Science fiction is often a harbinger of real technologies that are just around the corner. Back in 1986, Aliens director James Cameron showed off his take on futuristic weapons of tomorrow with the arsenal of the Colonial Marines, including the M56 Smart Gun. The heavy weapon was affixed to a Marine with a body-mount apparatus that acted like a third arm, supporting most of the weapon’s weight and holding it steady during fire.

While the movie creation was pure fiction 30 years ago, it was constructed from the arm and vest of a Steadicam rig camera stabilization system, a very real tool in the film industry.

Now, according to this story from, the U.S. Army is testing a device that works in much the same way and serves the same purpose: lessening the physical burden placed on soldiers in the field.

While the rig for the M56 Smart Gun from *Aliens* (1986) was built from a Steadicam rig, it functioned in much the same way as the third-arm device being tested by the U.S. Army right now. The movie g
While the rig for the M56 Smart Gun from Aliens (1986) was built from a Steadicam rig, it functioned in much the same way as the third-arm device being tested by the U.S. Army right now. The movie gun was built from a German MG42 machine gun from WWII. web photo

New accessories and tools are constantly being attached to military arms, and with each one the weight goes up, as does the fatigue rate of the soldier or Marine who has to carry it through the desert, jungle, or other inhospitable place.

The mechanical arm is constructed from mostly carbon-fiber composite parts weighs less than four pounds. It attaches directly to the body armor a solider already wears, allowing those pounds to be displaced from the arms to the torso, much the same way slings attached to plate carriers do now.

Only the third-arm device is far more effective and will allow for guns to get heavier in the future. The story says the current design is ambidextrous and is capable of supporting about 20 pounds.

“We’re looking at a new way for the soldier to interface with the weapon,” Zac Wingard, a mechanical engineer for the Army Research Laboratory’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, told the Army News Service. “It is not a product; it is simply a way to study how far we can push the ballistic performance of future weapons without increasing soldier burden.”

So, while it doesn’t exactly seem the third-arm device will be coming to battlefields any time soon, it does provide some insight into the direction the Army is taking when it comes to weapon systems of the future.

Stars and Stripes reports that testing is undeerway at the lab and at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland using M4 carbine rifles, and that soldiers will wear sensors measuring muscle activity to determine if there’s a change in fatigue when shooting with the device, the story says.

“Imagine shoulder-firing without the weight on your arms, and without all the recoil going into your shoulder,” mechanical engineer Dan Baechle said in the story.

The story says future testing will include other weapons and fighting techniques, like shooting around corners, eventually leading to heavy field testing.

In Aliens, Cameron paired his weapon-assist arm with a wireless aiming device worn on the Marine’s head over one eye…which the Army is now testing.

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