knife…….

        • Day

          someone missed the part in the HULC video where it was shown being taken off in an instant.

  • Rob

    I see better use for this being cargo movers.

    In a military conflict it would have little use other then for patrolmen or scouts near a vital base.

    Or for a guard at a command center.

    Concern it could easily be disabled using a form of tazer.

    Potential for it is great thou. It’s additional armor and ability to out strength the enemy is awesome.

    I feel the next stage for this is a vehicle for it. Part docking station , more like a 4-wheeler ATV that is design fitted for the exo-skeleton.

    Then after that , an outer robotic armored ‘shell’ that attaches to the to skeleton for combat and demolition use.

    Then they could have mounted cannons and even maybe jet adaptable missles.

  • An Old Soldier

    All the above is great and all but I can’t see spending 1.1 million for something that is not combat ready.
    We are too deep in debt as it is and the army wants to waste money on testing something that will never be used in real world situations at least not until there are major modicfications done to it.
    Heck, they should pay the Army for testing it not the other way around.
    Besides isn’t there other things this type of money could be spent on that would be better for todays troops not the troops of 20 years from now.
    Just my thoughts….

    • blight

      1.1 million is a drop in the bucket. It’s not like we’re pissing 4 billion dollars in a project without promise. And the potential utility is there, unlike “iPhone for soldiers”

  • blight

    Well, the body armor alone is “only” +30 or so pounds. But the additional weight the troops are carrying compared to WW2 is in excess of that.

    It’s always possible that in WW2 ETO that the supply “push” was pretty high so that troops didn’t need to carry that many days worth of supplies. Whereas if one goes on long patrols with lots of gizmos, you must be self sufficient for long periods of time, so equipment loads go up correspondingly…

  • Philo

    T-51B Power-Armor??!!?? Oh My God! The Future Is Now….

  • Belesari

    Old soldier,

    The reason we need something like this is accually kinda obvious. We have far more people in logistics than gun toters.

    This could free up people in logistics, arty, as well as help out in a hundred other fields.
    Kinda like a jeep on legs.

    Technology and weapons arent our biggest cost its pay and benefits for people.

    • blight

      It probably won’t free up people for combat duty. I kind of doubt that combat line units are teeming with surplus troops that are forced to drive supply trucks…

      What will probably happen is that those logistics troops will be deployed in lesser quantities to keep the “footprint” down, but there will be no increase in combat troops in the works. Or that logistics units will be disbanded and the savings going to the “peace dividend”.