26 August 2014

FWS Topics: Combat Exoskeletons

Sometimes all it takes is for one of two works of science fiction to get the ball rolling, and next thing you know, it is a trend. Such is the current case of some familiar next-gen military technology: the exoskeleton suit. While certainly not new, new cutting-edge military research, inclusion into the next Call of Duty game, and feature predominately in the movies Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow, the popularity of combat exoskeletons is on the raise. While FWS did cover the exoskeletons somewhat in the massive (and popular) Powered Armor blogpost about year ago, I thought with the popularity of the exoskeleton and some reader requests, it was time to discuss exoskeletons in more detail with its own blogpost.

What is an Exoskeleton Suit?
An outer metallic framework is worn on the body's extremities and uses a normally back-mounted energy source to power motors and servos, allowing the wearer’s natural abilities to be enhanced. This technological aid to work and war has been a concept since the late 19th century, but was first a practical concept groundwork was done by the Cornell Aeronautical Labs with funding from the US Air Force. This resulted in the 1961-1962 Man-Amplifier suit that was more of an working model than a working prototype. GE's Hardiman I industrial exoskeleton project from 1965-1971 was the first working exo-suit. Mostly, powered exoskeleton suits are tools of work that could operate in vary fields; from industrial, medical, to warehouse. Exoskeletons could be used to transport patient by their nurse, to replace forklifts in small spaces. In terms of military application, the powered exoskeleton suit is meant for enhancement for the soldier's natural abilities, making them seem more super human than the average soldier with increased strength, and ability to carry more weight without taxing the wearer. However, most exo-suits are not able to increase the combat abilities to the degree of Tony Stark's Iron Man nor the Marauder armor of Starship Troopers. With exoskeletons being an outer framework, the ballistic protection is not enhanced, and only the operator's normal body armor is the only protection from incoming threats.  

The Various Terms Associated with the Powered Exoskeleton Suits
First things first, the term "exo" means outside or external and originates from the Greek language.
  • Exo-Suit
  • Powered Limb Suit
  • Exo-Walker
  • Powered Exoskeleton Suit
  • Exo-Armor
  • Man Amplifier Suit
  • Accelerator Suit
  • Skeleton Armor
  • Exo-Frame
  • E-Frame
  • Combat Frame
  • Man Work-Frame
  • Worker Suit
  • Exo-Worker
  • Powered Extension Suit
  • "Jacket"
  • Power Loader
  • Power Walker
  • Exo-Walker Suit
  • Power Amplifier Suit
  • Power Amplifier Walker
  • Warrior Web
  • Hybrid Assistive Limbs
  • Human Universal Load Carrier
  • Biomechanical Exo-Suit
  • XOS
  • Locomotion Suit
What is the Difference Between Combat Exoskeletons and Armored Power Suits?
These two forms of human combat amplifiers are often confused on the internet, leading to misinformation and misuse. They do share some similarities but vary in abilities, uses, and overall appearance. Combat exoskeleton suits are mostly wore on the extremities of the wear's body, and often have a chest and/or back piece. They do not provide armor coverage over a large percentage of the wearer's body. While helmets can be worn, they are not often tied directly into the combat exoskeleton system as a whole. Some creators differ powered armor verse exo-suits with troopers trading maneuverable over armor protection. Think Elysium, not HALO or Iron Man. Exoskeletons are more accents than the whole picture. And when we are comparing these two military futuristic armor system, only the CLASS-I powered armor applies to the classic exoskeleton suit of sci-fi and the real world. 
When it comes to the jobs and tasks of the exoskeleton, they are mainly used to increase the wearer's strength, endurance, and carrying ability. Current military research has determined that exoskeletons would take the toll off of long patrols with heavy packs over rough terrain, like Afghanistan. Plus, exoskeletons could eliminate some of the heavy work machinery in service in the military today. This makes exoskeletons more applicable to civilian jobs and non-combat takes, similar Ripley's power-loader exoskeleton from ALIENS.
When it comes to powered armor, like we've seen in HALO, Crysis, Iron Man, and Starship Troopers, the wearer is fully encased in the armor, normally, from head to toes. They are designed to not only increase the weaver's endurance and amplify their natural abilities, the powered armor is designed to fully protect the wearer from all manner of hazards and attacks. This includes explosion, hostile fire, NBC, and even hostile off-world conditions. Then there is the hybrid of an exoskeleton and powered armor, like the Cyclone motorcycle mecha from ROBOTECH. Here, both technological systems are married to increase combat effectiveness and maximum coolness. At times, an CLASS-I powered armor wearer dons an larger exoskeleton system to increase abilities and weaponry. This was seen in the Motor-Slaves from Bubblegum Crisis. In terms of noncombat, the closes thing to the powered armor/exo-suit hybrid is the exoskeleton spacesuit being prototyped by NASA for Mars exportation and colonial establishment tasks.

Classifications of Exoskeleton Suits

This is the most popular type of exoskeleton seen in movies, video games, the real-world and described in various books. The CLASS-I exoskeleton is wearable, man-sized, and is generally, a framework. This framework is mounted on the extremities of the wearer’s body, with a chest and/or back pieces that houses the computer control system and the power source. The framework is either worn on the body or surgically mounted. While it may give some height to the operator, it is an enhancement tool of the wearer’s body. In most CLASS-I exoskeletons, there is little to no ballistic protection provide by the framework itself. The body of the operator is exposed and the only ballistic protection is derived from the wearer's own personal body armor. Unlike many of the other anthropomorphic mecha/robots of sci-fi, the CLASS-I powered exoskeleton suit is currently under development by the military and private companies for various applications. These applications range from a tool for lifting patients in hospitals, to a replacement for forklifts, and of course, super soldiers.One of the best recent examples of CLASS-I exoskeletons was from Elysium.  

