Future Battlefields in the Palm of Your Hand

If I had a nickel for every time I saved the world in a videogame, I’d have $3. As plasma rifles and mech armor become standard issue for the digital militia, saving a single planet feels almost as hard as holding in a fart in during church. Videogames now challenge us to save our galaxy, the visible universe or every single living being that existed and will ever exist. But as game developers are thinking up new tools for players to use in their quests for galactic salvation, there has been another company slowly bringing those ideas to a battlefield near you.

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is a research and development organization for the Department of Defense. Created after the Soviets shocked the world with the launching of Sputnik in 1957, it’s been changing battlefields ever since. Its primary mission has been to keep U.S. Military technology a step or two ahead of its enemies. By the looks of it, one of its secondary missions is supplying the Army with weaponry that gamers have already mastered. The following are a few examples of these videogame weapons and their real life counterparts that will soon aid U.S. troops and strike fear in those unlucky enough to be labeled their enemy.

The CMC-300 Powered Combat Suit
Our favorite stim-pack-injecting, bad-mouthed space marines wouldn’t be much use without their Powered Combat Suit. Developed by the Cirion Multinational Corporation, this combat suit has a number of models but they all share a similar feature set.

Each standard issue Powered Combat Suit comes complete with:

  • Aural directional enhancers. So you can hear the hordes of Zerg and Protoss on their way to destroy you.
  • Full life support. For when said hordes of Zerg and Protoss destroy you.
  • Air conditioner. To eliminate the female fantasy of a sweaty marine.
  • HUD (heads-up display). Targeting system, infrared vision and a complete map of the surrounding battlefield.
  • Structural support. Aside from adding 12 inches to your height, it turns the user into a genuine six million dollar man. Increasing strength and stamina, marines can lift ridiculously heavy objects, run for hours on end and even survive falls of up to 20 feet.

Variations of the suit include the CMC-405, a sleeker and slightly sexy (well, as far as exoskeletons go) combat suit designed for medics. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the Mack truck of combat suits, the CMC-660 Heavy Combat Suit. It’s more durable, heat resistant and comes equipped with two top-of-the-line wrist-mounted plasma-based Perdition flame throwers. That’s more than enough to turn even the most reluctant arsonist into a full-fledged Zerg-barbecuing pyromaniac.

Although it may be a while before exoskeletons come equipped with drugs, plasma-based flamethrowers and hot nurses, the rest is closer than you may think. DARPA, staying ahead of the curve, requested designs for military exoskeletons. Out of all the proposals, DARPA chose to fund only one …

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Sarcos XOS Exoskeleton
Thanks to Dr. Stephen Jacobsen, Sarcos and eight years of development, the XOS is scheduled to undergo Army testing later this year. From carrying 150 pounds up and down flights of stairs to kicking a soccer ball, this suit will take any task and not only make it easier, but make you look incredibly bad-ass in the process. An army of admirers will surround you, children will ask for your autograph, women will throw themselves at your feet and small animals will flee in terror.

So far the XOS is still in development. The Army has only requested that it fulfill supply tasks, such as lifting heavy objects and carrying large loads across long distances. But don’t worry, my bloodthirsty, machine-gun-loving friends – our beloved military has already expressed its desire to develop the XOS even further. We will one day see the XOS protect our country as the mini gun-wielding killing machine we all secretly hoped for.

Aside from blowing our minds with stunning gameplay, beautiful graphics and much needed closure to a plotline with more twists than a Mexican soap opera, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots introduced us to the GEKKO.

The GEKKO, also known as the Lizard or IRVING, is produced by ArmsTech, a company all too familiar to Metal Gear fans, since they were the ones who worked with DARPA (Coincidence? I think not!) in the original Metal Gear Solid to create Metal Gear REX. But the GEKKO has gone a long way since the days of old REX.

