The Pentagon Is Ready to Give Soldiers Jetpacks

The Pentagon has announced it’s willing to fund a “portable personal air mobility system”—including yours, if you have the right idea.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will pay up to $1.5 million in development costs for a powered flight system capable of quickly moving a single person. The system would allow troops to zip across the battlefield to fight in cities, rescue downed pilots, or enter or exit the battlefield.

In a filing originally reported by Interesting Engineering, DARPA’s Small Business Programs Office is inviting submissions for “innovative research concepts in the technical domain(s) of Air Platform, Ground/Sea Vehicles.” The solicitation states:

Whatever it is, DARPA wants the personal air mobility system to fit in one bag or box and be ready to go after just 10 minutes of assembly. The system should be capable of low- to medium-altitude flight and have a range of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

DARPA seems to be taking a cue from the United Kingdom’s Royal Marine Commandos, who have been testing Gravity Industries’ jetpacks.

The Royal Marines see the jetpacks, which use micro gas turbines to lift the wearer right into the air, as a way to quickly board ships at sea. The individual jetpacks cost $440,000.

Jetpacks have a long history, with an equally long number of rejections from the armed forces of the world. Jetpacks tend to be loud, difficult to maneuver, and expensive, ending up as more of a novelty than a military transportation system.

The U.K.’s interest in the Gravity Industries system is the first real action in at least a generation and seems to be sparking wider interest—if not in the actual system, then in the “portable personal air mobility systems” concept itself.

The Gravity Industries jetpack is interesting, but DARPA’s latest pot-stirring could end up funding something totally new. A quieter system powered by small, lightweight batteries could be the next step in getting troops from Point A to Point B without touching the ground.

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