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BAE's invention is one of the first to integrate electrical capabilities and a power supply directly into body armor. Horvatich says the built-in battery can power all the gadgets a soldier or police officer must carry, saving 20 to 60 percent of equipment weight. The new technology, which is scheduled for release in December, also has sensors and wireless capabilities that will automatically notify a soldier's team in the event of an attack.

Like an airplane that can continue flying with one damaged engine, the body armor is designed to function even if part of it is destroyed. A microprocessor built into the device will detect the hit and shut down the damaged quadrant but keep the others operational. "We call that 'graceful degradation,'" Horvatich says. He hopes this new armor will help troops enter and exit a field of battle the same way: gracefully.

You'd never catch Iron Man lugging around seven kinds of batteries. But that's exactly what U.S. Army squad leaders are required to do on 72-hour missions. The batteries, which can weigh a total of 16 pounds, are used to power radios, GPS systems and night-vision goggles. One of the goals of a newly patented variety of body armor, which has circuits and a power supply built into it, is to lighten the load that soldiers have to carry. "This is all part of a program leading to our own Iron Man," says Val Horvatich, a program director at BAE, which is based in Arlington, Va. He keeps a life-size cutout of the film and comic-book character in his office for inspiration.


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