SOCOM Will Spend Bonus Dollars on Modernization

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Special Operations Command will receive $3.4 billion in new funding between 2003 and 2007. Most of those dollars will be spent on aircraft upgrades and other modernization programs.

In recent years, SOCOM had seen its moderni-zation budget plunge from $729 million in 2000 to $401 million in 2002. But priorities changed when the war in Afghanistan started last October. Hence the plus-up for the special operations forces.

The funds will be allocated as follows:

The overall budget for SOCOM in fiscal year 2003 is approximately $4.8 billion. About 41 percent goes to salaries and benefits, 37 percent for operations and maintenance, 10 percent for research, 10 percent for procurement and 2 percent for military construction.

Despite the soaring budgets, SOCOM plans to seek further increases. The current budget, “is not enough money to transform and modernize the force,” said the deputy chief of SOCOM, Army Lt. Gen. William F. Tangney. “I think we can go up to about $6 billion a year,” he said in a speech to the Special Operations symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Tangney said that he plans to request new funding in the fiscal 2004 budget both for modernization and to expand the size of the force. “We would still be under 2 percent of the total Defense Department’s budget,” he noted.

SOCOM currently has 46,000 members (27,000 on active duty). Approximately 8,000 have been involved in the ongoing anti-terrorism campaign in Central Asia. Typically, about 4,000 special operations forces are deployed at any given time.

Having to double the size of the deployed force created a “logistics and mobility” crunch, said Tangney. “We were not right-sized for a global campaign.” In the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom, “we needed to draw infrastructure and support from the European Command.”

Communications and logistics problems during the war were particularly severe for the Navy SEALs, said Rear Adm. Eric T. Olson, chief of the Naval Special Warfare Command. However, he said, “Those are easier to fix than shortfalls in force structure.”

The SEALs’ presence in the Central Command theater expanded threefold since September 11, said Olson. “While preparing for a larger war, we continued to interdict and seize ships that are smuggling oil from Iraq.” He noted that ship interdiction is not a new mission for the SEALs. They have been doing that for many years. SEALs intercept ships known to be non-compliant with the UN oil embargo against Iraq. They climb aboard, during the brief period when the ship is sailing in international waters.

These are dangerous missions, Olson said. “At times, the ship crews have strewn wire beehive across their decks, which limits the SEALs’ ability to move in the dark.” Nonetheless, he said, the SEALs interdiction work has “taken an estimated $20 billion a year from the pockets of Saddam Hussein.”

In fiscal 2003, SOCOM will receive $431 million for research and development, $777 million for procurement and $219 million for operations and maintenance.

During a presentation at the symposium, SOCOM’s acquisition executive, Harry E. Schulte, listed the following programs as the command’s top priorities:

The CV-22 will be used for long-range infiltration, evacuation and resupply missions. SOCOM plans to buy 50 aircraft during the next 10 years. The program has been grounded for more than a year, as a result of deadly crashes, but flight tests are expected to resume this summer, said Schulte. One problem in this program is the schedule, he said. Deliveries are scheduled to run until 2017. “That’s too long. We need to finish by 2012.”

Air Force Lt. Gen. Paul Hester, commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, endorsed the CV-22 aircraft in remarks at the conference. “The terrain and elevation in Afghanistan has validated our need for the capability of an aircraft like the CV-22,” he said. “We need the technology that this aircraft offers, and I am excited that testing is going to begin soon.”

SOCOM has been testing a new prototype of the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS). The plan was to buy six of these 65-foot long mini-submarines used to transport naval special warfare forces (called SEALs) from a submarine to the shore. But there is not enough money in the budget to buy six, said Schulte. Three ASDS systems are funded in the five-year plan. All three are expected to be in the fleet by 2009.

Meanwhile, said Schulte, there are still some technical problems in the ASDS that need to be solved. One of them is the silver-zinc battery. “We need more performance out of the battery,” he said.

A companion vehicle to the ASDS will be a smaller, personal transport vehicle, a sort of underwater motor scooter that SEALs will use to move from the ASDS to the beach.

The mission-enhanced Little Bird program will upgrade 45 MH-6J helicopters. The improvements will include modifications to the airframe to increase its load capacity from 3,950 to 4,700 pounds, a new landing gear system and dampers, an upgraded tail rotor-drive system, an enlarged cargo-door opening and a crashworthy fuel system.

The fiscal 2003 budget funds eight speed boats, known as the special operations craft riverine, used to insert and extract SEALs in riverine environments. SOCOM is buying eight crafts, but has a requirement for 18, said Schulte.

The SEALs are pursuing research work towards developing a next-generation craft, said Olson. Any new ship, he said, would have to be compatible and interoperable with conventional Navy vessels. “We are working with the Navy to develop [a fast transport that would be] the C-130 of the sea—something configurable for many missions, including special operations,” he said.

This year, SOCOM plans to start the MH-47 (a special operations version of the Army Chinook cargo helicopter) service life-extension program. By 2009, 37 MH-47D/E aircraft will be upgraded to the MH-47G configuration, adding 20 years to the life of the aircraft. The plan is to rebuild the airframe and install new electronic wires and hydraulic lines. The helicopter will receive a new cockpit and the airframe will be stiffened to reduce vibration.

The directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) system will be installed on eight AC-130H and 13 AC-130U gunships, on 24 MC-130H and 14 MC-130E transports and on all 50 CV-22s. There may be plans to equip helicopters in the future, but no final decision has been made yet, said Schulte.

At least 27 MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft will receive air refueling capabilities by 2008. According to Gen. Paul Hester, there is a severe “shortage in tanking capability.” Currently, he said, “We can only fulfill 35 percent of the requests for air refueling.”

With nearly an extra billion dollars to convert four existing C-130s to AC-130U Specter gunships, the commander of SOCOM, Air Force Gen. Charles Holland, “is happy about the new AC-130s,” said Schulte. “But what he really needs is to modernize the current fleet.” SOCOM has 13 gunships.

Among the most useful features in the gunships, said Hester, is the ability to receive streaming video broadcast from the Predator unmanned aircraft. Two H models and two G model gunships were modified for the direct video capability. In Afghanistan, he said, this technology helped improve targeting and maneuverability.

Schulte noted that one the most successful acquisition programs at SOCOM is for tactical radios. Of the radios that have seen action in Afghanistan, SOCOM received favorable feedback on two: the multiband, multimission radio (MBMMR) and the multiband inter/intra team radio (MBITR). The command has bought 190 MBMMR radios, from a total order of 3,561. Made by Raytheon Systems Inc., the MBMMR is a man-pack, 30-512 Megahertz radio. The funding through fiscal 2007 is $54 million. SOCOM ordered 10,210 MBITR radios from Thales Communications Inc. and so far has purchased 4,648. The command budgeted $74 million through fiscal 2007 for the 30-512 Megahertz handheld radio.

Eventually, said Schulte, all SOCOM radios will migrate to the software-based Joint Tactical Radio System, currently in development.

The AC-X advanced tactical laser is a technology demonstration project to show the viability of installing a directed-energy weapon on an AC-130 gunship. An operational prototype could be ready as early as fiscal 2006.

Since the war in Afghanistan began last October, the special operations forces received authorization to buy equipment on short notice. Such “urgent deployment acquisitions”—which were needed in the field within days or weeks—were purchased with a portion of the so-called Defense Emergency Response Fund. This fund included $532 million requested by the Pentagon, plus $142 million that Congress added, specifically to buy various types of radios.

The special operations forces fighting in Afghanistan sent an urgent order for laser-targeting devices and remote-camera controllers.

In response to appeals from forces in the field, SOCOM officials went out looking for Toyota 4x4 trucks—Tacomas, Tundras—and Polaris 6x6 all-terrain vehicles. Schulte said that the Toyota dealer in Lexington, Ky., sold every truck on the lot within minutes. He noted that the Toyota trucks allow U.S. forces in Afghanistan to blend in with the locals, who mostly drive Toyotas.

Many of the items on the list of “urgent acquisitions” have yet to be produced or delivered, because they are technically complex and are not available off-the-shelf, said Schulte. The small drones are a case in point.

U.S. commandos also requested rifles that can shoot Russian ammunition. They wanted to take advantage of the easy availability of Russian ammo in Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will not go as far as using the Russian rifles, because they “don’t like the reliability of the Russian weapon,” said Schulte. SOCOM is working with the Navy warfare technology laboratory in Crane, Ind., to make a modified M-16 rifle that can fire Russian ammo. “That is hard to do,” said Schulte. “It won’t be done right away.”

The commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Army Col. Joseph L. Votel, told the NDIA symposium that, when it came to having enough equipment and weapons to operate in Afghanistan, he had little to complain about.

Unlike other units in the U.S. Army, he said, “We are exceptionally well resourced, with money, with equipment, with people.”

Votel was in charge of an October 19 raid, where Rangers were to parachute into an airstrip in Afghanistan, located 100 km southwest of Kandahar and 100 km north of the Afghan-Pakistani border. The airstrip was to be surveyed, so it could be used later by U.S. Marines.

He cited some of the lessons the Rangers learned from the operation. “Organize, equip and operate every day as you would for combat,” said Votel. “A lot of things that we did [in Afghanistan] had been rehearsed in the past.”

In general, he said, “the equipment we had was the right equipment [even though] there is always something I need that is not available.” The more valuable gear, in addition to weapons, was night vision goggles and the handheld MBITR radios.

Among the items that Votel did not have in Afghanistan, and would have liked to have, were handheld thermal sensors (FLIR) and a local-area network to link sensors and shooters. “Anything that can increase commander’s common operating picture” is valuable, he said.

“We made good use of local-area networks to flatten out the organization,” said Votel. “It’s not uncommon for a platoon leader to be able to download a piece of information and brief the squad leaders. … That was key in this operation.”

Because there were so many trenches in that airfield, he added, “It was important to have the right equipment to look inside trenches.”

A formidable enemy in Afghanistan turned out to be the weather and the terrain. “We went into this operation with a great degree of respect for the Taliban. … But what we found, of equal concern, was the environment: the weather, winds, dust.”

The dust poses significant dangers to helicopters trying to land in Afghanistan, said Hester. The inability to see the ground during landings in dusty strips is called “brownout.” Those brownouts partly caused the 1980 Desert One fiasco, “and we still encounter that problem today,” Hester said. “We are continuing to refine our procedures and looking for technology that will assist our helicopters in engaging in brownout landings.”

Topics: Special Operations, Budget, Aviation, Battlefield Communications

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