SOFWERX hosted a Cyber Capability Expo at their newest facility in Tampa, Fla., Oct. 19, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Barry Loo)

Imagine this scenario: Army Green Berets are conducting a dismounted patrol in a village with partner security forces when they come across a crowd of agitated civilians. Things appear tense. It's not clear whether the crowd is frustrated about some local issue or upset over the presence of Americans.

Without thinking, a Special Forces soldier thumbs a man-portable supercomputer strapped to his backpack. The system sprouts a series of small cameras that conduct sentiment analysis on the crowd using video and infrared inputs; heart-rate, facial expressions, even body language are vacuumed up and analyzed through the unique system architecture that's strapped to their back. The result? The crowd isn't angry, just hungry, and the system advises on how to proceed.

This is just one potential vision of what U.S. Special Operations Command officials are calling a "hyper enabled operator" (HEO) concept that, using artificial intelligence and a unique system architecture, is designed to give U.S. forces a cognitive edge over any adversary.

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U.S. special operations forces are currently field testing a lightweight combat armor designed to cover more of an operator's body than previous protective gear, an official told Task & Purpose.

The armor, called the Lightweight Polyethylene (PE) Armor for Extremity Protection, is one of a handful of subsystems to come out of U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) effort that media outlets dubbed the "Iron Man suit," Navy Lieutenant Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesman, told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

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Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

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DoD photo.

Editor’s Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

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