This image taken from a video released by U.S. Special Operations Command shows its vision for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, commonly known as its “Iron Man” suit effort. (YouTube screen grab)

The U.S. military team overseeing the development of a high-tech armor super-suit for elite U.S. Special Operations troops has launched a new competition, pitting private corporations against each other to improve situational awareness for commandos while they are wearing night-vision devices or other optics.

The effort focuses on overcoming challenges with latency in optical devices, said Navy Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command. It could improve the disorienting effect for those wearing advanced optics that can can see people, even in the dark, using infrared sensors or other means. The deadline to submit proposals was Oct. 17, Aandahl said.

The technology would be incorporated into SOCOM’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) program, which is developing an armor exoskeleton that could include super-human strength, sensors that respond directly to brain functions and liquid armor. It is commonly known as the military’s “Iron Man” suit, a reference to the Marvel comic and movie hero.

The program was launched last year, and received a lot of attention under Adm. William McRaven, who retired as the top commander in SOCOM in August, in part because of splashy publicity like this video:

McRaven’s replacement, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel III, also is a strong advocate of new technology to better protect and enable Special Operations troops, Aandahl said.

“We have made significant progress in the first year of our TALOS effort and the TALOS team is diligently evaluating which technologies and features can be transitioned to the force in the near term and which can be developed and integrated into future designs,” he said.

The new challenge focusing on optics follows another event in the spring that was geared toward improving the exoskeleton prototypes that SOCOM has been reviewing. 

Last spring, SOCOM disclosed a handful of companies that are involved in the TALOS program, and said that it had been in discussions with corporations ranging from Nike to Boeing. A handful of small developmental deals have been signed, but only a couple of the companies have been named.

The major hurdle so far: power. While the comic book hero relies on a miniature reactor that is embedded in his chest, SOCOM has struggled in real life to find a power source for the suit, which could weigh several hundred pounds. McRaven said in February that the suits it is testing this year would not be powered, and predicted they wouldn’t be ready for combat until August 2018 at the earliest.