|This article, M56S Battle Armor, was written by Spartan-091. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
- "Depends on who you ask... Most Troopers call 'em "plates," us Great War vets still call 'em "Fifty-Twos," and then there's the new wave of fresh-mints that calls it "body pack," whatever the hell that means."
- ―Anonymous ODST Gunnery Sergeant on the new M56S's many nicknames.
The M56 Special Operations Ballistic Battle Armor or M56S, colloquially referred to as ODST Armor, is the special operations version of the standard Marine body armor, rated against vacuum and enhanced with a plethora of useful electronics and upgrades. It was made famous by the M52S's extensive use by the valiant Shock Troopers during the Human Covenant War and earlier First Insurrection. Its iconic charcoal-black coloration still strikes fear into the hearts of secessionists, Remnants, and terrorists alike.
The M56S is the latest in the line of the signature piece of equipment used by the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers - the armor is vacuum-rated, capable of extra-vehicular activity for thirty minutes, provides numerous advantages in the field, including ballistic and plasma protection, internal climate control, as well as thermal insulation against the extreme temperatures experienced during atmospheric entry.
ODST Armor has gone through several design changes since the start of the Human-Covenant War. This current Post-War version incorporates a greater deal of technology initially developed for and from the MJOLNIR Armor and it includes the most advanced version of the titanium and ceramic composite armor plating known as SCUTA to give the user added protection - along with upgrades to the HUD and integrated communications systems that grant the wearer more situational awareness on the battlefield.
The M56S and its predecessors have been in use for well over 60 years by units like the 105th, and it remains unmatched in its ability to protect its wearer during even the most hazardous operations. It excels at providing the most defense against both Covenant and Human small arms fire than other UNSC-manufactured infantry body armor, and with its new Nanoflage and optional av-cam generators, it also allows a Trooper to melt smoothly into the shadows, conducting high-risk operations with great ease. Even when the av-cam generators are not on, the M56S's remains stealthy because of its standard black and gray RADAR-absorbing and EM-dampening nano-reactive paint. Though the armor is obviously better than every other standard infantry armor, it is still vulnerable to concentrated strikes from directed energy weapons, heavy-caliber armor piercing rounds, and large explosive compounds and devices.
- "I love my bucket! Don't take it away!"
- ―Anonymous ODST Private, commenting on the SH256
The M56S's helmet component, known as an SH256 Assault Helmet, is likely the most advanced component of a Trooper's armor, containing an array of helpful electronics and neurally-linked functions. The helmet itself is composed of a high-impact variant of SCUTA, specially reinforced with microscopic lamellar armor that provides something of an ablation effect when hit with plasma. Inside, the helmet is padded with the same Wyvernhide/gel layer as elsewhere in the suit, which is padded with a cotton-polyester lining for maximum wearer comfort. When the Trooper places the helmet on his head, it will immediately provide him the option to sync with his neural link wirelessly, and will afterward integrate him with the rest of his squad's information. Mounted on the inside of the helmet is a fisheye camera lens to provide face-to-face video communication and an array microphone that allows for easy and clear voice communication. The faceplate of the helmet, made of a resin-fortified Lexan-based composite, is able to be polarized and depolarized by both internal optical command and external toggle switch, allowing for quick identification of dead or wounded personnel on the battlefield.
- "Literally, the biggest technical advantage we have over our enemies. We can link teams, plot strategies, access maps, and plan for assaults... all without taking off our helmets!"
- ―Captain Amy Bynes, on VISR functionality.
Hands-down the most advanced piece of equipment mounted in the ODSTs' wide array of tools, equipment and accessories, the Visual Intelligence System, Reconnaissance has been brought up to speed with the absolute latest in cutting edge recon, neural net, and squad integration technology. Projected onto the polarized faceplate of the SH256 Helmet, the VISR is capable of displaying a real-time HUD that is linked to an astonishing array of other features, including but by no means limited to holographic weapon sights, ammo counter, personal health condition, armor integrity, squad and ally details, topographical maps of the area, a neurally-established waypoint marker and GPS system, infrared, night-vision, electromagnetic, ultraviolet, and low-light vision enhancement modes, as well as IFF transponders, motion trackers, and a security clearance-based access to all available UNSC data storage networks, including civilian wireless networks and Navy tactical satellite arrays.
