WASHINGTON — A Pentagon plan to build a real-life "Iron Man" suit has taken some lumps from fiscal hawks on Capitol Hill, but US Special Operations Command's acquisitions chief defended it Wednesday as a way to protect troops using cutting-edge technologies.
"TALOS to me isn't the Iron Man suit as it is protecting the guy or gal at his most vulnerable point, to give them the capabilities and protection they need to get their mission done," Geurts said. "Just doing an incremental approach to that isn't going to get us where we need to get to. Our collective challenge is to come up with new operating models that make sense."
SOCOM's director of science and technology, Anthony Davis, acknowledged the skeptical press surrounding the program, but said the program's goals are more modest than the "Iron Man" nickname suggests.
"That program is not about putting a nuclear cell on someone's chest and having them fly off to battle," Davis said at the conference. "It's about protecting the operator. The first guy going through the door is our most vulnerable operator."
"That rapid prototyping was almost reverse education with industry," he said. "Industry sends people there not because they had a product to sell, but an expertise and they wanted to contribute. I think it's a great model."
The program is field-testing unpowered exoskeletons, body armor and helmets to see how the combination works versus an operator's usual kit. Officials want to avoid, "creating an exercise machine because you're causing more work using the machine itself."
"I know I've got it when the operator says, 'let me go out and use it,'" Geurts said. "We're seeing that right now. I have embedded operators who are saying, 'I can use that today.'"
Lightweight face and body protection are part of the program as is electronics miniaturization, but much of the focus is on augmenting situational awareness with next-generation audio, video and communications.
The secret sauce for TALOS is creating a "combustion chamber" that combines experts from different specialties like communications, survivability and armor. "It's about what we're inventing and reinventing how we invent things," Geurts said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.