While the CLASS-I powered exoskeleton suits are very common, and is the most frequent example of exoskeleton suits in the real-world and fiction, the CLASS-II is not. While seen in the Matrix films via the APU, the CLASS-II is a hybrid of some classic mecha designs and the CLASS-I framework. Basically, the open cockpit of the CLASS-I design is there, along with the wearer’s extremities controlling the arms and possibly the legs of the CLASS-II exo-suit. CLASS-II powered exoskeleton suits naturally are better armored and armed with larger power systems to draw from. In realistic terms, it is more logical that the CLASS-II exoskeleton are designed more for work than the battlefield, like the power-loader from ALIENS. If there was an combat-rated CLASS-II exo-suit, than it could be an heavy-weapons platform designed to delivery fire support in conditions that prevent classic infantry fire support, like tanks, artillery, and CAS.  

In terms of powered armor and/or mecha, the CLASS-III is the largest type of anthropomorphic robotic crew machines. These are hallmarks of anime and were recently featured in the live-action Pacific Rim. However, is there an CLASS-III exoskeleton suit? According to my research and the set difference between powered armor and exoskeleton suit, something on the scale of the ROBOTECH or Gundam mecha could not exist in the form of an exoskeleton. The only way that I can see, and this is completely ridiculous, is for a CLASS-I powered armor or exo-suit operator to be strapped into a CLASS-II exo-suit, and get inside some sort of CLASS-III exoskeleton designed around enhancing the CLASS-II exoskeleton. That is kinda fucked up right there. Reminds me of one of the Russian Matryoshka doll.

The Advantages of Combat Exoskeletons
In simply terms, the exoskeleton is an force multiplier, allowing one soldier to have greater abilities than a soldier without the exo-suit. If works like Elysium and COD: AW are correct, exoskeleton soldiers would have super-soldier abilities, and simply outclass non-equipped soldiers. With the greater jumping, less taxing running, and greater strength, exo-suits could alter the vector of normal combat. That is IF they can operate and behave like what we've seen in science fiction. The exo-suit equipped soldier would be able to lift more weight without taxing or damaging the operator's body, and this would allow for greater weight-loads to be transported and/or worn. 
With the abilities to carry greater weight and mount great weight to the framework and given the portable power supply, we could see exoskeleton equipped soldiers being the first to use military grade direct-energy weaponry and/or advanced kinetic energy weaponry, as seen in the book Embedded. Exoskeletons would not just tasked with lifting tanks or punching out the Hulk, but also for noncombat roles, allowing for a duality to the exoskeletons. Also, exoskeleton frameworks could keep wounded soldiers in the fight longer, supporting and augment the wounded portion of their bodies. Much like with powered armor, exoskeleton equipped soldiers would have a greater psychological impact on the enemy, and could be an effective countermeasure. 

The Disadvantages of Combat Exoskeletons
When you watch movies like Edge of Tomorrow, you notice one big disadvantage of combat exoskeletons, the meat in the machine. While the exo-suit are designed for the rigors and dangers of combat, the human encased in the framework is not, and will need more protection than just the exoskeleton provides. We have to remember, combat rated exoskeletons are not like encased powered armor that protects the wearer totally from incoming fire and hostile (off-world) environmental conditions, exoskeletons are used mainly to enhance the wearer's abilities. So, if you are like Max de Costa from Elysium, or Rita from Edge of Tomorrow, your body and head needs ballistic protection. If your enemy gets an unlucky (or lucky) shot off or shrapnel flies into an unprotected part of the exoskeleton wearing soldier, it is over and the puppets strings are cut. Another disadvantage is that the exo-suit operator is wearing a computerized system with all manner of servos and motors...all of this requires power to function. Besides the obvious risk of running out of battery power during taxing combat, you could be hit with an EMP,or the electrical motor shorts out, or there is an explosion that hits too close, you could really fucked. An EMP could shut down the exoskeleton, causing the wearer to be weighted down or trapped under their own exo-frame's weight like that turtle in the BLADE RUNNER V-K test question.
If the electrical system shorts out or surges, it could transmit that electrical charge into your body. That is bad. Then if a artillery/mortar shell hits, it could break the exo-suit frame, ramming combat-rated metal into your body. Ouch! Medical care on the battlefired could be complicated by the wearing of an exoskeleton as well...anyone got a plasma torch? Then we come to one of the real issues: complexity. For the most part, the equipment that frontline soldier carry into battle are in keeping with the KISS rule, and anything not simple, is sealed. Exoskeletons would be a complex machine, not as complex as the mecha and powered armor, but still desert and jungle conditions could damage the framework and prevent it from working propery. Any soldier assigned to an exoskeleton framework would have to be trained to repair and service the equipment. 

The Real-World Combat Exoskeletons
Since the 1960's, the US military and private industry has been exploration the possibility of using technology to enhancing the soldier and take some of the burden away as well. The first attempt at an exoskeleton was developed by Cornell Aeronautical Labs in 1961-1962, and was attempt to prove the concept of powered man amplifying exoskeletons as a viable technology for the US Air Force, who ordered and funded the project. The press at the time, called it "the Superman suit", and it was hoped to be a technology for the US space program and the US military. The Cornell exo-suit was a mockup, and never included motors, servos, or power. The first real, working exoskeleton was developed by GE under the 1965-1971 "Hardiman" project. While a full mockup model was constructed, only pieces of Hardiman I exo-suit worked, namely the claw-like arms. While the arms worked, the leg-based frame work were an issue, especially with locomotion. By 1971, GE canceled the project. Both of these early exoskeletons were proposed for work, not combat. During the 1980's, with the growth of computer and robotic technolgy (and funding), there were attempts to bring about exo-suits for work, the health industry, space exploration, and the military.
Some of these exoskeletons were merely industrial arms for heavy industrial settings, the best of the 1980's exo-suits was the 1988 NASA AX-5 Hardshell space suit. For several decades, NASA's AMES had been working on a hadshelled space suit system that they called the "AX" series. The apex of this research was the 1988 AX-5. While bulky, the AX-5 possessed 95% maneuverable of the naked human form, and this suit was targeted for protection of astronauts in high-risk areas. It was envisioned that the AX-5 would be used in EVAs in Earth orbit and asteroid mining. In the end, it was determined that NASA did not need a suit like this and alone with some remaining technical issues, the AX hardsuits were shelved.
By the 1990's, the continued advancement in computer and robotic technology allowed for the military and private industry to further advance exoskeleton technology, however, with the cutbacks after the Cold War, the military was less interested. Since the year 2000, there have a number of attempts to bring exoskeletons to the battlefield and to the work place. There is the military Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), the Raytheon XOS series, Berkeley eLEGS, the Japanese Cyberdyne HAL system and Honda's exoskeleton Legs.  As this blogpost was being written, Lockheed Martin announced the testing by the US Navy of their non-powered work exoskeleton system called FORTIS.This exo-system should allow naval maintenance and construction worker crews to work longer and carry more weight without taxing their bodies. The Navy will be testing FORTIS in some of their shipyards.

