The Pentagon's vision of new military jetpacks may finally be coming to fruition

The future we've been waiting for is a little closer.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
A test pilot from Jetpack Aviation tests the company’s JB-10 system.
A test pilot from Jetpack Aviation tests the company’s JB-10 system.

Task and Purpose 

Recent information from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has revealed that the Pentagon has indeed continued to pursue military-equipped jetpacks.

And now, they seem closer than ever to achieving their goal as they have already awarded contracts to companies to build test prototypes.

DARPA's 'Portable Personal Air Mobility System program'

In March last year, the agency released information regarding a program organized for this militarized jetpack creation. The program was dubbed the Portable Personal Air Mobility System programs with a mission to give soldiers excellent mobility in the air without endangering them.

According to the agency's initial release, the program was set for three phases, the first being a feasibility study to see if the selected small companies have the potential required.

The agency proceeded to the second phase with shortlisted companies to test prototypes' operational abilities and how well they were suited to the military's goal. The results of this phase will determine whether the agency will be moving forward with the program.

Previous attempts at militarized jetpacks 

The United States military has been pursuing this technology as far back as the 1950s, concentrating on trying to give the military an added advantage on the battlefield.

In 1957, they got close to this technology with Bell Aerosystems "Jump Belt" concept, which helped significantly increase the Army's mobility. 

Proceeding with Bell Aerospace, the military decided to go with jetpacks, dubbing them Small Rocket Lift Devices. Unfortunately, this vision, close to its attainment, was axed as several functionality issues attached to these mobility jetpacks were discovered.

Several other attempts were made as they continued to find the problems with each of the prototypes, and sadly, these mobility technologies seemed only partially functional

Experts, including security and Defense writer Kyle Mizokami, noted in a 2018 publication that flying soldiers with Bell's prototypes was a terrible idea as it would leave them highly vulnerable on battlefields

Since then, Bell and many others have been relentlessly pursuing more functional jetpacks that would not endanger their users when in the face of trouble. Unfortunately, they had yet to come close to developing such an innovation, so the army momentarily abandoned that vision. 

A device that can fly over 200 miles per hour

However, Special Operations reached out to JetPack Aviation a few years ago to create a similar mobility device. They wanted this device to fly over 200 miles per hour and needed it to be ready for a test before the end of the 2019 summer season. Still, the results of the contractual agreements between both parties are yet to be discovered, and no comment has been made.  

In a recent National Defense article, Richard Browning, the founder and chief test pilot at Gravity Industries, revealed that the company had collaborated with six special ops for a mobility suit. Though he refused to comment on the exact customers, many have speculated that the United States Special Operations Command is one.

Why has the Pentagon continued to pursue this vision?

With other parts of the world relentlessly pursuing militarized innovations, it is no surprise that the United States has also been very interested in empowering its military.

It was recently reported that South Korea had gotten closer to achieving its layered missile defense shield, which was built to counter attacks from the North. This innovation will certainly give the South Korean Army an edge on battlegrounds. 

Similarly, Taiwan recently showcased a locally developed drone designed to kill enemy radars positioned at sea or land and is reportedly capable of striking unmanned aerial vehicles.

These militarized jetpacks could give the U.S. Army an edge while facing adversaries on battlefields. DARPA's initial release also revealed that advanced gears, including powered swimsuits, parafoils, and even glides, are some of the technologies of interest.

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