New features of note include the ability to have a visual topo map overlaid across the wearer's field of vision, neural links with UNSC drones (in special circumstances only), the capability to share one's live internal and exterior helmet camera feed with one's unit for video conversations or tactical appraisals, and several new HUD-based controls for new armor functions such as av-cam generators, Nanoflage pattern toggling, and faster database browsing.
Unlike previous versions, this model of the VISR allows Troopers to leave the IFF-coded outlines on during daylight without activating any vision enhancement mode, though any of the modes above can be toggled on while the IFF outlines are also active. Also, a small windowed mode of the GPS and network database modes can be activated during battle, so that the wearer can access any vital information or lay out any waypoints for his or her unit without losing their view of the battlefield. These modes can still be brought up in full screen should the situation require it, but more often than not, Troopers prefer to take advantage of the windowed mode.
The entirety of the body armor is composed of generally the same components: an outer shell of titano-ceramic plating, a middle layer of liquid crystals surrounding a force-absorbing sheet of advanced composite, and a final layer of traditional Wyvernhide heavy antiballistic material that is usually padded for the wearer's comfort. Several different nanite-based armor treatments can be applied to the plating depending upon the role it is being used in. All operators, however, have the standard anti-plasma/laser reflective layer combined with a series of preset Nanoflage patterns that can be changed to suit the wearer's environment via the suit's neural link.
The distinctive cuirass on the M56S is actually made up of several different layered components though it appears to be a single plate. The outermost layer is a series of shaped titano-ceramic armor plates (SCUTA) that are angled to provide the maximum allowable deflection angle to turn away the majority of incoming projectiles. Their smooth surfaces allow for an improved amount of force absorption as well, and when combined with their outer coating of reflective armor treatment, they are also adept at diluting all but the most direct plasma blasts down to a mere pitting of the armor's surface. Beneath these various plates is an ultrathin layer of liquid borate crystals encasing a nitinol-based plate that provides for further shock absorption. And beneath this layer is a padding of intricately interwoven silicon carbide ceramic scales that are covered in a comfortable aramid-cotton-polyester fabric to ensure no discomfort to the wearer. The whole assembly is fused together by industrial-grade fusion-bonded epoxy, though some of the outer plates are allowed to overlap, making certain that key areas remain as flexible as possible. Though rather heavy to untrained individuals, the cuirass's weight is eased by a series of load-bearing straps that allow the burden to be evenly distributed across the upper body. A properly-trained individual can easily perform just as well once they have acclimated to the increased demands.
The shoulder-protecting plates of the M56S are technically optional, and are left off completely by many Troopers who feel that they would rather have a better range of motion than enhanced protection. They are actually the lightest part of the armor, but are also the most heavily-coated in reflective treatment, as the designers reasoned that a bullet injury would not deal any critical damage where a plasma bolt might. They are rather low-profile to decrease the chance of being spotted in cover and designed to channel any explosive forces away from the arm and shoulder as best they can. Most notably, they are the home of a standard UNSCDF Medical Reference tag, which contains all important information that a battlefield corpsman might need to know, including blood type and any known allergies. They have easily-activated thermal strobes embedded within them so that they can be differentiated from enemies through standard UNSC IR filters, as well as a highly-complex fractal antennae system that helps boost communications distance.