Other Applications of the Exoskeleton Technology
Back in the 1980's, when I was a kid, my father went to an industrial expo in Chicago. There he told us that some vendors were demonstrating real-world prototype industrial work exoskeletons designed to replace the forklift. Of course, they were very expensive and still in the prototype phase, but I was very excited. I dreamed of my father buying these and seeing them at work in the plant, and filming movies with them with our camcorder. Heady days. This is one of the non-combat applications of exoskeleton technology. In the Japanese health care industry, the exoskeleton has been seen as a way to safely lift patients without harming the caregiver nor the patient.
The military believed that that exo-suits could replace heavier, more expensive, and less power efficacy utility/work vehicles. In frontline bases, far from the main supply lines, a few exoskeletons could help with heavy lifting tasks and constructions. The Navy wants exoskeletons on theirs ships to save weight and less time-intensive maintenance than current work machines. We could see exo-suit equipped deck crews loading missiles onto fighters, and transporting supplies. It is believed that with exo-suits being so close to the normal bodily movements, that training time would be limited along with smooth operation...no more forklift accidents. This is currently being tested by the US Navy with the Lockheed Martin FORTIS system. There as been hope that exoskeletons will allow the injured and disabled to walk. This maybe the greatest contribution to mankind by exoskeleton technology. As I've seen in working in a hospital environment, damage to the spine cord, via car accident or drunken diving, is often alters the patient and their families lives forever. If there was a way for the hospital, rehab facility and the home to allow the patient to regain some of their mobility, the care, treatment, and long-term livability of the patient would be increased, along with adding some dignity to their lives.         
The Roadblocks of Current Exoskeleton Technology
Logic dictates if there are effective prototypes of combat military-grade exoskeleton that actually current exist, than why are we not seeing them in use yet? There are some roadblocks to applying the current-gen exoskeleton technology to the marketplace and the military. First, there has to be the money and motivation. Exoskeleton suits, like Raytheon's XOS, cost about $150,000+ Then there is the issues of power supply and the interface system. Along with money comes the motivation for the military and their defense contractors to push the government for proper funding. In the tight times, the government needs proof positive of concept and positive impact on the military. While exoskeletons look cool on the big screen and online, that is not selling point for taxpayers. While development funding under DARPA is moving forward, will the funding be there for full scale adoption? One of the seriously blocking Edge of Tomorrow style exo-suits is power…or the lack there of. One of the most advanced exoskeleton prototypes today, the Raytheon XOS is powered by either an internal combustion engine or hooked up to the electrical grid. The goal is to have the exoskeletons powered by long-life battery pack that allows the exoskeleton to operate in the field for several days without support and not requiring fuel. It is believed that soldiers could mount military-grade solar panels to augment the power supply. 
Another technological roadblock is interfacing the exo-suit motor and servo systems with the meatbag operator. The current Raytheon XOS exo-suit is slow and does not response with the lightning speed as seen in film exoskeletons. The slow factor would be fine if the XOS was just for forklift replacement duty, but not for combat. Any exoskeleton system would have to possess the ability to detect and cancel illegal movements by the operator, to prevent damage to the framework and/or operator. Coupled with this is the ability for an exo-suit system to be flexible enough to allow an operator more or less smooth organic movements and actions. Without it, you are destine to have a machine that is just a machine, not an logical extension of your own body.

An Interview with Linda Nagata, author of The Red: First Light

1. What lead to your decision to include an example of science fiction exoskeleton armor in your military sci-fi novel: "The Red: First Light"?

In the story world of THE RED I wanted to explore a very near-future extrapolation of what advanced technology might mean for an infantry soldier with boots on the ground. I wasn’t interested in just one aspect, but in an integration of equipment, communications, and neurological science. So the exoskeletons were just one part of that, but a logical part. The human form is agile and excellent at getting around in all kinds of terrain. Mechanically enhancing that form makes a lot of sense. For example, increasing strength and speed as well as endurance – miles covered in a patrol – and reducing stress injuries. Research on the current state of exoskeleton development turned up some interesting possibilities that inspired the rig used in the story.

2. How does the inclusion of combat-rated exoskeleton suit alter the lives of your soldiers under the command of James Shelley?

At the opening of the novel, Shelley’s squad is responsible for maintaining security in a rural district plagued with insurgent incursions. Their duties require them to patrol regularly, covering a lot of sparsely populated terrain. The exoskeletons extend their speed and range, while allowing them to move in relative stealth. Of course the downside of this is that because they can cover more terrain, forces are thinly spread, and fewer soldiers are asked to do more and more.

3. Tell FWS about the exoskeleton suits from your novel, in regards to form and function.

The exoskeletons I used in the novel are struts, not shells. Their function is to multiply the power of a soldier’s natural motion, primarily in the legs, but also in the arms, and also to support the weight of the equipment being carried, so that even burdened with weapon, pack, and armor, an infantry soldier remains swift and agile.

