DOD SBIR 24.2 Annual

Release Date
April 17th, 2024
Open Date
May 15th, 2024
Due Date(s)
June 12th, 2024
Close Date
June 12th, 2024
Topic No.


Exoskeleton Augmentation for Flightline and Airfield Operations


Department of DefenseN/A


Type: SBIRPhase: BOTHYear: 2024


The Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking proposals for the topic "Exoskeleton Augmentation for Flightline and Airfield Operations" as part of its SBIR 24.2 Annual solicitation. The Air Force branch is specifically interested in this topic. The objective is to develop longitudinal data that demonstrates the effectiveness and reliability of an exoskeleton system for airmen performing airfield and flightline operations. These operations often result in musculoskeletal injuries, which can limit personnel staffing and retention. The goal is to develop wearable exoskeletons that can offload a percentage of the load on airmen, augment their strength and stamina, and reduce the risk of injury. The exoskeletons should be able to operate in austere environments and meet various end-user capability requirements. The project will be conducted in two phases, with Phase II focusing on developing and testing the exoskeleton system. The project duration and funding specifics are not provided in the document. Interested parties can find more information and submit proposals through the provided links.


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Biotechnology; Advanced Materials; Trusted AI and Autonomy; Human-Machine Interfaces


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Develop longitudinal data that shows an exoskeleton system appropriate for airmen performing airfield and flightline operations such as Aerial Port, Fuels, and Transportation Management is both effective and reliable in an operational environment.


DESCRIPTION: Airmen performing flightline and airfield operations suffer from a wide range of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries that arise from heavy physical strain put on the personnel while performing their duties. These injuries afflict the joints of the body head-to-toe including the ankles, knees, hips, lumbar vertebra, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. A career of moving heavy loads, climbing ladders and stairs, jumping from elevated platforms, and maneuvering over uneven terrain and surfaces leaves these airmen debilitated with any combination of afflicted joints. This has the potential to take them out of the fight earlier in their career and contributes to personnel staffing and retention problems.

Austere airfields only compound this problem. Austere environments can be expected to include non-paved surfaces, rolling terrain, poor access to local material handling equipment, poor access to local energy sources including suitable fuel, and tight access to airfields and aprons. Flightline and airfield crews may also be minimally staffed, not having enough personnel to fulfill all the necessary roles. This leaves airmen pulling double duty or completing their job with fewer than optimal personnel and without some of the necessary equipment used to do their job. The mindset of aerial porters and other operators is to get the job done with what is available, and this often puts them at increased risk of injury to complete their mission and increases the strain on their bodies.


Without the logistical power these airmen provide, the Air Force cannot operate within Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concepts as intended. The inadequate personnel staffing, injury, and equipment problems described above affecting our airmen severely limits our ability to operate at the accelerated tempo and with the reduced logistical footprint needed to win a near-peer fight.


However, wearable exoskeletons may provide some relief for airmen in flightline and airfield operations. These devices can offload a percentage of the load put on airmen when performing their duties and can potentially augment their strength and stamina. Exoskeletons may be an important force multiplier capability that can enable our airmen to perform their duties safely and within ACE concepts even in the face of inadequate manning and unavailable equipment. Although exoskeleton technologies have been developed that address the aerial porter job 4, there is still a critical need to address the problem of proving effectiveness and reliability of these systems in an operational environment. To date, there are no statistically-relevant data that shows these exoskeleton systems are effective at meeting the user requirements of airfield and flightline AFSCs in operationally relevant environments or that the systems are reliable and safe for airmen to use over the course of their careers. Without this information, commanders and end user confidence in exoskeletons remains skeptical, adoption of new assistive technologies will continue to suffer, and these problems facing our airmen will persist.

In order to solve these problems, appropriate exoskeleton systems must be proven against a list of end-user-derived requirements under a protocol that will produce statistically-relevant results.


