Plot element: Breacher suits

Hello everyone,

the definition of a Plot device is “anything that moves the plot forward”. In this case, “plot element” might be a better expression, it’s something I gave a lot of thought to. As you know, I am the author of the recent Armored Warfare campaign storyline. Obviously, other people were involved in the process as well – what happened was that I wrote the story text (fun fact: all three texts were written overnight due to killer deadlines), then two of my American colleagues did proofread it and then it was given to the Obsidian story superviser (not sure she’d be happy if I uttered her name openly, so let’s leave it at that).

But that’s just an explanation. As I said, I wouldn’t talk about Armored Warfare here. Instead, let’s have a look at a generic piece of storytelling.

One of the earlier drafts involves a character escaping from a besieged facility using a device called Breacher suit. There is no such thing in real life of course (yet), but it might very well be. You see, Breacher suit is a power armor. Obviously not the type in Fallout (actually, I didn’t even think of Fallout when I was writing about that), it’s something else entirely.

Power armor in movies is usually extremely mobile, super-protective (invariably with plate armor), can be operated for long periods of time and effectively turns soldiers into superhumans. That’s unrealistic bullshit of course – there is no power source or technology that would make such a thing possible. What is even worse – such suits would be really, really heavy. Think about it – you have a bipedal power suit that roughly copies the human anatomy and weighs at least 300kg (but probably more). This weight is then transferred to its legs, the soles of which that are – let’s say – 50 percent larger (when it comes to surface) have to bear 3 times the weight of an average human. This alone brings surface pressure and mobility issues. There are other problems with it which I don’t want to get into too much.

So, how would a realistic 2030 power armored suit look?

For starters, take an exoskeleton and add the best armor it could wear. Not some plating of course – but something like this:

Yup, that’s the MW Juggeraut suit alright. Just think away the stuff like grenades hanging outside, the gas bottles (what the hell are those for, it’s not like you can make such a suit pressurized anyway) and such.

Basically, an evolution of the extra armor with powered exoskeleton for arms and legs. Me and a few friends ran some calculations and it’s actually possible – the suit would weigh roughly 300 kilograms to make it extremely resistant to small arms fire. There are two problems with this:

- the operating time would be very short. Even with “sci-fi” batteries, I’m thinking 1-2 hours
- the problem with ground pressure
- the suit would be really slow, walking pace at maximum

These three disadvantages are… actually perfect. Ideal for this plot device. You see, the problem with powered armor from story POV is that it’s so cool it might make armored vehicles obsolete. What we have here is a suit that’s too slow to be used outside, resistant only to small arms fire (I’ll get to grenades and RPG’s later) so anything larger than a 7.62mm would destroy it. And most importantly, it’s extremely expensive (such a thing wouldn’t come cheap even at best of times).

Why is it expensive in 2030? Obviously the technology for such suits would be (if they use technology such as electroactive polymers for muscle fibres – thanks, Daigensui), but they would also be:

- used for very specific environments (I’ll get to that later)
- high-maintenance (even if you get one, you’ll spend fortune on running it because the electroactive polymers have to be replaced quite often)

Both of these conditions would make it attractive for a very narrow range of customers and limited production items are always extremely expensive. This is something a military would probably develop for taxpayer’s money.

Anyway, I mentioned specific environment.

Think about it. Too slow, high maintenance, limited operational time, resistant to small arms, poor ground pressure. Yup. These are siege weapons, the only environment they would be really useful for would be assaults on buildings and enclosed areas (that can support their weight) – bunkers and such. In close quarters (with proper armament), they would be absolutely murderous.

Á propos. Armament.

Close quarters, short range… I am thinking a rapid-fire (remember, powered arms and 300kg of weight) shotgun. But that’s not all. Such a suit would be really vulnerable to RPG’s and grenades. That’s why it would have to have two pieces of future tech – specifically two mini-APS on each shoulder, each on rotating extendable mount, angle of fire cca 270 degrees (not to fire into the head of the soldier), capable of reaching even behind the suit (so noone can hide behind it). Is that realistic? Yeah… there are such systems small enough even now. Not man-portable, but still. For extra rule of cool, the suits could carry (exoskeleton) a massive ballistic shield.

Anyway, what do you think? Realistic narrow profile power armor – yay or nay?

9 thoughts on “Plot element: Breacher suits

  1. Yea (or Yay), this was a good read and I would enjoy to read more of this :)

  2. Is it realistic? I thnk so.

    You never know, technology is evolving ao quickly these days. Heck exo suits are already put into tests in US.