This version is fully autonomous, relying solely on its A.I. and beefy legs. These clawed legs, made from artificial muscle tissue, aren’t only used for walking, sprinting and Matrix-style leaps, but are instruments of destruction. They crush, slide, and karate kick any feeble human into oblivion. When punting militia 30 feet into the air no longer amuses GEKKO, it can use an array of weapons strategically placed on its dome. With a mounted machine gun, rocket launcher and whip-like arms, the GEKKO is probably one of the scariest things you can run into in the middle of a battlefield.

As if it wasn’t frightnening enough, the GEKKO emits a hair-raising bovine howl, spins its head 360 degrees and spurts gratuitous amounts of green fluid after battle, making it the number one candidate to star in a remake of The Exorcist.

Now that you’ve been terrified into hoping you never see a GEKKO in your lifetime, let’s see what the real DARPA is working on.

Boston Dynamics’ BigDog
Funded by DARPA, Boston Dynamics has developed a one meter long, 70-centimeter tall gasoline powered machine called the BigDog, and yes, it does more than just creep you out. The BigDog can trot at up to four miles per hour, climb up slopes and walk across rubble, all with 340 pounds of cargo on its back. This makes it an ideal mode of transportation for those people who’d like to ride a horse, but still want to enjoy the feeling of burning fossil fuels.

The true genius of the BigDog is in its balance and obstacle avoidance systems. In a video released by Boston Dynamics, we can see it recover its balance and keep walking after being kicked by a disgruntled Boston Dynamics employee. Even more shocking is the BigDog slipping and sliding on a patch of ice; the lifelike maneuvers and refusal to give up make you want to give it a treat, or at least a pat on its engine.

No word yet on whether the military will add machine guns, rocket launchers or excessive amounts of green fluid. There isn’t even an estimated date on when BigDog will be sent into the field, but one thing is for sure: He’ll make a great pet.

Laser Cannons
Whether they’re from a turret, an AT-AT or an X-wing, we all recognize the distinct sound and red and green hues that have become trademarks of the Star Wars franchise. Laser cannons differ from personal blasters only in sheer power. While you can “set your blasters to stun,” cannons have only one option: destroy.

Laser cannons began as intergalactic brooms, blasting away asteroids and debris to make way for starships. This blasting was then directed at incoming missiles with great success. The efficiency of these weapons naturally made their operators want to set their sights on the living rather than just space rocks. After getting the accuracy/death ratio just right, the Empire began arming all types of starfighters and ground vehicles with lasers in the form of turrets and AT-AT chins.

The standard weapon of dogfights in the Star Wars universe might soon become ours. DARPA, what have you been up to?

HELLADS (High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System)
High energy lasers have been shooting down missiles since 2000, but the cooling systems required made them too heavy to carry on any plane smaller than a 747. Realizing that 747 dogfights are about as exciting as brushing your teeth, DARPA has begun development on HELLADS. Their goal is to create a 150 kilowatt laser that weighs under 750 kilograms and fits within two cubic meters – roughly the size of your average refrigerator – so that it can ultimately be fitted onto a fighter aircraft.

Ok, that’s all nice, but what can it do? First, it’s invisible, with a range of about five miles. Second, it travels at the speed of light – there’s no outmaneuvering this laser. Third, at 150 kilowatts, it can effectively melt a hole in a tank. What more can you ask for?


With the chance of enemies developing similar technology, the Air Force has already started developing anti-laser shielding for missiles and aircrafts. If this isn’t enough to surprise you, a prototype of HELLADS is scheduled for testing in 2009. The future comes pretty quick, doesn’t it?

Thanks to DARPA and the companies it funds, we’re able to see more of our favorite sci-fi weapons and machines become a reality. Gone are the days where we made pacts with our buddies, promising we wouldn’t rest until we built a fully functional starfighter. We can now lay back and be assured that somewhere deep inside the DARPA headquarters, there’s someone furiously working to make it a reality. Until then we’ll gladly play our videogames with the reassuring knowledge that we are – in one way or another – helping to advance the cutting edge of military technology.

Alexander Villegas is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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