4. Do you believe that combat exoskeletons will become standard military issue in the near future?

The answer to that, I think, is contingent on several other questions, with the question of functionality coming first. Can an exoskeleton be made to work reliably, with a durable, dependable, and lightweight power source? There is money to be made in the development of light-weight, long-term batteries! Assuming reliable equipment can be made, how much will it cost? Also critical: what sort of war will be fought? Peace-keeping missions and foot patrols that we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan would seem to be ideal for exoskeletons, relieving some of the incredible physical strain – the cumulative strain – endured by soldiers in the field who are burdened by heavy equipment.

5.Will you be including more exoskeletons in future works?

There will be two sequels to THE RED, and both will include more use of exoskeletons, naturally! I haven’t yet decided what I’ll be working on after that, but if they’re appropriate to the story, exoskeletons will certainly make an appearance.

Science Fiction and the Combat Exoskeleton
Since the dawn of storytelling, humans have conjured up tales of warriors gifted with special weaponry and armor to slay their enemies and protect their people and get the girl in the metal bikini. In some ancient stories our heroes are given magical armor, like the armor of Achilles, the Megingjoro of Thor, Wayland the Smith's armor he made for Beowulf that protect our warrior from the slings and arrows of mythical combat. With the advent of electricity and the industrial revolution, the idea of modern technology enhancing man was introduced, and science fiction soon followed. Exo-Suits have been in many diverse works of sci-fi, from Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson to A Good Old-Fashioned Future by Bruce Sterling, to Elysium and All You Need Is Kill
By the 1960's, the advancement in computer technology took the exoskeleton from concept to reality, and most were tasked with making work easier for mankind. Once again, science fiction followed, and exoskeletons were seen in 1960's toys and sci-fi novels. However, shortly after the emergence of the real-world exoskeletons intended for a forklift replacement, the concept of the armored power suit was also coming about and was popularized by works like Starship Troopers and Iron Man. This became one of the largest issues face by the powered exoskeleton in science fiction: confusion. Some creators used the term "exoskeleton" or variations on it, to describe the CLASS-I powered armor suit, confusing the general public and future creators. This even exists today. Just type into Google Images the term "exoskeletons" and witness the variations. Everything from the Master Chief, to Iron Man, to Kruger from Elysium. This confusion only grew worse when 2nd Wave of Anime/Manga began coming over in the 1980's. At this time, Americans were enjoying a "big robot" love affair and the American Importers and Japanese Exporters embraced the trend and feed it liberally with all tons of mecha-centered works, models, and cheap plastic toys. This trend was also assisted by the smash hit ALIENS that featured an example of an industrial exoskeleton This trend only diluted the term exoskeleton even further.
It was only recently that the difference between the powered armor suit and the powered exoskeleton suit was spelled out clearly. By the 21st century, the US military and various defense companies, and heavy manufacturers began fielding prototype exoskeletons for work and combat. US military became interested in testing these various systems and proposing that by the year 2025, the US Armed Forces will fielding military grade exoskeletons. Picking up on this, science fiction creators began putting more and more honest-to-god exoskeletons into popular sci-fi media, like Elysium, Agents of SHIELD, Edge of Tomorrow, and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Today, we are on the beginning of an new age of popularity for exoskeletons being inserted into science fiction works. Even I embraced this and placed exoskeleton infantry in my sequel to my novel Endangered Species, The Pillar of Fire. Yep, there will be sequel.

Examples of Combat Exoskeletons in Sci-Fi

The Combat Exoskeleton from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
The near future COD games are always looking towards current research for items to include their games, and the incoming COD: Advanced Warfare is no different. In this game, the private military company, ATLAS, is one of the global's largest military organizations, and outfits their contractors with the latest-and-greatest in high-tech warfighting gear. That includes exoskeleton suits. Both Atlas Corporation and the US military of 2054 both the seem to use exoskeletons, however, it is believed that the most advanced military exoskeleton used by the ATLAS PMCs.
Since the game is not out yet, the full story of the COD:AW exoskeleton suits is incomplete, however, Sledgehammer Games has said that online play will be altered by the abilities of the exoskeleton, which it seems, every player will be using. This includes limited power-jumping, wall-scaling, vastly increased strength, and a portable power system to play with. Players will be able to perk up their exoskeleton via "exo abilities", based around how they like to fight and the map environment.
It is also believed it that COD:AW will allow for exoskeleton class setups for assault, defense, and such. Like many of COD games online, there will be tons of customization options for the player to set themselves apart for the hordes of other gamers, like paint schemes. It is also believed that players wearing the CLASS-I exoskeletons will be able to mount the larger CLASS-II combat powered mechanized armor. This addition of exoskeletons could really jazz up the stale current COD gaming online environment. Recently the website CharlieIntel reported some of the exo-suit perks and abilities will draw from a limited battery pack that needs to recharge after use, limiting their effectiveness. These exo-suit multiplayer features are: energy shielding, sprint, extra health, cloak, hover, radar location of other players, and an incoming fire interceptor TROPHY system. We shall all see how exoskeletons effect the world of COD in November.

The LEAF from Embedded by Dan Abnett
Let it be said: Dan Abnett has written one of the best military science fiction novels in Embedded and it is one hell of a read. In the novel set more than a thousand years in the future, there are two main political entities wrestling over interstellar real estate. On planet Eighty-Six, a starter colonial world that is not yet an official member of either  the United Status or the Bloc, but both want it. The United Status' Settlement Office Military Directorate or SOMD soldiers use the LEAF or Limb Exo Assist Frame, to manage the weight of some of the SOMD's heavy infantry small arms. One being the M3A Hardlaser beam emitter AKA "the Piper". In the book, several of the character use LEAFs to wield the Piper, and normally, the LEAFs are only mounted to one arm. This is similar to the Colonial Marines' 10mm M56 Smart Gun's Articulation Arm, and could be the inspiration behind the LEAF in Embedded. If you have not read this novel, read it. FWS will be posting up an book review of Embedded soon. 