PHASE I: As this is a Direct-to-Phase-II (D2P2) topic, no Phase I awards will be made as a result of this topic. To qualify for this D2P2 topic, the Government expects the applicant(s) to demonstrate feasibility by means of a prior “Phase I-type” effort that does not constitute work undertaken as part of a prior or ongoing SBIR/STTR funding agreement.


Applicant(s) must have developed a concept for a workable prototype or design to address at a minimum the basic capabilities of the stated objective above. Applicant(s) must show, as appropriate to the proposed effort, a demonstrated technical feasibility or nascent capability to meet the capabilities of the stated objective. Applicant may provide example cases of this new capability on a specific application. The documentation provided must substantiate that the proposer has developed a preliminary understanding of the technology to be applied in their Phase II proposal to meet the objectives of this topic. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results.


PHASE II: Awardee(s) will develop a wearable exoskeleton to meet user requirements in flightline and airfield operations. Awardee(s) will test the system to ensure it meets capability and reliability requirements.

Develop and demonstrate wearable exoskeleton to augment strength and/or stamina of airmen and reduce risk of musculoskeletal injury when performing flightline and airfield operations in their duty tasks.
Develop and demonstrate wearable exoskeleton to operate in austere locations with a minimum IP rating of IP57W, with an ideal rating of IP68W.
Develop and demonstrate wearable that can operate in a temperature environment of -40 to 125 degrees F.
Ensure the system meets all other identified end user capability requirements . These include but are not limited to:
		8-12 hour run time between recharge/refuel.
		Assist lifting boxes >51 lbs. when building/disassembling pallets. 
		Maintain maneuverability and not snag when working with nets/chains/tie downs.
		Assist lifting items (135+ lbs) from ground to height of 80” and vice versa.
		Assist handling dunnage.
		Maintain maneuvering ability when carrying a load.
		Assist pushing pallets to/from the aircraft using the arms pushing forward or the back pushing backwards.
		Maintain ability to climb up and down vehicles, highline docs, containers, etc.
		Assist pulling fuel hoses 300 ft. 
		Assist unfolding and moving 50k gallon fuel bladders.
		Ability to tune force output quickly and intuitively.
		Incorporate emergency shutdown to protect the user if unsafe conditions arise.
		Incorporate graceful failure modes to abort lifts in event of system failure or shutdown.

The system should not require the user to doff the system when operating any vehicle employed in flightline and airfield operations.
Develop meaningful performance metrics and gather statistically relevant-data on system performance
Awardees are expected to participate in a Military User Assessment with end users to ensure the system meets capability requirements. 
Awardees are expected to participate in a long-term MUA to ensure the system meets reliability requirements. 
Awardees should be prepared to deliver up to five (5) systems in order to adequately test the systems in an operationally relevant environment .
		Cargo area of a C-130 or C-17
		Operate in and around airfield and aircraft snag hazards without snagging.
		Uneven terrain and non-smooth surfaces found in austere airfields.
		Maneuver through tight quarters between cargo loads or aircraft walls as tight as an 8” clearance.
		Laying supine under rolling stock.
		Wearable while operating vehicles and Material Handling Equipment (MHE).

Document all methods and results in a final report.



PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The Government has an interest in transition of the demonstrated concept to flightline and airfield operations. Solutions may have application to commercial air cargo operations, warehouse material handling operations, and construction.



Department of the Air Force Operational Imperatives,
Lt.Col. P Lucas; 72469 USAFSAM PHR Report – AMC 2T2 Consult Memo, 2017 
Lt.Col. P Lucas; 78627 USAFSAM PHR Cargo Mvmt – AMC 2T2 Consult Memo, 2018 
Giardina, Gina M; Take the load off: Exoskeleton to enhance safety, retention for aerial porters, others. -, 2022;


KEYWORDS: Contested Logistics, austere operations, austere environment, aerial port, logistics, cargo handling, exoskeletons, material handling equipment (MHE), flightline operations, airfield operations, Agile Combat Employment