Special Operations Command Outlines New Sensor, Platform Roadmap
SOCOM uses ISR assets to gain situational awareness and destroy enemy targets. Col. Matt Atkins, the head of SOCOM’s intelligence capabilities and requirements division, said the demand for ISR is “insatiable.”
A recently conducted review of requirements, capabilities and resource constraints, has led SOCOM to the conclusion that it needs to realign its portfolio investments.
“In the post 9/11 environment there was really a dizzying investment in ISR as folks rushed capabilities to the field in huge numbers and often with not a lot of foresight,” Atkins said at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. “Now in the new more austere fiscal environment, we sort of have to make sense of what’s in the inventory.”
SOCOM had to “rethink” the way it does ISR. The command now recognizes that it doesn’t need “Cadillac” quality assets to do every job, he said.
“A field commander would say, 'Hey I need an MQ-9 high-end Reaper to do something that a far smaller and less capable platform could do.' So essentially there was no nuance in the way we did our requirements process,” Atkins said.
Going forward, SOCOM will buy more “Ford” quality platforms while focusing on sustaining and improving the capabilities of high-end platforms that are already in the fleet, he said.
SOCOM also wants to invest in more affordable, less-complex assets to facilitate ISR cooperation with international partners.
“We need an ability to create and purchase and field platforms that not only are affordable for our partners but are employable by partners," he said. An intelligence sharing agreement should be "baked in" when SOCOM buys a platform, so it can have a Nigerian sitting at a joint operations center as it chases Boko Haram with a small unmanned aircraft system, Atkins said.
Airborne assets currently account for about 80 percent of the command's ISR portfolio. To save money and diversify the portfolio, more investments will be made in ground-based and maritime-based platforms, as well as space and cyber capabilities.
“We need to reduce our reliance on airborne platforms,” Atkins said. “We’re going to be putting considerable energy into exploring and understanding our way to expand ground-based and maritime-based ISR… to buy down our chemical dependence on the airborne realm, which is not always available and it’s probably the most costly.”
Atkins told conference attendees that SOCOM needs help inform industry when it comes to developing better sensors and improving data transport between ISR platforms and the special operators who rely on them.
The command also wants to reduce the number of people needed for processing, exploitation and dissemination of collected intelligence, which is human capital intensive.
“We’re looking for technology to buy down that,” Atkins said.
SOCOM officials have visited Silicon Valley to explore the idea of using small and mini commercial satellites to improve the command’s ISR coverage.
“We’ve just started to scratch the surface on that,” he said. That kind of technology could potentially “fill the gap where our traditional intelligence sensors don’t have dwell just because of national demands. So SOCOM in particular is leaning forward on the commercial space sector, and we look forward to some pretty significant partnerships in space on that.”