SINGAPORE: The Singapore Army is trialling a titanium-made exoskeleton designed to reduce the stress on soldiers carrying heavy loads.
A section of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day video released on Jul 1, captioned “Exoskeleton Trial”, showed a soldier wearing a green exoskeleton on top of his army fatigues.
In response to queries from CNA, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the army is studying the use of an exoskeleton to improve soldier performance.
“The Singapore Army is constantly looking for ways to enhance the performance of our soldiers, and the exoskeleton is one such example that the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP) is studying,” it said.
The CESP, set up in 2017, helps to develop the full potential of soldiers in areas like fitness and nutrition, pre-habilitation and rehabilitation, resilience and soldier systems.
Based on the SAF Day video, the exoskeleton’s appearance and logo indicates that it is the Canadian science and technology company Mawashi’s Ultralight Passive Ruggedized Integrated Soldier Exoskeleton (UPRISE) system.
The system, which the company says was initially developed for special forces and is made of high-strength titanium, comprises a flexible spine, sliding belt and fully articulated legs.
UPRISE allows for a 50 to 80 per cent load transfer to the ground and a “high degree” of mobility for users, the Mawashi website said.
An UPRISE factsheet said it increases combat effectiveness and reduces fatigue as well as musculoskeletal injuries. It did not specify how much the system costs.
A defence analyst told CNA that while exoskeletons are common in heavy-lifting civilian industries like construction as well as search and rescue, military applications are relatively new.
Mr Chen Chuanren, Singapore representative at Shephard Media – which provides business information for the defence industry – said the US, French and Australian armies have shown interest in exoskeletons, although he pointed out that challenges to implementation include cost and mobility.
The US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has been exploring how to use commercially developed exoskeletons for military purposes under a US$6.9 million (S$9.6 million) agreement.
One defence firm involved in the project is Lockheed Martin, which produces an ONYX lower-limb exoskeleton to increase mobility and reduce fatigue.
The soldier in the SAF Day video is seen walking on a treadmill in what appears to be a stress test. He is wearing full combat gear on top of the exoskeleton, including helmet, rifle, field pack and load-bearing vest.
Mr Chen expects UPRISE to be distributed in the Singapore Army not as a standard issue item, but to specalised units that do heavy lifting over long distances, like some anti-tank infantry and special forces soldiers.
“Through its innovative and ultralight design, this exoskeleton achieves an unparalleled level of freedom of movement,” Mawashi said on its website.
“(It) allows for all the movements involved during tactical maneuvers as well as other tasks required by dismounted soldiers and special operations forces operators.”
CNA has contacted Mawashi for comment.
IS THE EXOSKELETON SUITABLE FOR THE SAF?
Mr Chen said UPRISE is suitable for the Singapore Army as troops that operate in the tropics tend to see lower levels of endurance due to the humid climate.
“There is a higher chance that they get tired a bit more, so I think it would be very useful for them to have this kind of system,” he said.
“If you look at UPRISE especially, the load actually gets passed down to the ground through the leg brace from the spine … instead of having the load on your shoulders or back.”
But Mr Chen said it is not practical to issue UPRISE to every soldier in the army as the titanium-made product is “very, very expensive”.
“It’s likely that it will be fielded to the special forces which operate behind enemy lines and usually carry very heavy loads,” he added. “They have to do trekking and long-distance missions.”