Recently, Elon Musk went to the Pentagon, which, of course, had people breathlessly speculating about what exactly he was doing there. In addition to making luxury cars, he’s also the head of SpaceX, so curiosity was intense. And Musk didn’t do anything to tamp that fervor down. He took to Twitter and said he was meeting the Pentagon about a “flying metal suit.” Thing is? He probably was completely serious.
DARPA, the military’s cutting edge R&D department, has been experimenting with powered exoskeletons, essentially real life Iron Man armor, for quite a while. In fact, they’re already out there; Raytheon’s XOS line of exoskeletons is designed to help soldiers lift heavier loads, and Lockheed Martin has a similar one unsubtly titled HULC. But those are mostly for freight purposes. The military has grander ambitions, like the TALOS suit, a bulletproof, weaponized suit that would allow a soldier to bust through a door and take a few bullets while the rest of the squad assessed the situation.
That said, we’re unlikely to see a soldier roar off a helipad in rocket boots tomorrow. Currently, the state of the art in flying around without a vehicle is the JB-9, a jetpack that allows roughly 10 minutes of flight. That’s pretty good, considering the history of jetpacks, but the military likely wants something that won’t run out of fuel almost immediately and then just be dead weight the suit carries around. Still, this kind of thing tends to take decades to develop. While it may be little more than spitballing the basic theory right now, make no mistake: The military would like a War Machine sooner rather than later.