The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) does not expect a significant
budget increase during the next five years, according to the command’s
acquisition chief. “We’re not going to see any major
increases in the investment accounts, I don’t think, over
the [next five years],” said Harry Schulte, SOCOM acquisition
executive, based at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. “We may get
normal inflation increases, but that’s probably all we’re
expecting to see,” he told National Defense in a recent interview.
The Defense Department has approved an additional $700 million
for SOCOM during the five-year period. “That translates to
a little over $100-$120 million a year,” said Schulte. The
biggest share of that money will go towards investment in new equipment,
SOCOM’s annual budget is about $4 billion, said Schulte.
“In very broad terms, about $2 billion of that goes for salaries
and personnel. A little over a billion goes to operations and maintenance,
and about a billion goes to investment.”
The command budgeted $556 million for procurement in fiscal 2002.
That’s close to $31 million more than what was allocated in
fiscal 2001. “If that [additional funding] holds up over the
[next five years], you might see our investment up about $100 million
a year, which would be good,” he added. That could increase
the procurement dollars to between $650 million and $700 million,
which “would help us modernize some of the systems that we
need to modernize sooner.”
SOCOM’s procurement budget fell from $729 million in 2000,
to $525 million in 2001. Schulte explained that there were special
circumstances that contributed to this. The reason the 2000 budget
was so high was because of congressional plus-ups, he said.
“A couple of unique things happened in 2000,” said
Schulte. “We got two large congressional plus-ups [that totaled]
about $143 million.” That means the original procurement budget
was about $586 million, which falls in the range of the command’s
One of the plus-ups was for the MH-47 Chinook helicopter fleet.
The other project was classified.
“So it’s not like we took any big dip from 2000 to
2001 in our planned program,” said Schulte. He did not deny,
however, that the command could use more procurement funding. “Nobody’s
going to tell you that they can’t use more procurement money.
But I think the command has supported the investment budget well.
... If we had more money, we could buy CV-22s faster or we could
buy ASDSs [Advanced SEAL Delivery System] sooner, but this is a
balanced budget throughout the command.”
The CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft remains a flagship program
for SOCOM, despite two crashes during the past year involving the
Navy’s MV-22, which killed 23 Marines. Pending the results
of a panel investigation, SOCOM’s acquisition chief believes
the V-22 Osprey program will get back on schedule.
“I don’t think [the latest accident] will impact the
actual production award of the contract,” said Schulte. The
Navy plans to award the contract in April, he said. “So they’ve
got time between now and then ... to make that decision, and not
impact the contract award, and then not impact the delivery schedule
of either the MVs or the CVs that are in this year’s buy.”
Although the Osprey is a Navy program, the first three or four
CV-22s for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) will
be included in the purchase, said Schulte. The aircraft are scheduled
to be delivered in 2003. “The command is very excited about
it,” said Schulte. “It’s a terrific capability
for AFSOC, and it’s one of our absolute top priorities for
the command.” In fact, SOCOM is banking on CV-22 so much that
it is removing its fleet of MH-53 helicopters.
“CV-22 is very unique and allows us to get into places and
get there in a hurry, because it has the speed of a C-130 and the
agility of a helicopter,” he explained. “AFSOC is looking
forward to getting the CV-22. We’re pulling out our MH-53s
from the force. Slowly between next year and 2007, all of our 53s
will be out of the force. So the CV-22 has to come in and take over
The other major flagship program for SOCOM, said Schulte, is the
Advanced SEAL Delivery System. Acquiring the ASDS has not been a
smooth ride. The testing on the mini-submarine has taken longer
than expected. “Longer means more money,” said Schulte.
Designed to transport Navy SEALs from a submarine to the shore,
the ASDS “has been a struggle with the Navy and with [contractor]
Northrop Grumman,” said Schulte.
The first system currently is undergoing deep-water testing in
Hawaii, he said, which will probably not be finished until this
summer. “Then, we will basically accept the first craft, and
then it [will] go into host-ship testing, which is the mating testing
with the submarines that have been modified to carry it,”
Schulte said he does not think ASDS will be operational until 2002.