The gauntlets are a two-part jointed sheath of hardened SCUTA with the standard underlayers, and can be unfastened to allow for easy removal in the field. They also contain valuable pressure seal interfaces to provide better integration with the sealed body suit, as well as a wrist-mounted display screen that provides the local time and a variety of other features that can also be accessed on the helmet's VISR. As with the other armor components, they are treated with a reflective coating that prevents critical injuries from plasma bursts, and are quite resistant to all but the most effective armor piercing rounds. An interesting feature particular to the gauntlets is the presence of a magnetic gription surface on the outer forearm, which lets Troopers mount any sort of close combat implement within easy reach.
The cuisses on M56S Battle Armor are designed to protect the Trooper's thigh while allowing him or her maximum mobility on the battlefield. They consist of two parts: the outer and inner thigh. A thickened SCUTA plate covers the outer thigh area, can deflect most standard 2550-era munitions, and is coated in reflective armor treatments to better diffuse plasma bursts. On the inner thighs, layered silicon carbide ceramic scales resting in a borate-based liquid gel layer and encased in a rugged aramid fabric provide superior protection from fragments and even projectiles themselves, and are close to being skin tight. This design came from several reports from the field that it was difficult to pursue lighter-armored enemies and to maneuver unencumbered. The new layout not only increases armor in the thigh region, but grants better agility to the wearer. As with the rest of the armor, these pieces are worn over an insulated and climate-controlled body suit.
The armored sheaths covering the boots of an ODST are known as the greaves. They are constructed in the same triple-layered design and function in a similar manner to the gauntlets; they are two pieces of heavy SCUTA plate on a hinge, secured by two reinforced heavy-duty kevlar straps and latches. They support the calf and ankle in a way that provides maximal shock absorption, should the Trooper fall from a high height, and actually include genuine shock absorbers. Since they are designed to be worn over the armored assault boots that most ODSTs wear, there is not as much padding as there is in the other components, since the shocks take up room that would have been used for that purpose. The greaves are designed so that a wide variety of armor modifiers can be strapped over them, such as extra munitions pouches or grenade holders. Most troopers keep a combat knife stowed alongside the armor, preferring to have a second melee weapon "just in case."
The UNSC-standard rucksack shipped with the M56S is slightly different from that of the M52B, in that is constructed of light-weight SCUTA-based material designed for ruggedness in the field as well as greater protection from enemy weapons fire for the Trooper's back. It comes in a few different varieties, depending on the Trooper's role in his or her unit, but its basic function remains the same: storage of critical equipment. The rucksack allows the wearer to carry any equipment, ranging from ammunition to medical supplies to explosives. Communications equipment can also be stored here in the case of Comms specialists, who carry the satellite uplink devices that an ODST squad requires to report in to their superiors or ship of origin. For long-range recon/patrol missions, ODSTs carry larger rucksacks with enough supplies for two weeks of independent operation without external resupply. Rucksacks have integrated magnetic gription strips that allow for external mounting of additional equipment, such as weaponry too long to be stored inside, eliminating the use of extra straps or slings.
Arguably the most crucial part of the entire battle armor, the sealed undersuit protects the wearer against the lethal vacuum of space, should the need for extravehicular excursion ever occur, whether due to an emergency or a combat insertion into an enemy craft. The suit covers all of the wearer's body, up to the neck, where a small collapsible pressure collar can be fastened to the appropriate slotting on the helmet, and the gauntlets, where another collar-seal system is in place. On ground-based operations, many Troopers prefer to leave these collars unfastened, as it allows for airflow and prevents the helmet from damaging their heads should they be caught in a nearby explosion. A recent addition to the armor is the improved climate-control system, which allows Troopers to operate the potentially hot and heavy suits in relative comfort. In hot environments, minuscule heat-conducive nano-fibers can be be used to wick away and store body heat, while cryogenic fibers powered by the suit's advanced Lithium-air batteries (if the Trooper is without an Armored Rucksack) can be switched on via neural interface commands routed to the helmet's HUD. A similar process can be used to heat the suit in cold climates, though on high-risk operations, this is discouraged because of the increased chances of being picked up on thermal scopes. A specialized photosensitive nano-weave contained in the suit allows for the partial charging of the suit's emergency batteries through solar energy, while absorbed body heat can be converted and stored as well, effectively dampening the majority of the wearer's thermal emissions in a pinch.
