Taiwan builds ‘ironman’ suit to cut fatigue for troops on the ground in wartime
- The powered suit from the ‘Taiwan Ironman’ project will allow soldiers to lift heavy objects with ease and move at up to 6km per hour
- Unveiling comes amid a spike in cross-strait tensions and US worries about Taiwan’s combat readiness
The lower-body exoskeleton will boost the strength and endurance of soldiers on the ground in wartime, according to the 2022 budget proposal submitted to the island’s legislature for review.
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“To reduce fatigue of soldiers in carrying heavy facilities … we started developing the powered suit for the military in 2020,” Jen Kuo-kuang, head developer of the project – dubbed “Taiwan Ironman programme” – said on Tuesday.
He said the suits, which support operators carrying loads over long distances by reducing stress on leg and hip joints, would be helpful during combat or disaster rescue.
“They can be used in field operations and movement of ammunition and heavy-duty weapons, and can increase the mobility and efficiency of the troops in wartime and post-disaster rescue missions,” Jen told a news conference.
The plan is to develop Version 2.0 of the suit by 2023, Jen said.
Version 1.0, which was unveiled on Tuesday, is designed to enhance knee endurance, allowing soldiers to lift heavy objects with ease and move at up to 6km per hour. The suits are powered by a lithium battery module that can last more than six hours once charged.
Version 2.0 will be designed to allow the wearer to carry weights of up to 100kg, which will be useful for moving ammunition and injured people in wartime, Jen said.
The suits will have to be tailored to the operator’s body and Jen and his team will collect data from military personnel to work out the average height and weight of Taiwanese soldiers.
Mainland China, which views Taiwan as its own territory and vows to bring it back into the fold – by force if necessary – has also developed its own powered exoskeleton suit for its troops.
The exoskeleton suit felt light and would not affect normal body movement, the CCTV report said in January, after a reporter tried out the gear.
Taiwanese defence ministry spokesman Shih Shun-wen said the powered suits could increase the operational efficiency of the island’s troops during wartime.
He also said the military would do its best to enhance its war preparedness and the combat readiness of its reserved force.
Shih’s remarks came after the Asian Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that few US military planners and administration officials thought the island’s force could hold the line in the event of a cross-strait war.
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The Journal report said among the pressing concerns were poor preparation and low morale among the roughly 80,000 Taiwanese who are conscripted each year and the nearly 2.2 million reservists.
Shih said foreign media reports about a potential cross-strait crisis naturally would attract public attention, but there was no cause for undue worry.
The military would defend the island’s security and strengthen training, he emphasised, and if needed would seek to take part in joint military and humanitarian assistance drills with the US.