I am currently writing a story, and part of it involves the invention and use of powered armor by the military. What I was curious about was how useful this armor would actually be, and what roles it would perform.

Assuming battery power isn't an issue, the armor is capable of lifting 150kg (counting the weight of the exoskeleton, but not counting the weight of any armor plating), and it is too expensive to be standard issue but not so expensive that it would have to be rare, what would it be able to do and how good would it be at its jobs? How would it compare to more conventional technologies?

(If you need me to provide more details, or if I got something wrong here you would like me to fix, I can fix it or add in new things. I'm fairly new to this, so I don't know what kind of information you might need.)

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding, Ave Roma! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – FoxElemental May 16 '18 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ How reliable is it and what happens if it breaks or if it is damaged? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 16 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ You've defined the strength - 150kg - but not the speed (and Power = Force / Time or Power = Strength * Speed). There's a big different in viability between "can lumber at 1 mile-per-hour" or "can maintain 5mph march", and speed also determines things like "can you jump?" or "do you punch or push?" $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal May 16 '18 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ " the armor is capable of lifting 150kg " that's not enough. Especially when you count in the weight of armour itself. Right now soldier carry around 61 kilos. So you double that carry capability with something that may cost more than just adding extra soldiers. Remember: Humans are cheap, tech cost money. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY May 16 '18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Can numbers overwhelm the armored soldier? What does the power armor provide that the bulletproof vests can not do now? Does it make the wearer a bigger target? Electrical discharge, tasers, EMP, magnetic fields, explosives, mines, rockets and any other thing that can bend the "exoskeleton" (chassis), what can it do to the armors' functionality. $\endgroup$ – Nuloen The Seeker May 16 '18 at 15:38

Power Armour, if similar to that seen in the Fallout computer games, would have many uses in the military, most of which probably aren't combat roles.

I would suggest that 150 kg is quite light to make it a viable platform, maybe around 500 kg would make more sense, for full Power Armour, and 150 kg for a simple exoskeleton, Power armour offers protections and huge gains, exoskeleton offers only carry capacity.

In Combat

Anything that doesn't need confined spaces would be possible, especailly if decent armour, simple exoskeletons are already is testing for the US military, its the power that is the struggle, these allow a soldier to carry more weight

Speed in combat is very important, maybe the motors could proper a soldier to have longer strides for the extra speed but it would take a lot more to work on the suspension to compensate for... so power armour is unlikely to beat a soldier in a sprint to cover, but they wouldn't need the cover if they were armoured, they could be a moving riot shield, plus potentially be able to carry more effective heavy weapons.

Most ground forces have at a Squad Automatic Weapon, but they ammo is split between the rest of the squad because it is so heavy, a PA user could carry a .50 cal fairly easily and control the recoil while also carrying the ammo.

Non-Combat Roles

Construction, the military does so of the most speedy and complicated construction projects short of sky scrapers, they need to level out a forest to make a runway... send the engineers in to do so, often being done a by hand and explosives just to make a helicopter landing zone, PA could allow it to be done either faster or with less (hard to replace in a firefight) explosives, or maybe even done by the PA user ripping plants out by hand.

Naval air wing & Air force

These guys would love power armour... refueling an aircraft is not that bad in the grand scheme, but re-arming it... having to use equipment to lift missiles and bombs and mounting them takes a long time (they actually do it very quickly and efficiently for what it is they are doing, but it still takes a long time in a war zone) and every second a plane is on the ground in a combat zone is a second wasted, someone in PA could potentially lift up the ordnance and attach it with little to know effect far faster.

Same goes for anything in any of the Logistics divisions

And it fully sealed and protected, then any form of Nuclear Biological or Chemical situation could be more safely handled...

only the marines wouldn't get any, all around the world Marines are only allowed hand me downs from the other services

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this. I might up the carrying capacity (I honestly have no clue where I got "150kg" from in the first place), but I'll still be using them like this. $\endgroup$ – Ave Roma May 16 '18 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ THIS ANSWER IS SO STRAIGHT UP I'M ANGRY. Your power armor can be the answer to our Mecha Fantasy, great answer! $\endgroup$ – Mr.J May 17 '18 at 6:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cheers, glad i could help, the only down side to PA or exoskeletons is the ability to power it, and possibly EMP Shielding... might be an enemy exploit worth considering for the story... bases, similar to the Matrix films have an EMP generator, it is a last ditch effort to protect against PA $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith May 18 '18 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AveRoma Don't up it too much either, otherwise the ground pressure at the soldier's feet will be too important and will restrict where they can walk. For example, spongy ground or inside buildings would be out for a heavy power armour. On the other hand, even a light power armour would help soldiers carrying their current (rather heavy) pack with a few more equipment, with less endurance and chronic long-term health problems. $\endgroup$ – Eth May 18 '18 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ This is also a good idea. When I first posted this, I was imagining 40k/Starship Troopers style armor, but that doesn't seem likely. Logistical support, on the other hand... $\endgroup$ – Ave Roma May 18 '18 at 12:10