However, if ODSTs are being deployed planetside for an extended amount of time via a method not involving SOEIVs, they are usually issued ODST-patterned GICUs, which are much lighter and cooler than the undersuit. Very little functionality is lost in this change, save for the higher-quality thermal-signature dampening properties of the suit, but UNSCDF officers have reasoned that having soldiers combat ready and not overheated negates this particular loss of functionality.
Housed behind the rucksack, embedded in the Trooper's backplate, is a heavy-duty fusion battery which augments the undersuit's emergencies-only Lithium-air battery and provides power to av-cam generators, helmet systems, suit environmental control, and air filtration, not to mention any gear that the wearer may come across in the field. It is arguably one of the most crucial components of the suit, as it provides power to all of the above non-vital systems, and even takes over life-support when the Li-a battery is not needed to run. The double-redundancy system was proposed by ODST survey groups, who reported the occurrence of casualties during the Human-Covenant War, when the M52S's microbatteries would fail or run out of charge midway through a crucial mission. With all the extra features in the M56S, the designers felt that leaving out such a component would be foolhardy, as the power demands were only barely met by the Li-a battery. The fusion battery, derived from the power source embedded in MJOLNIR armor, is both clean and efficient, and requires very little maintenance in the long run. An attachable power interface cord, carried in the rucksack, can link up and power devices found in the field with little to no noticeable affect on suit power, also a feature requested by polled ODSTs.
- "See, now these? These confuse me. We have more special special armor? Maybe I'm just upset because I want it so bad, but still..."
- ―Anonymous ODST Corporal
The M56S had a few specialized variants produced as the UNSC began to increase its influence in post-war peacekeeping and anti-terror operations. Not all of them were as high-caliber as the original design, but some were indeed quite interesting concepts. A few saw field action and were quite effective, leading to more design tweaks for the standardized armor, while others found their own niche in the ODST arsenal. Below are listed some of the declassified models that were or are in use with the ODST corps today.
- "Anti-zap! That's what this is! I fight those Remmies, with their plasma junk, and I don't lose a limb as soon as I'm hit! How the hell long did it take us to figure out how to do this? Oh, that's right! The whole damn war."
- ―Anonymous ODST Veteran, on the Energy Suppressant version of the M56S.
The M56S/Energy Suppressant variant was a new model of the armor designed specifically to combat energy weapons. It is coated in a much more resilient patina of thickened reflective treatment, granting it a sort of sheen or glaze that was present on earlier models of the MJOLNIR Mark V armor. Surprisingly, it is not too detrimental to stealth operations, but it is significantly less matte-colored than the other armor, leading to some complaints amongst its users about it being "shiny". However, it more than makes up for this deficiency in its ability to diffuse and deflect energy weapon pulses. Constructed from a specially-developed composite material that is still highly classified, it is light weight and very thermally resistant. However, it is not as effective against standard bullets, being easier to penetrate because of its different formatting at the cellular level. Whereas standard armor will boil away when hit directly, the E-variant has a chance of actually reflecting the charge back in the general direction of the firer. Its armored components are more shaped and streamlined to both enhance stealth and present a lower profile for plasma or LASER impacts, refracting or dissipating the charge by allowing its reflective treatment to dually cause the round to glance away and create a fine mist of dampening particles that cause more diffusion. To top it all off, a very small personal energy shield, run from the fusion battery located behind the Trooper's back, is available to help further protect the user. The shield is not comparable to MJOLNIR Mark VI, and can only hold for one to three direct hits before collapsing for several minutes while it recharges, but it provides greater insurance for the valuable ODST housed inside. Currently, the E-variant is deployed only to select units on the Remnant front, since it is less effective against the primarily ballistic weapons that Insurrectionists, Secessionists, and Resistance members use than the standard M56S worn by the majority of Troopers.