The command plans to buy two more ASDSs, he said. SOCOM is working
with the Pentagon to restructure funding for the systems. “Some
2001 money will go into reprogramming to change some production
money into research and development, so we can continue this testing,”
he said. “What that will basically do is slip our second ASDS
buy until 2003 and our third ASDS buy until 2005.”
Meanwhile, the Air Force avionics modernization program for the
C-130 also should benefit SOCOM. “It’s really an Air
Force program with a SOCOM tag on it,” said Schulte.
This modernization entails putting glass cockpits into the C-130s,
including the AFSOC aircraft. Also, the AFSOC C-130s will be equipped
with a common avionics architecture for penetration (CAAP). “That
basically provides low probability of intercept and detection on
the terrain falling radar capability,” said Schulte. “That’s
a requirement that the AFSOC C-130s have that the Air Force C-130s
The CAAP program currently is undergoing source selection, and a
contract should be awarded this month, he said.
SOCOM, additionally, is working with the Army on a service-life
extension program (SLEP) for the MH-47 Chinook helicopter. The Army’s
Chinook is the CH-47 version. Funding for the SLEP will be available
in the fiscal 2002 budget.
SOCOM has 11 MH-47D models and 35 MH-47E models that will be modernized.
The Army is funding the modernization of about 300 CH-47s. The size
of the entire fleet is about 400 aircraft.
Schulte believes that the MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters also will
undergo a SLEP, but that effort has yet to be funded.
“We’re putting air-refueling probes on all of our MH-60s,”
he said. Also going on the MH-60s is an improved internal fuel tank,
“... a 200-gallon fuel tank that sits in the back area of
the interior on the MH-60. That gives more range to the helicopter
force. We’re trying to get to the point basically where most
of our 130s and things like that are all going to become tankers
for us, and all of our aircraft are going to be air-refuelable.
That gives the operator the most flexibility to get missions done
by having the airplanes refuelable and having more tankers available.”
This project is funded in the current budget.
Another Army/SOCOM aviation program calls for the MH-6 Little Bird
helicopters to be upgraded. Forty of these aircraft are receiving
bigger engines that will increase the helicopter’s payload
by 800 pounds. The Special Operations Little Bird is a modified
version of the Boeing’s commercial MD-500 helicopter. The
first modifications are under way, and the aircraft should be delivered
in the latter part of the year, said Schulte.
The Navy and SOCOM are in source selection right now for a maritime
mobility system called the Special Operations Craft Riverene (SOCR),
said Schulte. This is designed to carry eight SEALs in littoral
operations. The Navy and SOCOM are awaiting bids from contractors.
“One of the things that’s unique about this particular
acquisition is that part of the bidder’s proposal is to provide
a parent craft,” said Schulte. “By parent craft, we
mean a boat with the same hull design and the same engine. Not only
do we evaluate paper on what their proposal is going to be for the
craft, but then they can bring a very similar craft to show [that]
you can make the speeds and the fuel economy that we require in
The SOCR program is managed at SOCOM headquarters. The command
wants 18 systems, but has funded eight so far. Schulte believes
the command may be able to budget for the additional 10 boats in
Another important element of SOCOM modernization, said Schulte,
is tactical communications systems. He is seeking enhancements in
handheld and vehicle radios, to make them more capable and lighter
“One of our biggest success stories we’ve had here
at SOCOM is the development and production of our handheld multi-band
inter/intra team radio (MBITR),” said Schulte.
This radio—smaller than a brick—weighs about two pounds
and is capable of frequencies between 30 and 512 megahertz, “which
replaces about six or seven other radios that the guys have been
carrying around,” he explained. “Obviously, we care
about lightening the load of the soldier. The more radios he has
to carry, that means he’s not carrying something else, like
food or water or ammo.”
MBITR currently is in production. The first 1,200 have been delivered,
and SOCOM is placing an order this year for about 3,000 more, which
will be distributed through mid-2003. That’s sooner that the
original schedule, Schulte said, mainly because there has been such
a demand for the radio. “We try to buy those out sooner, because
everybody wants them quicker.”
MBITR has a companion called the multi-band, multi-mission radio,
which is designed for vehicles. It has the same frequency capability
as MBITR, but it is more powerful, said Schulte.
“It’s bigger. It weighs about 12 and a half pounds,
and you put this in a vehicle,” he said. “It’s
got the same coverage. It’s more like a 30-watt radio where
you get better distance.”
