China’s military is apparently testing a new exoskeleton to help soldiers haul heavy loads with relative ease, according to footage broadcast on Chinese state-owned television.
Video footage released last week by the China Central Television 7 (CCTV 7) channel shows People’s Liberation Army soldiers at the country’s Wuxi Joint Logistic Support Centre using powered exoskeletons to carry 80 kg (175 pound) crates, Jane’s reports:
Des exosquelettes sont entrées en service dans une unité de destruction des munitions obsolètes de l'armée chinoise. pic.twitter.com/nOxDbiJdsE
— East Pendulum (@HenriKenhmann) October 26, 2020
CCTV 7 reportedly stated that the crates contained “obsolete weapons,” per Jane’s, suggesting that PLA soldiers pictured were employing the novel exoskeletons for ordnance disposal operations.
Additional CCTV 7 footage also reportedly showed PLA soldiers using what appears to be the same system to carry wounded soldiers on a stretcher as part of a medical evacuation exercise, a function the Chinese military previously showcased back in August:
— 𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔇𝔢𝔞𝔡 𝔇𝔦𝔰𝔱𝔯𝔦𝔠𝔱 (@TheDeadDistrict) August 24, 2020
This isn’t the first time that Chinese state-run media outlets have flaunted high-tech powered exoskeletons amid their rapid adoption for military applications. In 2018, Chinese state-owned manufacturer Norinco debuted an exoskeleton body brace designed to help PLA soldiers carry up to 100 pounds of weapons, supplies, and ammunition.
A month before Norinco’s exoskeleton reveal, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s 707th Institute flaunted a powered exoskeleton for senior PLA officers in a bid to roll out the robotic apparatus for use at Chinese shipyards, according to Popular Science.
Then, in October 2019, the PLA’s Army Equipment Department reportedly conducted a competition featuring 50 exoskeleton prototypes developed by more than two dozen teams with the end goal of eventually alleviating the hard work of artillery reloaders stuck hauling 155 mm shells downrange.
“Bottom line: militaries today are adopting new tech for even greater combat and logistics efficiency, which is where these exoskeletons will be used,” Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, told Task & Purpose.
Indeed, China isn’t the only country pursuing exoskeletons for combat logistics: the unveiling of the PLA’s new military exoskeleton came just after Russian state-owned defense corporation Rostec released footage of a new combat exoskeleton for assault operations in action.
While the Russian and Chinese efforts are part of a veritable exoskeleton arms race with the United States, the Pentagon has been pursuing the dream of a powered exoskeleton for nearly a half-century, although its latest effort — U.S. Special Operations Command’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) — failed to yield a fully-integrated suit of combat armor following its unveiling in 2019.
Now, as Russia and China push their respective exoskeleton projects forward towards the battlefield, the U.S. Army is now pursuing a brand new exoskeleton to help soldiers ruck harder than ever before. Whether it’ll be enough to catch up to the efforts of America’s competitors remains to be seen.