The REF VR series Cyclone from ROBOTECH and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA
The 3rd Generation Robotech warriors had an example of unusual exoskeleton suit system, the VR series Cyclone mecha. The combat personnel of the REF donned the CVR-3 body armor, which was an semi-CLASS-I powered armor could be augmented by the transformed Cyclone VR motorcycle into a powerful exoskeleton combat system. During the Robotech Expeditionary Force’s war against the Invid with their Sentient allies, Dr. Emil Lang developed a new type of mobile force multiplier that put the regular human infantry on near equal footing to the Invid. During the war against the Invid, the REF ground forces found themselves outmatched and outmanned during infantry engagements. To counter these limitations and mounting causalities, the REF R&D divisions, with help from their Sentient allies, developed the VR-series Cyclone mobile mecha system. The idea was to marry heavier infantry weapons, increase mobility, and enhance the wearer’s abilities. The Cyclone was met with great success. At the heart of the VR series was the base protoculture powered motorcycle that transformed into a powerful exoskeleton that attached onto the rider’s standard REF issued CVR-3 body armor. Along with specialized weaponry, the transformed Cyclone exoskeleton allowed for limited flight as well. These were a common slight, along with the base CVR-3 body armor throughout the 3rd Robotech War. 

The DELTA-6 Accelerator Suit from G.I. Joe: Rise of COBRA
When G.I. Joe finally got the live-action adaption in 2009, two newest recruits to the elite American Special Forces unit, Duke and Ripcord,  are given the prototype DELTA-6 "Accelerator Suit" to counter COBRA and were by both sides in the battle of Paris. These are an hybrid CLASS-I powered armor and exo-suit that allows the wearer to run at 80MPH, hit harder, leap further and mount weaponry to the suit itself. One of these weapons is an 10mm arm-mounted rotary submachine cannon along with fire-and-forget missiles. 10mm? Really? Some criticized the suits in the film, and the addition of the suits into the official toyline. When the sequel was released to the 2009 movie, the Accelerator Suits were missing.

The Grey Knight Nemesis DreadKnight Exo-Armor from the Warhammer 40K
In the realm of WH40K, there are several species that use combat mecha-like machines, mainly called walkers. In the mysterious ranks of the Grey Knights Space Marine chapter, who are specially trained for operations against the warp demons, there are Grey Knight trained to pilot the advanced Nemesis Dread Knight exoskeleton. Unlike the Tau Battlesuits, the Nemesis Dreadknight is not a fully encased CLASS-I/II powered armor rather a CLASS-II exoskeleton that was designed to counter the monstrous demon forms that plague the Grey Knights’ battlefields.  Due to the complexity, this exoskeleton takes years to master, and even before that, the Space Marine, in CLASS-I powered armor, must possess the mental abilities to unitize the synaptic implants. This makes the Space Marine pilots of the Nemesis Dreadknight an especially skilled super-soldier. Powered by a Stark Industries plasma reactor and equipped with all the latest in ranged and melee weaponry, the Nemesis Dreadknight is a mighty weapons platform for Grey Knight operations against the hellish horde from the Eye of Terror.  

The Knight Sabers Motorslaves from the Bubblegum Crisis Universe
The battleground that is Tokyo in 2033 as rouge "Boomer" cybernetic killing machines with heavily armed cops of the AD Police Force chasing behind them. On top of this craziness, is the women of Knight Sabers and their kick-ass tech. The Knight Sabers Hardsuits were a typical CLASS-I powered armor suit, but when the shit gets thick, the Knight Sabers have motorcycle based motorslaves that are a exoskeleton booster for their powered armor. This is similar to the Cyclone transformable motorcycles from ROBOTECH: The New Generation and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. So, like a Truducken, it a badass female character, stuffed inside a sweet powered CLASS-I armor Hardsuit, surrounded in a combat exoskeleton with bigger guns...only in Anime, folks! Need to get this  Priss figure for the FWS offices! In terms of hard data on the Motorslave, I used the 1996 technical RPG BGC manual by Fuzion. According to the Fuzion manual, there were no less than four different types of Motorslaves that all where designed to augment the normal CLASS-I Knight Saber Hardsuit. There was an increase in flight ability, damage absorption, increased weaponry load, increase of speed, strength, and 4.5x increase in overall Hardsuit abilities. However, there was an 35% reduction in reflexes. 
The MSX-01 was the prototype and mounted a seriously heavy and powerful 105mm auto-cannon that fired HEAT shells. Later, Priss would use the "Hurricane" Motorslave (seen above) which mounted an 35mm "bursting ammunition" MG44 machine-cannon that fed from an 45 round drum. Later, the Typhoon series of Motorslave CLASS-II exo-suits were fitted with an 35mm hand-cannon and 8.8cm rocket-firing cannons. Overall, while a cool concept that the Knight Sabers could pull out when the big guns were needed in a bad scrape, the series began to relay too heavily on these mecha, and the series began to verge on the "big robot mecha" genre than the cyberpunk genre that it was originally set in.  

The APU from The Matrix Universe
The Armored Personnel Unit CLASS-II exoskeleton suits that was seen in defense of Zion docks under Captain Mifune were the children of older powered armor that fought in the original losing war with the machine nation of 01. Surviving  powered armor was brought down to Zion and altered into the more stripped down APU exoskeleton. The APU corps was an elite military unit of Zion and one of the primary line of defense. APUs were generally armed with twin pistol-like 30mm auto-cannons that were feed via interior ammunition storage. The idea of combat exoskeletons was teased in some "leaked" concept art for the sequels to the Matrix films back around 2000/2001. When we finally got a look at these in action, they were a odd-duck hybrid of an exoskeleton and a CLASS-II APS. For sometime, the APU was one of the few examples of live-action exoskeletons in film.  