The power armor is best suited to accompany a squadron of half a dozen soldiers fighting in an enclosed space where combat vehicles cannot easily manoeuvre. Skirmishes in cities come to mind. Forests and mountains also come to mind but since forests or mountains are much bigger than cities some sort of vehicle would also be required for transport.

You would have a large number of independent squadrons each having an exoskeleton and pilot as part of their equipment.

Here are some things a power-armor can do that a marine or tank cannot easily do in an urban setting. Note a lot of them are support rather than purely combat roles.

I'm presuming the exoskeleton is resistant to small arms fire.

  1. Move out from cover and clamber onto a nearby rooftop. Then provide covering fire while the rest of the squad advances. Foot soldiers can already do this but the exoskeleton can climb better and advance under heavier fire.
  2. Pile up wrecked cars, sandbags or other debris to create a defensive emplacement. Alternately clear debris to make a location undesirable to the enemy.
  3. Carry a wide range of awkward or heavy weapons. For example explosives, mortars, tear gas, sound cannons, either for use directly or for the foot soldiers to switch out mid fight.
  4. Hunker down and provide cover to soldiers. Either in place or while advancing. The threath of doing this should have a large influence on tactics.
  5. Carry everything the squad does not immediately need for combat. For example food and water (water is heavy), medical and communications equipment, injured squadmates. Everything that might weigh the team down.
  6. Break down doors without destroying the entire building.
  7. Carry heat and motion sensors.

Most conflict is now Asymmetrical and Irregular

There is recently little need for standing armies apart from deterrence - most practical usages of troops tend to be in occupation roles in small conflicts where there is little need for troop deployment in open fields - now conflict is in more urban environments amongst urban populations.

This means, in contrast to WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars, that body armour has crept back in to standard issue, largely due to protecting the body against explosive devices. Direct fire conflicts are few and far between.

However, body armour has limited efficacy depending on each situation - like camouflage and helmets they are not guaranteed protection, only reducing risk but not eliminating injury. There is little you could do against a well placed device, or a mine.

Therefore powered body armour would not actually be that useful, unless it provides a greater measure of protection than currently exists against IED's. It is not altogether useful to have greater lifting capacity - most units do not venture far from supply lines except deep penetrative missions, where the focus is more long term gathering intelligence or small special operations rather than an open fire conflict.

  • $\begingroup$ Beware of fighting the previous war. $\endgroup$ – user25818 May 16 '18 at 20:54

The true potential of exoskeletons has not yet been explored. Carrying stuff is the lamest (still valuable) use case. With an exoskeleton, you are now interacting with a host of computer controlled servos.

  • Integrate with weapons and team and drone-intel: you are now able to aim for targets without line of sight with sniper precision at full auto.
  • You can now concentrate on running, while your arm does pre- programmed ( or even team targeted) strafing.
  • Limited line of sight? Jump 2m up and rely on the exo to land you, so you can keep you mind on recon.
  • Integrate with shot and trajectory detection to sway you or drop you in the hundreths of seconds a bullet takes to reach you.
  • Stand on a vehicle (integrated) barreling down a bumpy path and be rock steady thanks to your legs working as a 6dof platform with look-ahead suspension.
  • Have short hooks below your palms and above your toes, and every facade short of concrete becomes a climbing wall (the servos slam in the hooks, and lug you up) .
  • Throw a grenade with cm precision ( with that precision come new kinds of smaller grenades, even directionality is possible, since your precision extends to rotation) .
  • Start and land fixed wing drones from your hand - fixed wing is ultra efficient, but the need for gaining and loosing speed(start/land...) gives rise to unefficient designs; no longer - your arm can throw a 5kg drone to cruising speed, and pluck it from the air just as well).
  • Ever wondered if there was someone inside that hut/tunnel? If only you had an accoustic CT - oh wait, you have a team with ms- precision drumming skills - Drum circles are not always peaceful
  • Long guard duty? Have the exo be the most comfortable chair, with a macro in place to... (drop you out of sight /lever you up and raise your gun / salute :-) ) at the twitch of a finger, also, your weapon is locked in a sensible position, in your hand(s), without you having to keep it up.
  • Have the whole team in lockstep (not goosestepping, but hiding your numbers) or random-pattern the steps of your whole team to fit some environmental noise)
  • Crawl real flat, never get exhausted.
  • Lock you in the best position a medic can think of, to be carried off the field by one exo-ed medic like luggage - you have been carrying your own stretcher/folder...
  • Engage multiple enemies at once by "locking" certain positions, and being able to switch between those positions at will, without giving thought to the process. Fire front, turn, fire aft, turn, ...
  • Jump from high (helis, buildings, chute) and land ready
  • Catapults! The exo can lock you for the throw, then twist you for the flight, then pillow your landing, thereby making catapults (compressed air, pyro, team-effort) viable roof-access tools.
  • The exo already is a highly sensitive full-body force-feedback interface - it needs to be that to even work. You can use that to improve control of remote robotic devices - fliers, walkers, handlers... no more fiddling with a joystick - dance the bomb disposal!
  • ....aand carry stuff