SOCOM has not yet reached a full-production decision for this radio.
It is in the qualification operational test and evaluation phase.
Schulte expects a decision to be made soon and that all 880 radios
will be delivered over the next six to eight months. “What
we’re trying to do is not just replace the radios that the
individual soldier carries, but replace a bunch of old radios that
you’d have to carry around in a vehicle too, so you get down
to one common radio that all the forces can use,” he said.
Special operations forces also will be equipped with more capable
Navy SEALs will be receiving a new lightweight machine gun in the
coming months. It is a 5.56 mm belt-fed weapon. At less than 13
pounds, it is lighter than current weapons, said Schulte. “We’re
going to buy these, and we’re going to buy them quick,”
“This is basically a commercial machine gun. There was a
competition run by the Navy for us, and they found a couple of existing
systems, and we took them to test, firing a lot of rounds.”
SOCOM saved money by using obsolete ammunition for the weapons
testing. Rather than having to pay to demilitarize the ammunition,
SOCOM allowed contractors to demonstrate their weapons with the
“One of the unique things the Navy program office did for
us was, they provided a bunch of 5.56 mm ammunition that was really
excess,” Schulte recounted. “When I say excess, it really
was getting old, and it was going to have to be demilitarized. Instead
of doing that, we gave it to the contractors to go ahead and fire
it, so they can prove the reliability of their proposals.”
Another small arms initiative is the advanced lightweight grenade
launcher, which fires a 40 mm grenade. This weapon was tested under
the Foreign Comparative Test (FCT) program. That means the money
came from the Defense Department, rather than from the SOCOM pocketbook.
The weapon was manufactured by Saco Defense.
A follow-on contract for the launcher is designed to acquire a
smarter grenade. “This thing will fire a standard 40 mm grenade,”
said Schulte, “but it also has the capability, when a new
round gets developed, of firing a round that is programmable.”
The user can program the round to airburst near the target. The
launcher will program timing into the grenade’s programmable
fuse, telling it when to explode. “For instance,” said
Schulte, “you could lob this over a hill and get it to airburst
above the target you’re looking for. This is really going
to change how the guys attack certain targets with this programmable
This round has not been developed yet, but several companies are
vying for a future award. Testing on the round won’t begin
for about a year, said Schulte, but SOCOM will continue to purchase
“We’re buying the grenade launchers now because they’re
good with the standard 40 mm grenade round,” he said. “But
our goal is to get the programmable round because that is going
to be a leap ahead for the guys using that weapon. ... [Under the
FCT program], you bring these things in. You test them. You let
the soldiers see how they work. Sometimes you make minor modifications
or you get the company to make the minor modifications, and then
you buy it.”
Schulte stressed the importance of the FCT program. The cooperation
between the Pentagon and SOCOM makes the acquisition process run
more smoothly, he said. Because SOCOM has a small workforce, it
helps to have strong working relationships, in particular, with
the military services, he said.
“The working relationships are excellent,” said Schulte.
“We have excellent relationships with the Army on the helicopter
modification programs. We’ve got good relationships with the
Navy on products that [it is] doing for us. We’re pretty small
down here as far as an acquisition workforce goes. And we don’t
have a large engineering staff. It would not be possible for us
to take on, for instance, a project like the Advanced SEAL Delivery
System. We wouldn’t have the expertise. We wouldn’t
have the numbers of engineers with the right kinds of expertise
and submarines that you’d have to have to do that anyway.
So we have to rely on [service] program offices.
“We couldn’t do a CV-22 program in-house either. That’s
just too big, too complicated, and we wouldn’t have the right
expertise to do that. That’s why we go with the Navy in this
case, because they’re buying the MV-22. But the relationships
are very good with the services, and it works out very well. And
it keeps SOCOM from needing to have a large acquisition workforce.”
SOCOM manages smaller programs in-house, such as the radios and
the SOCR, said Schulte. “In fact, in some cases, maybe because
we’re small, we might even be better suited to do some of
the smaller programs than the services,” he added.
But collaboration plays an important role in the command’s
acquisition strategy. “The command has a very good strategic
planning process and a very good budgeting process. It’s disciplined.
It’s collaborative, and I think we end up with an excellent