The U.S. Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM’s) Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) has garnered comparisons to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. While it’s a comparison that USSOCOM has lightheartedly embraced, their vision for TALOS is bolder. At a small business event hosted by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on April 25, USSOCOM’s TALOS project manager, Michael Fieldson, provided an update about the acquisition and science and technology goals.
On the recently launched TALOS website, USSOCOM lists 55 industry, 20 government, and 12 academic collaborators. While some are the usual suspects, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, others are far from your traditional defense contractors. Companies such as Adidas, NPR, Nike, and Red Bull Air Force can be found alongside the larger defense contractors. This broad list is something that USSOCOM sought from the beginning. “It’s more than just a suit, it’s more than Hollywood, it’s more than us doing interviews in the media. It’s about changing the way we do acquisition,” said Fieldson.
“It’s more than just a suit, it’s more than Hollywood, it’s more than us doing interviews in the media. It’s about changing the way we do acquisition.”
“This idea of doing TALOS is a lot about finding ways to do things more efficiently, take the projects and programs and efforts that other people have done. Maybe some local expertise or expertise that was focused on something else. Maybe there is some technology out there that we weren’t aware of or wasn’t for defense purposes. Think of your iPhone. It wasn’t developed for defense, but there is probably some good technology in there that we could possibly incorporate.”
“When I was asked to be the project manager, the first thing I said was that we really need to find a way to get out to industry. We’ve been spending some time looking around the DoD [Department of Defense], the Army Research Lab, Navy Research Lab, to find technologies that were already being worked on. DoD doesn’t build a lot on their own. If you look at the F-35, DoD didn’t build that. If you look at nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, DoD didn’t build those. We’re really trying to take advantage of smart people, wherever you come from.”
TALOS is not just limited to changing the way acquisition is done. “It’s also a science and technology effort. A lot of times we start things when we are trying to prove out the basic science behind the technology. If you think about night vision goggles, probably back in the ‘70s, and then eventually they moved through the system.”
Though TALOS has an ambitious science and technology vision, it’s not a vision arrived at without years of prior development. “We’ve been focusing on many of the underlying technologies for a long time. Power, body armor, communications, we’ve been doing all of those things.”
“We’ve been focusing on many of the underlying technologies for a long time. Power, body armor, communications, we’ve been doing all of those things.”
Fieldson zeroed in on certain ambitious goals as an example of some of the problems that TALOS is trying to overcome. USSOCOM is seeking to power the suit with a self-contained, man-packable power supply for up to 12 hours. “We’re saying we want 12 kilowatts for 12 hours. What does that mean? If you go out to Home Depot and you buy a little two kilowatt generator, we want two and a half of those on a guy’s back, and it’s got to run for 12 hours. We’ve made some pretty good leaps forward in terms of design concepts, so I think it’s going to be achievable, but it’s going to be tough.”
The ongoing “rapid prototyping session” being held near USSOCOM headquarters in Tampa, Fla., that started in April and runs through June, has provided a chance to address some of the potential pitfalls TALOS is likely to encounter. “We talk about packing factor.” Using an iPhone as an example, Fieldson explained that, “this is pretty densely packed. Eighty percent of the volume in here is stuff. Very little air. A typical electronic is maybe 20 percent. Somewhere in the middle we think we’ll be, maybe it’s 40 percent. Well then you start figuring based on that density and the typical materials we are going to use, metals, titanium, plastics, we start getting larger.”
“We had a guy dress up and put on the suit [a mock foam suit] and walk around in this thing and he was massive. That’s a problem. Weight is a constant battle for us. We’d like to be less than 400 pounds and right now we are above 400 pounds. We’re trying to get somewhere more Tony Starkesque.”
“We’d like to be less than 400 pounds and right now we are above 400 pounds. We’re trying to get somewhere more Tony Starkesque.”
To come up with solutions, USSOCOM’s Adm. William McRaven envisions doing $3 million in DARPA-style challenges, something SOCOM has never done. “We haven’t decided the size of the challenges, but those will come out after the rapid prototyping event. We’re working diligently on trying to build that structure. It will be the first time that we’ve done it, so I’m sure there will be some opportunities to do it better the second time.”