RoboCop is Coming, US and Russia in Race to Build Military Exoskeleton
Last week a Russian weapons maker firm, TsNiiTochMash, told Russian media outlet TASS that it had already tested a prototype of a military exoskeleton they call Ratnik-3.
Nextgov called the suit similar to the U.S. military exoskeleton known as a TALOS suit that the U.S. Special Operations Forces Command, or SOCOM, is developing.
War is looking more and more like a sci-fi movie. It’s already possible to telepathically control fighter jets or a drone swarm thanks to the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Russian Exoskeleton Suit Ratnik-3
Ratnik-3 has hexagonal armor plates, black webbing and small joint motors called actuators. Oleg Faustov, an engineer working on the suit at TsNiitochMash, praised the suit’s abilities at a recent Russian weapons show.
“It really enhances a serviceman’s physical abilities. For example, the tester was able to shoot from a machine-gun only with one hand and accurately hit targets,” Faustov said.
During the same weapons show, TsNiiTochMash made vague references about the suit having already seen and been tested in combat, though the suit is supposed to be officially released in 2025.
“It was interesting that the Russian announcement during Army-2018 stated that the exoskeleton was ‘tested in combat,’ though without any specific details. It’s likely that it was tried in Syria, though the press and media did not cover that development,” Sam Bendett, an associate research analyst at the Center for New American Security (CNA) and a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, told Nextgov.
Both the American and Russian suits are reportedly limited by power, as battery life only lasts a matter of hours.
“There are issues with the battery and energy sources for this exoskeleton, as Russia—along with other nations working on this—are trying to create a compact energy source that would allow the soldiers to act independent of any stationary or vehicle-borne sources of energy,” Bendett said.
Lockheed Martin’s Exoskeleton Suit Onyx is in the Near Future
While full-on IronMan or RoboCop suits may still be far off as manufacturers deal with battery life issues, lighter and more modest exoskeleton suits are reportedly in the near future.
Lockheed Martin is developing a suit called Onyx that augments a soldier’s strength and endurance. Nextgov reported that in 2016, Keith Maxwell, a manager at Lockheed, described initial tests of the suit to Defense One.
“We did an evaluation with some soldiers. They were doing 185-pound squats with the barbell. At the beginning of the day, fresh, Johnny comes in and does 26 reps at 185, puts it down. That’s as many as he can do. We put this on; over the course of the day, he’s doing casualty evacuations, carrying people up five flights of stairs and down, going through subterranean tunnels. At the end of the day, we put him back in the gym, ask him, ‘How many squats can you do?’ He knocks out 72.”
Onyx runs on lithium batteries that can last for eight hours, which is four times the capacity of the Russian suit.