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DARPA looking into jetpack tech for military use

Gravity jet suits
Gravity jet suits showcased during an innovation day in Devonport Dockyard. Photo: Royal Navy

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to see what the jetpack technology is capable of doing and how it can be applied by the military, particularly special forces units.

In a solicitation posted on the government contracting site, the agency said it was interested in seeing how soldiers can benefit from what it referred to as “portable personal air mobility systems.”

The agency expects the systems to be capable of transporting a single operator at least 5 km, likely at low to medium altitudes. The system design should allow assembly in less than 10 minutes using only simple tools or no tools at all.

In addition to jetpacks, DARPA said the personal air mobility systems could be based on powered gliders, powered wingsuits, and powered parafoils which could leverage emerging electric propulsion technologies, hydrogen fuel cells or conventional heavy fuel propulsion systems.

These platforms could serve a variety of military missions, enabling cost effective mission utility and agility in areas such as personnel logistics, urban augmented combat, combat search and rescue, maritime interdiction and special operations forces infiltration/exfiltration.

DARPA said it would pay up to $225,000 for a 6-month period of performance in the first phase of the program which will essentially be a feasibility study that would clearly describe the system, its anticipated performance capabilities, and the technical maturation roadmap necessary to reach a demonstration system.

A second phase of the program would focus on maturing the relevant technologies via analysis and test campaigns that will culminate in a ground and/or flight test effort that establishes the viability of an operational version of the proposed system, the agency said.

The “jetpacks” may be air deployed to allow for infiltration to hostile territory, or ground deployed to allow for greater off-road mobility without the use of existing vertical takeoff & landing aircraft such as helicopters and CV-22.

The platforms may be one-time use or reusable with minimal repacking/re-deployment actions such that they properly support the envisioned use cases.

Unlike the ongoing AFWERX Agility Prime program, which is seeking to operationalize “flying cars” for government missions, DARPA noted it was interested in proposals for systems which are man portable/storable in one (or a few) man portable containers/mobility bags.

DARPA said that, depending on the success of the jetpack project, a variety of defense department missions and users may be interested in transitioning the technology to an operational capacity including a variety of Special Forces units.

Within the private sector, a large market for personal mobility systems exists for emergency first responders including Police, search and rescue, and particularly time critical ambulance response, the agency said.

A small company in the UK, led by a former Royal Marines Reservist, has already built a jet suit capable of flying at speeds of over 60 km/h for up to 8 minutes. The suit has already been demonstrated on Royal Navy ships at sea but is yet to be operationally tested.