The Skeleton Armor from X-Com: Enemy Unknown
X-Com has always been one of the more interesting PC games around, and I wasted most of 1995 on the original X-Com and Wing Commander games. In 2012, X-Com: Enemy Unknown, the human Extraterrestrial Combat Forces are able to don an "skeleton armor". This is a medium armor that main feature is an increase in strength and speed with an with an integrated grappling hook, the operator can scale walls and alter the vector of combat. The Skeleton armor is a trade off of maneuverable verse armor protection. 

Supernaut Power-Limbs Pak from the Major Matt Mason Toyline
Major Matt Mason (Triple M to his friends) was one of the most popular action figures of the 1960's. His emergence would be in response to the feverish popularity of the US Space Program during the Space Race, and Mattel had bet correctly. Given that the vast majority of astronauts in the 1960's were military, Major Matt Mason was also a member of the US military (sporting an "high and tight") but lived and worked on the moon. By the time of Apollo 11 landed on Luna, the Mason Mattel line was in high gear, with all manner of playsets, vehicles, other astronauts and aliens. One of these vehicles was the "supernaut power-limbs pak" that was an exoskeleton designed for lunar exploration and mining operations. This space exo-suit featured twin hook-claws and a small rear-mounted crane. Give some elements of the designs, some Major Matt Mason fans have wondered if this 1960's space exo-suit was an inspiration for the Power-Loader from ALIENS.  Sadly, by the early 1970's, Mason and company were on hard times, and Mattel quickly shutdown the Major Matt Mason toyline after several attempts to reintroduce the character and line were uncsuccessful. There has been talk that Tom Hanks, a fan of Tripe M, will play him in a live-action film. No word if the sweet yellow power-limbs make an appearance.    

The CCB EXO-0592 and 3rd Gen Exo-Suit from Elysium
2013’s Elysium features some of the best exoskeletons seen on film, and within the course of the film, we are able to see variants of the basic design. In an act of desperation, Max consents to having a third generation exo-suit surgically impacted onto his broken body to stage the info-hijack job. Little is said about Max’s exoskeleton, besides it would make as strong as a droid, and it is only when we meet Kruger and his “boys”, that we see that Max’s exo-suit is a little behind the times. When the situation goes to hell on Elysium, Kruger replaced his lighter exo-suit and dons the next-gen of combat exoskeleton armor; the CCB’s Armadyne EXO-0592. This hydraulic heavier exo-suit draws from an 789 kW power source allowing for seven meters of jump, plasma-arch shielding, lighting, and for the CCB agent to use heavier weaponry, like the ChemRail rifle. In the Elysium universe, both Kruger’s and Max’s exo-suit are WETWARE in-skull implanted socket. 

The Jackets from Edge of Tomorrow
Seen in all of their military science fiction awesomeness, the exo-suits from Edge of Tomorrow were a labor of love for the prop department and the actors. Over the course of five months, the over one hundred exo-suit mockups were created. Naturally, the best and most time intensive exo-suit props were created for Emily Blunts and Tom Cruise. These required over 200 pieces per suit and could weigh in at 135lbs once fully loaded and outfitted. While the original design was by director Doug Liman, it was Pierre Bohanna that was the head of the exo-suit development team for the film. According to Bohanna, there were three different exoskeleton Jacket suits in the film: Grunts, Dogs, and Tanks. Grunts were the vast majority of suits, dogs were equipped with rocket launchers, and the tank are serious firepower. 
Each suit required a team of four, and over thirty minutes for the actors to suit up. By the end of filming, they had it down to less than a minute. In the film, the exoskeletons or Jackets were standard gear for all UN combat units, and were the game changer for the losing human race against the Mimics. Jackets allowed for greater strength and abilities, along with an impressive technological increase to the basic soldier kit. The standard exo-suit has a cut-down 7.62mm FN SCAR-H assault rifle fixed to a forearm mount and the Jacket possessed auto-reloading systems and computerized targeting. Some UN exoskeletons were fitted with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and custom-made melee weaponry. As with any military vehicle, combat taxes the power system, and as seen in the film, the Jackets can and do run out of juice, leaving the wearer exposed to the Mimic threat. Unfortunately, Edge of Tomorrow did not do well at the box office, making about $100 million on a budget of $178 million, and now the studio as renamed the film for the DVD release. At the time of this blogpost being written, Edge of Tomorrow now as the title of:  Live, Die, Repeat. Seriously, that is the new title. Sigh. This film should done better, and could jeopardize the future of military science fiction cinema. More on that later.    

The Weyland Medical Power-Walker from Prometheus
While Prometheus is still conversational in some circles of sci-fi, it does feature an impressive medical exoskeleton assistance walker. While only covering the legs of the elderly Peter Weyland, it allows him to walk unassisted to meet his maker and die by his hands. The interesting thing about the medical exoskeleton walker in this film, is there is shit on it. I could find nearly nothing on it, and no pictures as well. This medical exoskeleton follows in the footsteps of Logan Cale's walker from the 2nd season of Dark Angel, and the exoskeleton from M.A.N.T.I.S and even The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce uses an motorized brace to assist him with his injured knee.

The Space LEGO 21109 Exo-Suit
Oh, fuck yeah! It is amazing to me there have too few exoskeleton/powered armor/mecha in the official LEGO line. Throughout my childhood, I forged dozens of mecha LEGO creations, and now, it looks like that as been reversed. A very talented brick-modeler, Peter Reid submitted the design to LEGO during one of their building contests, and won because the design is 1980’s Space LEGO badassness. According to most reviewers, it is one hell of a set in all of its plastic glory. Technically, the 21109 LEGO Exo-Suit is an CLASS-II powered exoskeleton and 100% awesome…okay, I’ll stop now.

