Drones, Communications, Surveillance Technology on Special Operations Command's Wish List

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
A U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator aircraft flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) May 14, 2013, in the Atlantic Ocean.

TAMPA, Fla. — Advanced unmanned aerial systems, big data analysis software and communication systems are on the wish list of Special Operations Command’s leaders.

Special operators face complex operational environments, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Corps Special Operations Command. That requires improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, he said.

“As we become more dispersed on the battlefield, we need to be able to launch and have that sensor capability in a distributed fashion,” he said May 25 during a panel discussion at the 2016 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. SOFIC is hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, the publisher of National Defense.

SOCOM units prefer small drones that require minimum infrastructure. They do not have the luxury of an airfield to launch a large unmanned aircraft — like the Reaper, he said. Additionally, operators will need to recover the aircraft in jungle and urban environments. A vertical take-off and landing system would be ideal for these situations, he noted.

MARSOC is also looking for systems that can counter enemy drones, he said. More capable unmanned aircraft are less expensive to procure and organizations such as the Islamic State have already used unmanned aircraft for surveillance purposes.

“We are only a couple degrees away from having the airborne IED,” Osterman said. “How do I counter that capability whether it be kinetically or non-kinetically?”

Air Force Maj. Gen. Albert “Buck” Elton III, deputy commanding general of Joint Special Operations Command, said enemies are exploiting emerging technology. SOCOM must stay on the cutting edge of innovation, he said.

“We need to be faster and accept some acquisition risk,” he said. “Our enemies … are willing to fail multiple times. In fact, they are willing to accept tremendous losses to advance their cause.”

These terrorist organizations are determined, innovative, redundant, resilient and distributed, he added. They develop affordable but lethal weapons, especially in the area of explosives, which are made from commercially available materials. Additionally, they are working on chemical and biological weapons, he said.

SOCOM is also looking for software that can rapidly analyze mounds of data, said Army Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

“We’ve got endless amounts of data but we still have not found what I call the holy grail of … the ops center, and that’s the ability to seamlessly integrate … all these data streams,” he said.

SOCOM needs technology that can analyze information at the tactical and operation level and put it on a single pane of glass, he said.

Another need is to be able to reach out to populations where governments or enemies are blocking access to information, Tovo said.

“In order to influence populations, targeted groups or key individuals, we need the ability to project digital access into denied or contested areas. A 21st century Voice of America, if you will,” he said.

“Obviously our adversaries have denied and controlled public access in a lot of places, so what we’re looking for are systems and payloads that can project 3G/4G-wide WiFi coverage over wide areas to enable employment of secured, commercial communications.”

Such a technology would be a game changer in an electronic warfare environment, he added.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles, Science and Engineering Technology, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, SOF Weapons Systems

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