May 25, 2017
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Increasing lethality
 ‘Third arm’ may lessen soldier’s burden

Today, some soldiers are weighed down by combat loads that exceed 110 pounds. Those heavy loads may worsen as high energy weapons, which could be larger with heavier ammunition, are developed for future warfare.

To address these challenges, future ground troops may one day have a “third arm” device attached to their protective vests that will hold their weapon, lessening the weight on their arms and freeing up their hands for other tasks.

Weighing less than 4 pounds, the body-worn weapon mount is currently undergoing testing at the Army Research Laboratory, where researchers hope the lightweight device will ensure soldiers pack a more powerful punch in combat.

The goal of the third arm device is to redirect all of a weapon’s weight to the body, making it easier for the Soldier to carry a more lethal firearm.

The passive mechanical appendage, which is made out of carbon fiber composite, can be used in the prone position and on both sides of the body.

To test the device, researchers conducted a pilot with a few Soldiers using an M4 carbine on a firing range at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. As part of the pilot, the soldiers wear electromyography sensors on their arms and upper body to measure muscle activity to determine if there’s a change in fatigue when shooting with the device.

Researchers also score the Soldiers’ shots to see if there’s an improvement in marksmanship.

Further research will look at answering questions by the Soldiers, such as if the device will get in the way if they wear a medical kit on the side or a magazine pouch in the front.

While the M4 is the only weapon currently being tested with the device, researchers they plan to investigate other types of weapons with different calibers, like an M249 squad automatic weapon or M240B machine gun.

The third arm could also allow Soldiers to use future weapons with more recoil.

Researchers also plan to examine the device’s potential applications for various fighting techniques, like shoot-on-the-move, close-quarters combat, or even shooting around corners with augmented reality displays.

Other possible applications for the device include helping a soldier keep his weapon close by as he cuts through a barrier with a power saw during a breaching operation. A Soldier might also use it to carry a shield as he leads other soldiers in clearing a room.