Special Operations Command in late April released a detailed solicitation of equipment Commander Adm. William McRaven envisions as “game-changing” technologies for future commandos.
Special operators already use the military’s most technologically sophisticated equipment. They receive new and improved gear more quickly and more often than their conventional force counterparts.
The broad area announcement is the latest in a constant stream of general solicitations SOCOM makes to industry seeking equipment superior to what it currently provides to troops.
The BAA for the “advancement of technologies for use by Special Operations Forces” released in April includes perennial SOCOM needs like better communications systems and lighter, stronger body armor. This year’s list includes a few science-fiction sounding inclusions like “through-wall imaging and sensing.”
It also calls for soldier-worn heads-up display devices that sound a lot like a militarized version of Google Glass. The device should be suitable for day or night operations and have a low profile. The BAA recommends it be incorporated into eyeglasses and/or sunglasses. It should also wirelessly import and export full motion video data feeds, support augmented reality, have integrated sensors, display maps and be compatible with apps, the document says.
This year, SOCOM appears to have an appetite for weapons. The list of desired firearms and ammunition reads like John Rambo’s Christmas wish list.
The fictional Vietnam War veteran-turned-vigilante is famous for firing an M-60 belt-fed machine gun from the hip. SOCOM wants kits to turn their primary service rifle — the M-4A1 carbine — into a smaller version of the M-60.
“The M-4A1 belt feed kit enables the operator to convert the M-4A1 from magazine fed to a belt fed lightweight machine gun,” the BAA reads. SOCOM wants the kit to include quick-change barrel lengths of 12, 14.5 and 20 inches, which would allow a single weapon to perform multiple missions ranging from close-quarters combat to designated marksmanship. The document also calls for the weapon to improve the rapid-fire accuracy of the current squad automatic weapon by 50 percent.
SOCOM also wants a version of the M4 for personal defense that is smaller and lighter than the standard rifle. It must weigh less than 6 pounds, measure less than 18 inches so it can be easily concealed and fire standard 5.56mm NATO ammunition.
M-4 style “pistols” that have very short barrels and are without a butt stock are popular on the civilian market, especially with do-it-yourself builders of custom rifles.
“The personal defense weapon is significantly smaller and lighter than the M-4A1 with capabilities beyond any pistol,” the BAA says. “There are two types of interest: those based on an operator/unit armor modification to an M-4A1 carbine and those based on a unique weapon design.”
Covert weapons are a priority with commandos, even when it comes to their larger weapon systems. SOCOM is looking for a “concealable urban sniper rifle” that weighs less than 8 pounds and can be disassembled to fit in a small case measuring 12 inches by 16 inches.
“The CUSR is a small and light sniper rifle that can be rapidly dissembled for concealed carry and rapidly reassembled by the operator to engage a target,” the document says.
Specifications call for the CUSR to either incorporate a suppressor or be compatible with existing noise-canceling devices. There also exists a need for sniper rifle barrels that are more accurate and last longer. SOCOM is calling for advanced barrel technologies that incorporate new alloys and forging methods for all of its sniper rifle calibers.
The largest of those calibers is .338 Lapua, which is often used to disable vehicles or for long-range shots against personnel. SOCOM wants a retooled .338 round that would be fired from its precision sniper rifle at ranges from 500 to 1,500 meters. The round should be able to pierce body armor at up to 800 meters and cinder block structures with walls more than a foot thick. Snipers should also be able to disable vehicle and small boat engines with the round, the solicitation says.
SOCOM officials not only want more powerful ammunition, but also smarter bullets, grenades and bombs. First on the wish list is airburst technology that can hit targets that are behind cover by exploding in mid-air when it has reached a desired range. The Army has been working on such weapons for years with little luck. The XM25 counter-defilade target engagement system was fielded in limited numbers with soldiers in Afghanistan, but the program was terminated in 2013 because of poor performance.
Incorporating guidance capabilities in small-arms ammunition has also been a longtime desire of SOCOM and conventional forces. This year, Special Operations Command officials are asking industry to propose precision-guided “munitions capable of delivering highly accurate kinetic effects on stationary, moving [and] soft targets, or the interior of hardened targets at ranges beyond crew served weapons effective range.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has funded studies into “smart” bullets that once fired would seek a laser target indicator. The system has been tested successfully at long range but not fielded. SOCOM wants similar technologies incorporated into 40mm tube-launched grenades, self-propelled handheld grenades, 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle ammunition and handheld, armed unmanned aerial systems.
Also on the BAA wish list are “acoustic reduction kits” to include retrofit mufflers, intakes, bafflings and other components “tailored to each specific vehicle to reduce its acoustic signature” by 30 percent or more. DARPA helped in that regard when in April it awarded Logos Technologies a small business innovation research grant to develop a “near-silent” hybrid-electric motorcycle especially for SOF.
The bike’s engine would allow for extended periods of almost-silent off-road riding and generates electric power that can be used to charge other electronics in the field.
Developed in partnership with San Francisco-based electric motorcycle producer BRD, the program will produce the first two-wheel-drive, multi-fuel hybrid engine integrated with a full-size off-road motorcycle, according to company information.
While special operations is the one military component that will have nominally more funding next year than last, it likely will not be able to afford all the technologies on the list. In fact, the document says SOCOM will “notionally” spend around $18 million on 10 total BAA proposals.
Manufacturers large and small are welcome to submit proposals for any of the listed technologies until June 12 by visiting www.socom.mil/sordac/Pages/BAAHome.aspx