- "You're wondering about what we think of the new armor that Assembly gave us? It's a pile of [DELETED], with extra little [DELETED] [DELETED] that you can attach to it so that it becomes a super-[DELETED] pile of [DELETED]."
- ―Anonymous ODST Sergeant, interview with Sciens Populi Magazine reporter Janet Moreau.
The M56S/Modular variant was an experimental prototype thought up by UNSC-contracted armorers during the late aftermath of the Human-Covenant War. It was based around the idea that some Special Forces units should be able to super-specialize their armors in order to fully adapt to roles that certain combat situations dictated. Though the M56S is already somewhat modular in its design, the M-variant was to be fully customizable, with every Trooper having some form of unique feature that would provide help to their squad. Originally, UNSC High Command thought this to be a good idea, and ordered several of the suits, along with granting the company a contract to manufacture specialized parts that Troopers could swap in and out of their armor systems. But, by the time the first test unit (the 7th Shock Troops Battalion of the 105th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (SOC)) had finally integrated its newly-issued plates, the complaints from the field were overwhelming. Troopers complained of the poor fit of the modular equipment, the poor quality of certain extensions, and the loss of full-squad functionality due to overspecialization. Oftentimes, some squad members would not know how to work a particular attachment on another squadmate's armor in an emergency test situation where the original wearer was marked as incapacitated. This led to great frustration and confusion amongst the 7th's ODSTs, not to mention anger at how often the devices failed miserably in their field testing. Extensions were prone to succumb to almost any extreme environmental situation, rendered useless by a drop or even a dip in the swamp. When these reports reached the ODST top brass's ears, such a stink was made by them at High Command that the variant was scrapped almost instantly, and was pulled from the field with the greatest celerity. The company that had designed it went bankrupt soon afterward, having spent most of their meager budget on attempting to bring the prototype in line with products from Misriah and HRV Armaments. Some components of the M-variant were not fully removed from the field, and are still being swapped throughout the ODST corps, but these pieces have been thoroughly customized and modified by their users to ensure that they are easy to use and actually effective in battle. The M56S was later adapted to allow for slightly more customization, but nothing to the extent of the M-variant.
- The M56S derives its name from the year of its manufacture, its full title being "UNSC Military Model 2556 Special Operations Ballistic Battle Armor, Vacuum-Rated." Obviously, the abbreviation is much easier on the ears and tongue.
- The average battery life of the armor's fusion battery is roughly six months per charging session, and the battery itself can be charged twenty-four times before requiring replacement. The life of a Lithium-air battery is infinite, but the power it can supply is extremely limited, providing coverage for only the most spartan essentials, such as climate control and air filtration. In vacuum, however, the battery does not charge, deprived of half of its replenishment. It has also been known to burn out if used to power more than the bare necessities, and may require replacement in such a scenario.
- Unlike other military products, this armor was created with a massive amount of collaboration between the design team and ODSTs in the field. Groups of ODSTs were surveyed and asked what types of improvements they would like to see in their armor, and the results were collated and given to the company's evaluation team, who appraised which features would be practical. During the manufacturing of the first prototype suit, volunteer ODST NCOs were asked to test out the armor on danger-assessment courses and provide feedback. In general, the armor was one of the most user-input-friendly on the market, and received great reviews from the first wave of ODSTs to receive it. The company won several awards for both their request for input and their integration of Trooper interviews into the final product.
Behind the Scenes
- "Bodypack" is the term used by the Combine soldiers in Half Life 2 to describe their body armor, and "plates" is the standard term of reference to the medieval suit of armor, which the M56S in some ways resembles.
- "Wyvernhide" antiballistic material is the author's nod to the famous Dragon Skin body armor of the 21st Century, albeit a significantly more advanced version of its ancestor.