The Exo-Frames from ExoSquad
According to this American animation show, Exo-Frames or E-Frames originally started off as tools of off-world colonization, specifically Mars. These exoskeletons served as the workhorse of the colonization effort, however, the situation soon turned, and e-frames were retrofitted for combat duties. By the time of space pirates and the Neosapien Revolts, the e-frame was now a tool of war. The older type of worker e-frame was greatly expanded with greater neural interface control. Another hallmark of military combat e-frame were being powered by small fusion generators, called fusion packs. Both sides of the 2nd Neospaien Revolt used the military E-frames as their main frontline weapon system. Some of the Exo-Frames were CLASS-I and II exoskeleton suits, while others are CLASS-I and II powered armor. It just depends on the E-Frame design. The ExoFleet AA-500 “Falcon”, Typhonus’ High Speed Stealth E-Frame, and Alec Deleon’s Field Communications E-Frame were all forms of exoskeletons. The more exoskeleton type E-Frames have exposed sections of the operator, but mount serious offensive weaponry. Back in the 1990’s, Toy manufactures were attempting to find the next big thing that would replace the aging GI Joes, He-Man, and Transformers toylines. One possible candidate was Exo-Squad in 1993 by Playmate Toys. It had a great deal going for it: military sci-fi that channeled anime mecha works with an accompanying toyline that also channeled “anime mecha” like toys. These toys would be heavily advertised on Sci-Fi Channel during reruns of ROBOTECH. FWS will be discussing Exo-Squad in two future blogposts: Forgotten Classics and Military Sci-Fi Toys.

The Exo-Frames from The Centurions (1986)
In the 21st century, a cyborg terrorist named Dr. Terror (haha), and his cybernetic goons are terrorizing the globe with all manner of robotic soldiers and aircraft. Enter in the response: the Centurions and their exo-frames. These specially selected members operate on land, sea, and by air to destroy Dr. Terror and his minions. The heart of the Centurion unit is the ability to upgrade their exo-frame suit will all manner of weapons and attachment on the gon and in the field. These attachment allow these soldier of the future to transform into planes, motorcycles, and watercraft. However, the Centurions didn't need a bus to pack all that high-tech gear in. They had their exo-frame attachments and weapons beamed down from space by a space station crewed by a hot redhead and a monkey. No shit. A monkey. Eat your heart out, Q Branch.
The Centurions brand was a cartoon, a toyline, and comic book series. After all, it was the 80's.The 1980's were a good time to be a kid because the toys were awesome! This time period, which I remember quite vividly along with these toys. At this time, America was under the 2nd Invasion of Anime and Manga, and toy companies and animation studios took notice. This was also the reign of the thinly veiled cartoon that was actually an advert for the tie-in toyline. Capitalizing on this trend, Kenner, still attempting to find another hit like their Star Wars line, created The Centurions. I had a few friends that had some of the Centurion oversized figures, and they were good for time period, but they were larger than most action figures, and to create the cool exo-frames in the series, you had to spend cash on upgrade kits. These kits were not as common as the figures. Also, the enemy figures were lame. However, the Centurion figures worked well with my He-Man figures. Okay, I am sorry to admit this for all of the internet to read, but, I watched this embarrassing American attempt at an anime tv show back in 1986. I found an full episode of the show on Youtube and gave it a watch...wish I hadn't. Even for an 1980's cartoon, this one is boring packed with lame dialog, over-the-top villains, with cardboard heroes. Something things should remain in the past and in the realm of memories.

The Space Exoskeleton suit from Exolon 
In 1987, a rather fun run-and-gun side-scroller space game by Raffaele Cecco and published Hewson was release for the ZX Spectrum, ATARI ST, and the Commodore 64; called Exolon. The basic story is than astronaut-soldier is attacked an alien installation with a laser-rifle and a spacesuit mounted RPG. About 1/3rd of the way into the space battle, your character gets an upgrade in firepower; an combat exoskeleton. Fitted over your normal combat spacesuit, allowing your hold more firepower. According to some sources, the space exo-suit in Exolon maybe the first exoskeleton in video game history. Recently, Exolon was updated.

The Power-Fighters from the GI Joe: Star Brigade Toyline
In the next blogpost on FWS, we will exploring and explaining the GI Joe space toyline from 1993-1994, but here is an example of exoskeleton combat suit toy. In 1994, the last gasp of the Star Brigade produced two powered CLASS-II exoskeleton, one COBRA, one JOE that had operator figures exclusive to the exo-suits. These heavily armed exo-suit toys featured garish colors, very exposed pilots, and spring-fired missiles. One cool touch was a operator HUD interface that lowered into place. Both operator figures, Gears and Techo-Viper v2, "connected" to their exo-suits via the screw-hole in the back of the figures. According to some sources, the Power-Figthers sub-line play-vehicles would have been expanded if Star Brigade had been continued into 1995, and these two that were released where just a taste of what was incoming. Some believe that the two released Power-Fighter exo-suits were rare, with less than 10,000 pieces released. These exo-suit GI Joe play-vehicles were on the shelves at the same time as the Playmate Exo-Squad mech toyline. 

The APE-1A2 Exoskeleton from Tom Clancy's Endwar
In the fictional world of 2020’s from Endwar games, the US Joint Strike Force that is engaged in World War III with Mother Russia, and some of the US infantry seen in game use the Assault Powered Exoskeleton or APE series of exo-suits. The first generation of the APE goes back to 2012, and by the time of World War III in 2020, the APE had got lighter, more effective with the 1A2, amking a common slight on the battlefield. Often, the exoskeleton equipped soldiers use rotary cannons and other heavier weaponry that would not be usable by regular infantry. Much like many of the near-future Tom Clancy games, the development team used current military resource to design World War III of 2020. No word if 7.62mm miniguns like Old Painless will be used with Raytheon's XOS exo-suit. 

