The Army wants to give soldiers an extra hand during their next firefight — literally.
Army Research Lab engineers are officially testing a mechanical third arm designed to help soldiers wield oversized weaponry and hump heavy loads downrange without sacrificing their performance, the service announced on Feb. 27.
While the service has been hacking away at the abdomen-mounted apparatus — creatively dubbed the “Third Arm” — since last year, the Army says the current 3.5-pound prototype can support an M249 squad automatic weapon — or a 20-pound defensive shield for added protection and cover.
Cool, sweet… but any warfighter worth their salt will recognize this solution as inspired by the M56A2 Smart Gun toted by everyone’s favorite Colonial Marines from Aliens.
It’s unlikely soldiers will have to contend with creepy xenomorphs anytime soon, but the Army’s Third Arm has clear benefits for warfighters already laden with high-tech gear.
“We started out with just trying to think of a way to help improve the lethality of the dismounted Soldier,” Army Research Lab engineer Dan Baechle said in a statement. “Generally that means stabilizing the weapon or giving the Soldier a more powerful weapon. Can we stabilize that weapon to improve accuracy? But also if we’re stabilizing the weapon and taking the load off of the Soldiers’ arms, does that improve the Soldier’s readiness? Does it also improve the Soldier’s accuracy with the weapon?”
Aliens may be the most immediate pop-culture example of mechanical limbs in action, but the best description of the apparatus’ impact on lethality actually comes from Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, in my opinion. “If you load a mudfoot down with a lot of gadgets that he has to watch, someone a lot more simply equipped — say with a stone ax — will sneak up and bash his head in while he is trying to read a vernier,” says Rico. Sometimes, less is more.
Now, if only the Army could engineer a third leg…
Jared Keller is a senior editor at Task & Purpose and contributing editor at Pacific Standard. Follow Jared Keller on Twitter @JaredBKeller.
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Image: U.S. Army