Is China trying to make its own version of Captain America? US intelligence has suggested so. But beyond the hype, the possibility of a super soldier is not so outlandish and one that not just China is interested in.
With deep pockets, and a desire to get an edge, the world’s militaries have often driven technological innovation, from the state-of-the-art to the humble.
Take duct tape. It was the result of a suggestion from an Illinois ordnance factory worker, who had sons serving in the navy during World War Two.
Worried about soldiers under fire fumbling with the flimsy paper tape then used to seal ammunition boxes, Vesta Stoudt had a solution – a waterproof, cloth tape. She was unable to win the support of her supervisors, but was more successful when she wrote to President Roosevelt, who instructed war producers to turn her idea into reality.
If military necessity can give us better sticky tape, what else might it do?
Announcing a new initiative in 2014, then-President Barack Obama told journalists: “Basically I’m here to announce that we’re building Iron Man.”
There was laughter, but he was serious: the US military had already begun work on the project – a protective suit, known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit. (Talos). A video game-like promotional video showed the wearer bursting in on an enemy cell, bullets ricocheting off the armour.
Iron Man was not to be. Five years on, the initiative ended, but makers hope individual components of the suit will have applications elsewhere.