There is a proverbial 800-pound gorilla that the United States Army is facing. Well, more like 110 pounds. That's the weight some soldiers have to haul on their backs. And it's a big problem.
"We [now] have Soldiers in their late teens and early 20s and they're getting broken sometimes in training before they see a day in combat," Zac Wingard, a mechanical engineer for the Army Research Laboratory's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, was quoted in an Army release as saying during the Association of the United States Army's Global Force Symposium.
How to prevent this? One solution is to give the troops a third arm. Yeah, you read that right. The Army Research Lab has a prototype third arm for troops that will hang off their body armor.
The device, which weighs about 4 pounds, is currently in testing at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Currently, the third arm is being used to help re-direct the weight of weapons, currently M4 carbines, onto a soldier's body.
"With this configuration right now, we can go up to 20 pounds and take all of that weight off of the arms," mechanical engineer Dan Baechle said.
During the testing, troops have been wearing sensors to determine how much muscle activity is occurring. Eventually this system could be used with other weapons, like the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon or the M240B machine gun. But it might not end there – troops could be able to carry more powerful systems, since the recoil won't be directly impacting them.
"We could potentially look at very high recoil systems that aren't going to beat up on the soldier like they normally would," Baechle said. There are also application for other tactical needs, like shooting around corners, close-quarters combat, and other fighting techniques.
But it might not just be about helping to shoot a weapon. Troops could also use the third arm to hold shields or keep a weapon ready while using other tools to breach barricades.
That said, before this system goes into the field, they will try to make sure it can be rugged enough to handle whatever the battlefield throws at it.