Suiting Up For Battle

With the development of a bionic uniform for its soldiers, the U.S. Army is planning for a change in the logistics of war. Integrated physiological monitoring, enhanced communication and augmented physical strength will give the soldiers of the future the tools they need to overwhelm their opponents simply by donning a hi-tech suit.

There are two phases to the Future Force Warrior program. The first phase involves the deployment of a uniform in 2010 that will meet the Army's short-term needs, although pieces of the uniform may be deployed earlier. According to Future Force Warrior Equipment Specialist Jean-Louis "Dutch" DeGay, "The Department of the Army has built what's called design spirals, so roughly every two years, if a piece of technology has matured, we try to get it in the field, rather than waiting until 2010 to field the entire system." In 2020, the U.S. Army will roll out a suit that integrates nanotechnology, exoskeletons and liquid body armor, all of which exist only in concept now.

Here are the basic components of the final version of the suit:

  • Helmet - The helmet houses a GPS receiver, radio and the wide- and local-area network connections.
  • Warrior Physiological Status Monitoring System - This layer of the suit is the closest to the body and contains sensors that monitor physiological indicators, such as heart rate, blood pressure and hydration. The suit relays the information to medics and field commanders.
  • Liquid Body Armor - This liquid body armor is made from magnetorheological fluid, a fluid that remains in a liquid state until the application of a magnetic field. When an electrical pulse is applied, the armor transitions from a soft state to a rigid state in thousandths of a second.
  • Exoskeleton - The exoskeleton is made of lightweight, composite devices that attach to the legs and augment the soldier's strength.

Together, these subsystems combine to create a uniform that informs, protects and enhances the abilities of its wearer. Now let's take of each of these components separately.