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October 30, 2009 – Original Source: RIA Novosti, Russia

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) – The international exhibition of police and military equipment, Interpolitex, opened in Moscow on October 27. One of the highlights of this year’s exhibition, which is attended by over 300 companies, was the announcement of the Boyets-21 warrior suit with its exoskeleton configuration.

©  RIA Novosti Anton Denisov

Vladimir Boiko from the Third Research Institute of the Russian Defense Ministry said they were working hard on the system.

An exoskeleton system is an exterior structure that eases pressure on the muscles and allows soldiers to carry heavier loads for longer distances. In the future, the exoskeleton could be fitted with armor plating that could protect lives better than today’s bulletproof vests.

The Russian warrior suit is to see production by 2015. There are no details about its components.

The United States has prototype warrior suits. Berkeley Bionics of California is working on the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), a third generation exoskeleton system, under a contract with Lockheed Martin.

Berkley Bionics also has in its portfolio the ExoHiker, designed for carrying heavy loads during long missions, and the ExoClimber, which allows rapid ascent of stairs and steep slopes. The HULC will combine the two advantages.

The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting. The exoskeleton senses what users want to do and where they want to go.

Unfortunately, production is hindered by its energy source – four pounds of lithium polymer batteries will run the exoskeleton for an hour of walking at three miles per hour.

But this should not stop designers from working on the system. This obstacle will be overcome sooner or later, and exoskeletons will become fully autonomous systems.

Basically a legs and body system only, the HULC could have industrial and medical applications, for example to help senior citizens and patients with chronic diseases that cause muscle weakness. It could certainly give them more freedom than a wheelchair.

As for its military applications, an exoskeleton will increase lifting capacity to 90-100 kg, allowing soldiers to carry more ammunition, or body armor, etc., while at the same time increasing their individual mobility. Taken together, this would greatly enhance units’ combat power and stability, allowing command to attain bigger military objectives with smaller forces.

But when will this fantastic possibility become reality? The answer largely depends on the skepticism of the person who asks the question, but professionals suggest a time frame of between five to fifteen years for the first mass produced exoskeleton suits, and 20-40 years for comprehensive exoskeleton gear that could protect soldiers from light weapons.

Why such a big difference? The answer is that such suits would be much heavier than the current prototypes and will therefore need more power.

Many people laugh at the idea, saying that such suits are science fiction as in the Warhammer 40k tabletop miniature wargame, in which futuristic soldiers, creatures and vehicles of war fight according to a variety of scenarios ranging from simple skirmishes to complex battles.

On the other hand, not long ago aircraft, submarines, spacecraft and other such systems were considered part of an impossibly distant future. But we have them now, and they have changed the world and our view of it completely. We cannot imagine life without them, and exoskeleton suits will eventually become part of life too.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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