ABERDEEN, Md. - Not only do the men and women in the military often face danger at every corner, they do it bogged down, weighed down with gear and weapons sometimes up to 100 pounds.
"We're looking at reducing the soldiers fatigue, also improving the lethality through marksmanship and allowing them to bare higher energy weapons," said mechanical engineer Dan Baechle.
He works behind the scenes in the Army Research Laboratory. He and his team are dedicated to helping our soldiers on the battlefield.
"This is a mechanical appendage that attaches on one side to the tactical vest that the soldier wears. It would attach either the weapon or potentially a shield," he said. "It takes the weight off that weapon or that shield back to the body, 20 pounds off of your arms."
They call it the Third Arm. It's made of carbon fiber and weighs just four pounds. Using an air soft rifle and tracking technology, they're working to perfect their prototype. It's designed to redistribute the weight of a weapon that could weigh up to 30 pounds but as they refine it, there's a lot to consider.
"The system keeps track of where I'm aiming so I can tell with and without the arm if I'm doing better with shooting," Baechle said. "You have a system now that can hold the weapon and potentially redistribute recoil forces back to the body."
Outside of the lab at the Aberdeen Proving Ground researchers are relying on soldiers like Sergeant First Class David Hoisington for feedback.
Shooting his AR-10 equipped with the Third Arm some 50 meters or half a football field away from target, his precision was dead on.
"We want to help that man or woman in uniform, and help them to perform better on the battlefield," scientist Frank Morelli said.
Human performance is Morelli's area of expertise. He’s tracking the interface between the equipment the soldiers carry and the soldiers themselves.
This is only the second prototype for the Third Arm. They're still testing and fine tuning.
"Basically what we probably would need to do is make this arm longer, so you can get that weapon further away from your body," Baechle said.
The M-240 Bravo weighs nearly 30 pounds. It's meant for two soldiers, but from their hands on research with SFC Hoisington they've learned the Third Arm can also hold this heavy weapon too.
"Our soldiers are burdened with weight due to ammo, weight due to weaponry, weight due to a lot of the gear that they carry and so this one way to mitigate that burden," Morelli said.
While the tools are necessary for them to protect and serve, the mission for this group of researchers is to make that load as light as possible.