While increased lifting power would be useful for soldiers, I don't think that would be the reason powered armor would be adopted. The big draw of powered armor would be the armor.

One of the main reasons heavy, plate mail-type armor disappeared for battlefields is that firearms demanded more armor than an individual solider could carry. This was the case until modern materials like Kevlar was invented. If powered armor increased the weight limit (so to speak) you could start armoring individual solider with inches of armor commonly found on tanks.

True enough, this wouldn't be available to every solider, but squads operating in urban areas would definitely appreciate being immune to small arms fire. Likewise, WWI stormtroopers-style would like becoming juggernauts as well, sense those kinds of troops use high-risk highly mobile tactics that expect returned fire. Heck, one powered armor person with a double thick, double wide bulletproof shield could be useful as mobile cover.

Just to cover my tracks, full plate Kevlar and steel suits would be sweltering to wear, especially in the arid places where armies seems to congregate these days. By itself, this would limit the range and length of engagements you could put these soldiers in. It would be cool if they could use portable air conditioning or other cooling systems as backpacks, but I'm not sure how viable that would be.

Oh, and hitting someone or something with a cybernetically powered sledgehammer would go a long way in modern combat. If not tactically, then at least in terms in keeping up moral. If I had the chance to pretend to be the terminator, I'd probably sprint to the recruiter's office.

  • $\begingroup$ They use the personal AC things on Disney park characters in the full-body character suits, so I don't see why that wouldn't be standard issue on power armor :D $\endgroup$ – FunkThompson May 16 '18 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @FunkThompson (cool moniker, by the way) do you have any links to such devices? When I tried googling around, all I could find were some ice pack vests. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 16 '18 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ I believe that Disney uses something similar to this: $\endgroup$ – FunkThompson May 16 '18 at 19:15

The additional weight capacity is noticble (vs the standard 61 kg loadout), but I'm not sure how significant it is. Given that horses/donkeys are in use by the US Military (in some places) in Afghanistan, clearly a legged creature that can carring goods has a military need. However, a far more valuable part of both the weight and the strenght will be counteracting recoil. Recoil is the primary limit on rate of fire or cailber weapon that can be deployed without a supporting bipod/tripod. Adding addition weight (to absorb) and strengh (to counteract) recoil would allow for larger or more rapid fire guns. Would it be enough to allow an M60 to be fired without a support? A .50 caliber rifle? An anti-tank weapon? You'd have to look it up...

Another factor would be stability, which would increase the range at which the soldier was effective. Modern snipers are crazy effective at insane distances, but have to do a lot of body control to eliminate the effects of breathing or having a pulse on aim. If the exoskeleton was able to mitigate that, you'd have a lot of sniper-like accuracy.

I'd imagine this armor would be too rare to deploy on most missions up close, and instead would be at the edge of the battlefield suppling support.


If your PA is lift weight only sorta thing and light armored depending on the size, it could be used for transportation , ocasional firefight against a lightly armed enemy or even intimidation purposes.

As said by others, transportation or moving crates around are more suited for exoskeleton models more than a PA .

If it can be fitted with armor id say a 90kg armor plating or more would make for a perfect first strike option against an enemy that can't be aerial bombed first. Even if it's not direct armor on the exoskeleton a shield and rifle(considering the metallic structure could withstand the kickback more than a humans' hand ...) could enforce it's defensive capability. Note, i'm thinking of a tower shield here, with enough covering surface to be worth the hassle. The team could even use some old Roman Legion formations even.

Aside from this particular use cases i don't think it would be really that viable or widespread if the cost is too elevated. Technically now days troops could wear full body protection but the costs of making that gear and the % of life saved is not worth the investment (considering it must offer protection + mobility).


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