With a budget of less than $25 million, the scientific research
branch of the U.S. Special Operations Command cannot afford to reinvent
existing technologies, officials said.
SOCOM’s advanced technology office takes advantage of systems
developed by the military services and the Energy Department’s
national laboratories, noted Frank Wattenbarger, director of advanced
technology at SOCOM, in Tampa, Fla. “We work closely with
researchers and scientists for technologies in those organizations
to foster and direct where our application for those technologies
might be,” he said during a symposium on special operations,
sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.
The advanced technology program was designed to support special-operations
unique applications, said Wattenbarger. “We recognize right
up that there is no SOF unique or SOF peculiar technology. It is
all in how it’s applied,” he said.
As it looks toward the future, the Special Operations Command is
working on a “transformation” roadmap, “which
duck-tails into the Department of Defense program,” said
Wattenbarger. However, he cautioned, “our transformation
objectives may not align completely” with the Defense Department
SOCOM favors “rapid prototyping” of new technologies,
so they can move to the field faster. Current priorities include
rifle sights, body armor, “or even something as mundane as
having comfortable underwear,” he said.
The command has a medical and physiology technology program. “Blood
substitutes is one area that we are looking at,” said Wattenbarger.
“We also need to look at the bio-compatible material for implants
and the like and sensors that can be inserted into the body that
can transmit the necessary life support data.” The SOCOM medical
program has four major elements: combat casualty care, diving medicine,
performance enhancements and medical informatics, he explained.
One of the devices that the medical program developed is a bandage
that can be placed on a deep wound to stop the bleeding.
Additionally, “We look at performance issues, we look at
things such as what are the physiological constraints on the diving
that the operator will face with the ASDS [Advanced SEAL Delivery
System],” Wattenbarger said. “We look at thermal exposure
limits for operators working in the SDV [SEAL Delivery Vehicle].”
There is a growing focus on batteries and fuel cells. Ideally,
SOCOM wants power sources capable of continuous operation with minimal
thermal and electromagnetic signatures, lightweight and requiring
low maintenance, as well as inexpensive, he said. “Tactical
power sources are needed for the communications equipment or the
sensors systems all the way up to the power sources for the ASDS.”
The advanced technology office recently worked on efforts to reduce
the radar signature of the AC-130 gunship aircraft. By projecting
the acoustic signature of the aircraft through a “synchro-phaser,”
Wattenbarger explained, “the propellers [are made] to counter
each other in the acoustic vibrations.”
Underwater communications poses a huge technical challenge, according
to Wattenbarger. The ability to communicate with SDVs and ASDS means
that the SEALs need “real-time communications between the
equipment and submarine,” said Wattenbarger.
The miniaturization of unmanned systems—air, ground and sea-based—is
a top priority, said Wattenbarger.
Using unmanned systems in an urban environment poses many questions
that yet do not have answers, said Air Force Maj. Steven Bishop,
from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. One of the questions
is how to perform seamless operations, he said. Big antennae are
a problem and a common environment for unmanned ground vehicles
to interact with aircraft does not exist, he said. AFSOC is interested
in pursuing an initiative to launch unmanned aircraft from gunships.
In the weapons arena, SOCOM is toying with directed-energy systems.
These will be both lethal and non-lethal weapons, said Wattenbarger.
The goal is to “have a weapon that is flexible and perhaps
even tunable to employ.
“We want to be able to use these weapons for some level of
force protection and protection against directed-energy effects
that others may use on us,” he said. There is an advanced
technology demonstration under way to develop an active denial system—a
high power microwave. “It does not hurt anymore than a bad
sunburn, but you do not want to stay in the beam once you have been
contacted,” said Wattenbarger. Another ongoing technology
demonstration is the advanced tactical laser, sponsored by SOCOM
and the U.S. Air Force. It will install a laser weapon on a gunship.
“It is going to be quite an effort on SOCOM’s part to
bring this together,” he said.
Training and mission rehearsal also are important areas for the
SOCOM research program, said Wattenbarger. “There are times
when they are on their way to a mission and finding themselves needing
to have updates from the intelligence information that is coming
in the reach back capability,” he said. “This all needs
to be held together to put together a little training vignette which
they can operate and learn from as they are in and out of a mission.”
SOCOM has also created simulations of parachute jumping. The medics
train on realistic patient simulators, “to allow them the
opportunity to handle the kind of casualties that they would experience
in a true operational environment,” he stressed.
In remarks to the symposium, Retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski,
the Pentagon’s director of force transformation, warned that
the conflict in Afghanistan should not be considered a template
for future wars. Cebrowski said that SOCOM should field full-service
maneuver force that includes precision strike as a major component.
The force should be a “high volume strike force,” capable
of reaching hotspots around the world and conducting dispersed offensive