How Air Force's BATMAN can steal power from an enemy

Program explores high-tech, lightweight combat tools

DC Comics' Batman is a gadgeteer super-hero. He has no special powers, but he does have a strong phsyique, extensive training in hand-to-hand combat — and an arsenal of devices specialized for fighting crime.

A U.S. Air Force program is developing smart new equipment to give its special forces their own super capabilities in the field, including a device that charges their equipment by drawing power directly from a power line.

The goal of the Air Force’s Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge (BATMAN) program is to modernize the gear used by the services’ elite pararescue and forward controller units. The program’s motto is “lighter, smarter, deadlier,” reports TechNewsDaily.

All of the military services are trying to reduce the weight of the equipment their personnel have to take into combat. This is especially critical for troops operating clandestinely behind enemy lines for weeks at a time. Program officials said that Air Force special operations personnel typically carry 160 pounds of equipment on a mission. This gear includes communications devices, helmet displays, headsets, a computer and batteries to power all of the electronics.

To manage the weight more efficiently, the program centers its equipment to fit more efficiently around what its engineers call the “human chassis.” This concept uses the body as a scaffold for all mission gear. For example, items such as radio antennas are relocated closer to the torso to enhance a soldier’s balance.

According to TechNewsDaily, a key program achievement has been cutting airmen’s equipment weight by 25 percent. Much of this was achieved by replacing the batteries troops carried with rechargeable methanol fuel cells. The fuel cells actually get lighter as the methanol is consumed, decreasing solders’ weight over the course of a mission.

The BATMAN ensemble includes a small, chest mounted computer that provides airmen with real time logistical and tactical data. Program officials said that they are also working on speech recognition technology to keep special operators’ hands-free during combat. Engineers are also working on a personal wireless communications network that will connect all of an airman’s equipment without the need for wires and cables.

To keep special operators’ equipment charged during a mission, the BATMAN program has developed the aptly named Bat Hook. The Bat Hook is about the size of a remote control, with a notch designed to catch onto a power line. A small razor in the notch cuts into the wire’s insulation and draws down power through a cable attached to the hook. The alternating current is converted into direct current and fed into an airman’s electronics.

Another technology developed for the program is a switch that allows airmen to manually toggle between line of sight and satellite based communications on their tactical radios. Prior to the switch, troops had to manually change an antenna to switch communications modes.

The Air Force's BATMAN is not related to the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency's BaTMAN, which stands for Biochronicity and Temporal Mechanisms Arising in Nature.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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