As you round the corner, gracefully pieing the cavernous doorways of an abandoned installation with your M249 squad automatic weapon, you hear a squadmate hiss: “Something is coming!”
Spinning on a dime, you turn just in time. You’re fluid and quick, not sluggish like the machine gunners of past wars, weighed down by heavy weapon systems, tons of ammunition, and equipped with just two arms. You bring your weapon to bear, a third mechanical arm doing all the heavy lifting, and decimate the enemy in a hail of gunfire.
If you think this sounds like a scene from James Cameron’s “Aliens,” you’re right. If you think it sounds like pure science fiction, you’re wrong.
The Army recently announced its plans to create a mechanical arm that would attach to the back of a soldier’s tactical vest, notes Tony Lombardo of Defense News. Called the Third Arm, it’s an ultralight exoskeleton that literally carries a warfighter's weapon allowing him to show up to battle well-rested and ready to kick ass, and provides additional stability, which means greater accuracy.
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Based on the Army’s description, it would function a lot like the harness for the M56A2 Smart Gun from “Aliens,” the harness that allowed colonial Marine machine gunners to move quickly, provided reduced recoil when firing, and helped distribute the weapon system’s weight, all of which enhanced a gunner’s combat effectiveness.
Designed by the Army Research Laboratory, the arm is a 4-pound carbon-fiber exoskeleton which attaches to a soldier’s back via their tactical vest and connects to the weapon’s Picatinny rail system, Defense News reports. The arm is also ambidextrous and can be mounted on either side of the body. A recent demo covered by Defense News showed just an M4 carbine, but the arm is capable of hefting heavier weapon systems, up to 20 pounds.
The Army's Third Arm is designed to help a soldier distribute a weapon's weight, making movement easier and keeping them fresh for battle.Defense News photo by Tony Lombardo
The arm could also be adapted to carry a breaching saw or a shield, which is more reminiscent of “The Running Man” and steampunk franchises like “Road Warrior” than it is of space Marines and sci-fi, but it’s still pretty badass.
Though still in its infancy, researchers have begun to run the prototype through live-fire exercises to see how it impacts marksmanship and muscle activity. Future tests will see how using the arm impacts shooting on the move, hitting moving targets, unconventional firing positions as well as recoil mitigation.
Essentially, the Army is actively trying to arm soldiers with equipment and weaponry plucked straight from one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever made. So the only thing you’ve really gotta ask yourself is: Who’s ready for a bug hunt?