The U.S. Special Operations Command is charging ahead with the development
of advanced sensors, ammunition and weapons tailored for urban combat.
Confined spaces, hardened targets and night vision limitations are among the
more critical factors driving this effort, said Army Col. Thomas Spellissy,
formerly in charge of special programs at the command.
The command is evaluating existing technologies from domestic and foreign producers,
and commissioning separate developments for more specific requirements. Regardless
of the sources, all these technologies first have to pass muster with war fighters,
The paramount area is fusion technology as it relates to night vision goggles
and weapon sights. The so-called sensor-fusion technology combines image intensification,
found in conventional night vision goggles, with thermal sensors, or forward-looking
infrared, into a single image.
SOCOM intends to field fusion goggles next year, Spellissy said at a recent
National Defense Industrial Association international armaments symposium.
“We are working on it, and we will have it by the end of fiscal year
2005,” he said.
SOCOM has a new sniper scope under development, which shooters no longer need
to reset, or “re-zero,” at night. “This is the best piece
of kit out in the field,” he said about the improved night/day fire control
and observation device that is produced by ITT Industries.
SOCOM wants fusion technology to be added during the scope’s second and
third development blocks, said Spellissy. The AN/PAS 13 thermal weapon sight,
developed by Raytheon, also will have this advanced capability, according to
Meanwhile, the command also plans to assemble a fusion equipment package to
share with the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
In addition, sensor fusion is making its way into one of SOCOM’s most
pressing projects—the development of a target designator to avoid fratricide.
Called the precision target locator designator, it is meant for ground operators
to acquire data for targeting global-
positioning system satellite-guided and laser-guided munitions. The device
must be able to transfer information directly to overhead platforms.
“We have classified [specifications], but we want a target range finder,
laser designator with the latest optics to include fusion and to go out to a
specified range and be able to geo-locate,” said Spellissy. “No
man [made] mistake should go through.”
Spellissy said that the command commissioned two companies to hunt for a solution.
“They are going after this in two different ways, so I think risk is managed,”
he said. “Anyone who thinks that they can build this box, they need to
contact SOCOM immediately to get into this area.”
When it comes to individual firepower, SOCOM is leading the world in shoulder-fired
weapons and munitions by about six years, according to Spellissy. Despite this
advantage, SOCOM is seeking to improve its soldier-carried demolition weapons.
The goal, therefore, is to develop a multi-target warhead that can take out
light armor, a bunker or a triple brick wall (equivalent to 12 inches of concrete),
This warhead would complement the array of ammunition SOCOM recently has acquired
for its recoilless, multi-role, 84 mm Carl Gustaf weapon for direct fire.
The two men who operate the Carl Gustaf—the gunner and loader—now
have a selection of high explosive, anti-tank, high explosive dual purpose,
and smoke and illumination ammunition, according to Spellissy. The command will
soon add thermobaric munitions for this shoulder-fired weapon, which is produced
by Saab Bofors of Sweden.
Despite this enhanced firepower, close-combat scenarios in urban environments
prompted the urgent need for a weapon that could be fired from tight spaces.
Consequently, SOCOM has purchased the confined space version of its battle-tested
M136 AT4 lightweight, self-contained, anti-armor weapon.
Saab Bofors Dynamics developed the AT4 confined-space (CS) weapon to provide
soldiers with a capability to fire from enclosures typically found in urban
combat. The AT4CS is preloaded with a high-penetration warhead that can defeat
most targets, said a company official.
The command also is hastening to add this close-quarters capability to the
improved M72 66mm light anti-tank weapon (LAW) that was developed in the 1960s
by Talley Industries and under license in Norway.
“We have to have the LAW CS, so that is where we are going,” said
Spellissy. The LAW CS is a recoilless anti-armor and breaching weapon designed
to operate in urban areas without harming the operator. The LAW CS is meant
to correct the problems of the current LAW.
The LAW had recurring safety problems, but the Navy’s Sea, Air and Land
teams insisted on keeping this weapon for self-protection, he said. SOCOM received
a waiver to keep the LAW and has been working to reduce its dud rate, Spellissy
Army Rangers and the service’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
also will receive the LAW CS, noted Spellissy.
For small arms, the command has fielded a series of machine guns tailored especially
for Army Special Forces and SEALs. One of them is the MK46 a 5.56 mm gun that
is four-and-a-half pounds lighter than the current M249 squad automatic weapon,
“I gave a couple of those to Rangers,” he recalled. “They
took them to Afghanistan and would not give them back, so we got the requirement
through and we will equip the Rangers with this weapon. They will turn in their
The other lightweight machine gun the Rangers covet is the 7.62 mm MK 48, which
was initially built for the SEALs, said Spellissy. It will be used in conjunction
with the medium, mounted M240 machine gun, he said.
“We are keeping the 240s on the vehicles, so when the Rangers are going
to carry the 7.62 mm, that increases the firepower of the Rangers [when they
dismount],” he said.
Meanwhile, the command is fielding an intermediate solution for its crew-served
weapons. The MK47 is replacing the MK19, he said. “Right now, as guns
come off the production line, they are going straight to the AOR [area of responsibility],
to the 3rd Group,” he said.
The MK47 is one pound lighter than the MK19, has fire control and can lase
targets, said Spellissy, who indicated a 90 percent hit rate on the first round.
SOCOM has a heated competition going on for its SOF combat assault rifle (SCAR).
The command has some 15 companies in the selection pool, said Spellissy. In
October, it is supposed to award four contracts, he said.
The development of the SCAR does not come without its share of controversy.
Initially, SOCOM supported the development of the XM8 together with the Army,
but decided to purchase its own rifle.
Spellissy, however, assured the symposium that SOCOM is giving “110 percent
support” to the Army’s XM8 program, which seeks a replacement for
the M-16 rifle. The command’s reason for going ahead with the SCAR program
is that it would fulfill specific requirements for special operations, he explained.
Down the line, SOCOM is looking to award a contract for a new pistol, said
Spellissy. That, however, is not going to happen before 2008, he added.