The Caterpillar P-5000 Work Loader from ALIENS
One of the icons of live-action powered armor/mecha/exoskeletons is the power loader from the Citizen Kane of military science fiction films, ALIENS. In the film, audiences were amazed by the live-action exoskeleton worker suits, and the Power Loader became an inspiration for creators ever since. While it is good that the ALIENS Power Loader was an inspiration, it also fueled the bad trend of creators stuffing armed variants of the Power Loader into various ALIENS works. Nowhere was this more common than in the 1990's Kenner ALIENS toyline and the Dark Horse Comics, and the recent abortion-of-a-game that was ALIENS: Colonial Marines. In terms of hard data on the Power Loader, the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood is pretty much the best resource. The Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader takes about six weeks of training for civilian use and eight weeks for CMC personnel, and this workhorse of the 22nd century. Power Loaders are seen throughout the colonial network in various tasks in creating better worlds. In military service, the P-5000 is used on rough off-world FOBs and the cramped interiors of US Aerospace Force starships. They are used in place of traditional forklifts, and a key in construction and starlift logistical operations. The heart of the P-5000 is an hydrogen fuel cell that powers exoskeleton's ability to move and lift over 8,000lbs of cargo via series of linear motors. Due to the P-5000 series and other Power Loader exo-worker frames function and popularity, cargo containers have been modified to allow easier movement by the Power Loader.

The Prototype Ukrainian Exoskeletons from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R Games
The battery-powered exoskeleton suits from the STALKER games are a rare example of accurate looking military exoskeletons that are a firm CLASS-I. Along with the exo-framework, the operators also wear ballistic and radiation protection with gas masks to counter the conditions of The Zone. The exo-suits of STALKER were originally prototypes and not put into full protection due to issues.  There is something extra-creepy about the environment that STALKER takes place in and that is topped off with the gas-mask wearing characters full-kitted out in exo-suit. That couple with the deserted city. STALKER is one creepy game.  

The M56 Smartgun Harness from ALIENS
When the story of ALIENS occurs in September of 2179, the Colonial Marines had only been using the M56 Smart Guns for a short amount of time. At first, the next-gen tech of the heavy M56 general purpose machine gun and the accompanying harness were not welcomed by the Marines. Some units refused it and used their older M38 LMGs until they were forced to absolutely stop due to breakage and lack of ammunition. Even today, reviews are mixed by the Marines. Some believe that each M56 is different especially when it comes to the targeting software. 
After the Colonial Marines adopted the M56, the bulk of the US Armed Forces followed suite and replaced their aging M38 LMGs as well. Most military personnel still criticize the weight of the M56, which is nearly 40lbs, but do like that it fires the same caseless round as the M41A1, the M250 10x28mm. In order to make the heavyweight  M56 easy to manage in combat, the M56 was mounted an harness system, allowing for the soldier or Marine to use the weapon accuracy in the field for as long as needed. This partially exo-system was powered by an DV9 removable battery system. Unlike the pervious M38 LMG, the M56 requires longer training, and time-on-hand by the operator to learn how to move and not move. Also unlike the M38, the M56 cannot be just pickup by another soldier during chaotic combat conditions. Some medics and corpsmen have complained that the harness makes battlefield trama care difficult.
The M56 Smart Gun from ALIENS is one of the rare early examples of a light machine gun, or general purpose machine gun, in science fiction  In the film, both characters Drake and Vasquez are the heavy fire support element to the Colonial Marne Colonail Response Unit. The prop markers and armorer Simon Atherton designed the massive prop weapon around a World War II era MG42 and a steadycamera harness to give reality to James Cameron’s stretches of the weapon. Originally, Camern envisioned that the M56 was held by the Marines using an cybernetic glove. 
While this concept was abandoned in favor of the harness system in the film, the 1992 Kenner ALIENS toyline featured an "Hudson" and "Apone" figures with an exoskeleton arms to use the massive weaponry and engage xenomporhs in hand-to-hand combat. Soon, FWS will be profiling the 1990's Kenner ALIENS toyline. One thing about the M56 Smart Gun system that has been debated by fans is what the hell did Vasquez and Drake pull out of their guns during the raid on the atmosphere processor? In the film, when Gorman orders the magazine be pulled and Apone to collect the mags, Drake and Vasquez do not actually give up their drum 10mm magazine, but an odd looking device that the film does make clear what it is. This has lead to two fan theories about those odd looking devices. Some say that they are the DV9 battery power source for the “pulse” action of the caseless ignition system (good for 50,000 rounds). Others say that the odd looking item that Drake and Vasquez handover is the battery power source to the harness system. In an interview, author of the ALIENS Colonial Marines Technical Manual, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood stated the entire project got started by he and his friends discussing the Smart Gun while watching the film.

The ISA M224A3 HSW/GPMG from Killzone
In the original Killzone, one of the heaviest weapons available in the ISA armory was the M224-A3 Heavy Support Weapon General Purpose Machine Gun. This high fire rate twin barreled chain driven 7.62x51mm machinegun mounted an anti-armor rocket underslung. All of this added up to some serious firepower…with two major drawbacks: recoil and weight. To counter this weakness, the M224A3 HSW/GPMG operators used a harness system that stabilizes the machine gun via a gyro. Much like the ALIENS M56 Smart Gun that the Killzone M224A3 is inspirited by, this is an interesting example of a partial exo-suit that could be a reality for the use of heavier weaponry in the future. While the M224A1 light machine guns is still used, the heavier harness-required M224A3 HSW/GPMP is only seen in the original Killzone game.   

Here is Atomic Rockets Section on Exoskeletons and Powered Armor:

Cybernetic Zoo's list of Exoskeletons:

Next Time on FWS...
In the mid-1990's, the popularity of the GI Joe toyline was down, and Hasbro decided to make a bold move with series#12...put the Joes into outer space complete with freaking laser beams, space fighters, garish combat EVA suits, and hostile aliens...yes, aliens. This toyline was like someone mixed the Joes and STARCOM with a bad rip-off of the Star Wars toys. Strap in as we explore and attempt to explain the existence of this oddball 1990's military sci-fi toyline from Hasbor's GI Joe: Real American Hero toyline!