  3. It can be done, but… my few thoughts:
    - Is it fire/heat resistant? If not then best counter to this is Molotov cocktail, good luck with shooting that with APS – it will only make flame burst earlier. But i think it can be done fireproof for limited time.
    - good old fashioned antitank mine or IED can be capable to destroy it quite easy – so this suit should have at least some basic electronic warfare equipment. Magnet field detector, radio jammer, etc, etc. This would of course cause shorter battery life, and even worse it can make suit operator overloaded with data. So the another thing is…
    - this suit is quite valuable asset to any organization posses it. So i doubt it should work alone – it can be a spearhead but not a lone wolf. Behind (around) him should follow drones, and normal heavy infantry (in case if everything goes south and power armor need help itself), everything covered by snipers support if possible.
    - If we use it only in selected, known locations, and we have some time to preparation then why not run it on power cable, and switch to battery only when/if power cord is cut. Of course it could be also detachable on will – so kind like an Evangelion in small scale. Battery could be also very easy replaceable – but it can make them also quite vulnerable, so it is a trade off.

    ps. resistance only to 7,62mm? Then good old Dshk 12,7mm placed in front of door with some basic remote guide will become obligatory piece of furniture for every place worth of using power armor… of course i don’t expect power armor to care where are doors anyway, but… :)

  4. To be honest, if one were to invest money in such a suit, he’d be better off investing it into a ground drone of similar size. Being controlled remotely has it’s own set of risks and challenges, but not having to build the exoskeleton AROUND the pilot, and no need to provide enough protection for the fragile human body, gives the design so much flexibility, so much advantage over manned suit, that I’m quite positive power armours will never be the “main battle tanks of the future”. Sure, they may still exist in some light form, to enhance ground troops effectiveness, working on the similar principle like the one we could see in “Elysium”, with the exoskeleton serving as a powered frame, offering extra strength, but not limiting one’s speed or movement. But trying to turn them into walking tanks is just counter-productive.

    • As for the drone itself, it would not need to be bipedal. It could have 4 or 6 legs, insect like, greatly increasing redundancy and lowering ground pressure, and these legs could even have wheels to move around flat ground at high speeds. It could even have ability to hover or fly, if compromises were made in armour or weaponry department. And even it’s interior components, unprotected, would still be more resilient to damage that human body ever would be.

      The only drawbacks would be the risk of being jammed or worse, being hijacked. But there would be counter measures for that as well.

  5. Assuming that “they would have the technology” has always been the weak point of all future sci-fi utopias. We currently have VR tech, does everyone on Earth have it? No, only people with money do. We have the tech necessary to establish lunar colonies. Do we have one? No, nobody pays for that because there is no profit.
    The world is driven by money and there is no reason to think it won’t be in 2030. Even if someone would invent a powered amoured suit, only extremely rich militaries and paramilitary groups would actually afford to buy and field them.
    There are several issues with it, the legs/feet and weight distribution being one of them. Most of the robots being fielded nowadays roll on tracks for a lot of reasons, issues with the balance of the whole thing on powered legs being just one of them. Also, the fine electric motors required for each joint in the hips, knees and feet would be horrid maintenance. Also, the current military trend is toward unmanned drones, where the object being fielded is remotely controlled and disposable. This frees the machine from having to protect humans inside it, greatly reducing weight and increasing space available. There is absolutely no reason to build it with legs since this raises more issues than it solves. Even if you plan to stick someone inside it, tracks are still the best solution. Think of the power loader in Aliens, that thing would break the floor it is standing on with those small feet being the only ground contact, distributing all the weight from the suit itself PLUS the several tons of cargo it would be lifting. And to top it, you move all the weight on ONE leg, since the other needs to lift to walk? No way that would happen with real world physics.
    Another issue, even if the suit is manned and not remotely controlled, it’s safe to assume it would be powered somehow and so any sort of electric shock or futuristic “EMP grenades” would take it out in one shot. Having a multi million suit being taken out by a cheap ass 50k Volt stun gun is not really a good investment.

  6. Probably nay.
    Its times cheaper to make a suicide bomb drone to demolish heavy defenses (rc race car with camera and explosives strapped onto, for example) and just send in another with machine guns to sweep out.
    Or aerial one with high RPM pistol.

    Unless there is some compact high-power source – battlesuit is way too impractical.

  7. Look at Dragonskin body armor on YouTube
    I saw it on discovery and it took a hell of a beating
    And it was not really heavy

  8. Better materials as described on – nanomaterials, non-Newtonian fluids may significantly reduce mass armor’ mass combined with increased protection.
    Power source doesn’t have to be built-in – replaceable fuel cells can give more autonomy.

    Anyway it’s something medieval knight armor – to be used in specific conditions, but if such happen – it gives you advantage.