On the heels of reports that China is using exoskeleton technology on the Himalayan border with Tibet, sources also say it is developing and genetically modifying a "Super Soldier" — something the US deems unethical. Credit: Handout.

Just when you thought, things had gotten a little carried away on China’s Himalayan front.

Claims and counter-claims.

Remember the report that China had used top-secret microwave weapons against Indian troops on the Ladakh Line of Actual Control (LAC)?

And then there was the report that Indian tanks had gained all the high ground in the Himalayan border region.

Anything and everything has been denied, by high-ranking officials on both sides.

About the only thing we do know, is that both sides are frozen solid, as temperatures in the region have dropped like a rock.

Now we have a new report — a somewhat bizarre one, no less — that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) border defense troops in Ngari, Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, recently received a type of “Iron Man” exoskeleton suit that enables them to conduct tasks in harsh, high altitude environments more efficiently.

According to Global Times, China’s military mouthpiece, the exoskeleton suit is effective in missions such as supply delivery, patrol and sentry duty.

PLA border troops stationed in Ngari, which is more than 5,000 meters above sea level, have started using the exoskeleton suit, which allows them to carry supplies that weigh about as much as an adult, while avoiding the risk of waist or leg injuries, China Central Television (CCTV) reported. 

During a recent supply delivery mission, several soldiers attached to the PLA Xinjiang Military Command carried food and water, with each person carrying about 20 kilograms of these supplies in backpacks, according to the CCTV report.

The weight of the backpacks is transferred to the frames of the exoskeleton suits, instead of the soldiers’ legs, a soldier told CCTV.

PLA border defense troops wear exoskeleton suits in a supply delivery mission in Ngari, Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region in 2020. Credit: Courtesy CCTV.

The CCTV report did not give the designation or further technical details about the suit. Judging from the footage in the report, the equipment is likely a lightweight, non-powered exoskeleton suit.

This kind of suit is particularly helpful at high altitudes, a military expert told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.

Due to the lack of oxygen, goods feel much heavier than their actual weight, and human stamina also declines as the elevation rises, the expert said, noting that an exoskeleton suit can help its wearer save energy and protect their joints.

Chinese troops are reportedly having trouble acclimatizing to the harsh, high-altitude conditions — something their Indian rivals have had no problem with.

The development may not be that surprising.

Last week US experts claimed that China may be working on creating a league of super-soldiers with enhanced eyesight and strength.

John Ratcliffe, Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, claimed the Chinese government is conducting biological testing on its own soldiers in order to dominate the planet “economically, militarily and technologically,” the UK’s Daily Star reported.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Ratcliffe said China has been using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify human embryos to breed military personnel capable of fighting harder, longer, and more efficiently.

The allegation was met with shock and widespread disbelief, but now more intelligence experts have corroborated that it’s more than possible — and the ramifications could be severe.

NBC’s National Security Correspondent Ken Dilanian said it’s “not something China is broadcasting publicly” in an interview.

However this frightening possibility is unlikely to come to fruition any time soon, Dilanian added.

“I think we’re a long way off from that, but just the idea that China is studying these things is pretty troubling because in the West we consider that to be unethical.

“Ratcliffe was citing this intelligence to make the point that in his view, China will stop at nothing to become the dominant military power.”

However, China is not the only country pursuing exoskeleton technology.

Samuel Bendett, a research analyst, told Task and Purpose exoskeletons will be used in combat logistics.

The US has been experimenting with powered exoskeletons for several decades.

In 2013 the US Special Operations Command announced a tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS) exoskeleton.

The suit had armor protection capability and sensors; it could provide the operator with enhanced strength and endurance but it could not achieve the original goal, SOCOM had admitted in 2019.

In October, Russian state-owned defense corporation Rostec had released footage of a new combat exoskeleton for assault operations. There are videos of soldiers with K-2 exoskeletons being engaged in mine clearance operations in Syria.

And Popular Mechanics reported this week that a French military bioethics panel has cleared the development of cyborg soldiers for members of the armed forces.

The panel says the French Armed Forces may develop and deploy technological augments in order to preserve the French military’s “operational superiority.”

The panel has given permission for the French military to develop and deploy enhancements, that, according to CNN, improve the “physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities” of its soldiers.

It could also develop “medical treatments to prevent pain, stress and fatigue, and substances that would improve mental resilience if a soldier were taken prisoner.”

The permission comes with restrictions, however. The military may not deploy technologies that interfere with a soldier’s fundamental humanity.

Soldiers must retain free will and be able to choose the level of force they employ — for example, a bionic augmentation may not force a soldier to use lethal force when nonlethal force is the clear choice.

Sources: Global Times, Daily Star, Wall Street Journal, Task & Purpose, NBC, CNN, Popular Mechanics, China Central Television