SOCOM Eyeing New Munitions Technology While Increasing Procurement
TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command is boosting its procurement of munitions to replenish depleted stockpiles while seeking new capabilities to meet future threats, officials said May 23.
Last year, the command’s Program Executive Office-Fixed Wing had six programs related to precision-guided munitions; this year, it has 22, said Lt. Col. Jeff LaFleur, SOCOM materiel leader for integrated strike programs, at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida.
The command requested over $309 million in base and overseas contingency operations funding for precision-guided munitions in fiscal year 2019, according to budget documents. That number is up from around $75 million in both 2017 and 2018.
That funding, if approved by lawmakers, would go towards purchasing 329 AGM-176 Griffin air-to-ground missiles and 476 small-glide munitions, and modifying 84 small diameter bombs and “precision-guided munitions maritime systems,” according to budget documents.
The increase in funding is needed because special operators and other U.S. military components are shooting “record amounts of munitions,” LaFleur said.
“We’re … trying to just chase that problem [of] having enough munitions to fight,” he said during a PEO-Fixed Wing session. Additionally, "we’re trying to make our munitions better. … We are looking at several different areas to improve our capabilities," he noted.
Specifically, LaFleur wants operators to have command and control of the weapons “all the way down to the target,” and be able to control the fuzing and yield effects on the warhead.
Currently, SOCOM has to field multiple variants of systems such as the AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile based on different yields, he noted. “I don’t want to do that. I want someone to solve the physics problem to control the yield on the warhead.”
Not only that, but LaFleur wants operators to be able to control the yield in flight. “I want to be able to be prepared … [if] I finally get the perfect shot, and a worst case scenario happens and a kid runs out,” he said. “I want to be able to move the weapon and dud it.
“We have to be able to do that and I know we can do that,” he added.
Special Operations Command is also interested in fielding munition systems that are interoperable with international partners, he said.
The Defense Department is looking to ramp up procurement of munitions and is pushing contractors to build them as quickly as possible, LaFleur noted. If industry partners have a system that is ready to be demonstrated, SOCOM will provide a testing range or aircraft to try and speed up the procurement process, he said.
“If we do that … the opportunity for you is that I can buy hundreds and then thousands” of weapons, he added. “Bring us your ideas. We’re very interested in placing … a lot of small bets to broaden this portfolio and get capability fast to our warfighters.”
Industry has already begun moving to boost production by hiring additional employees and adding new work shifts, he noted.
Meanwhile, SOCOM is working with industry to develop a way to launch a swarm of small, low-cost, reusable drones with advanced payloads from the back of an aircraft.
PEO-Fixed Wing recently demonstrated tactical offboard sensing capabilities, or TOBS, which would be a key component of a future swarming capability, LaFleur said.
The technology would give air crews the ability to see the battlefield when the onboard sensor views are obscured. SOCOM plans to build a control system on the AC-130J gunship that would be connected to common launch tubes that would house small UAVs.
“What we have told industry is if you bring us UAVs that fit into those tubes, then we have set up a system that’s open architecture to be able to take those,” told reporters after the session.
The control system architecture is now complete, and SOCOM wants to find small, capable sensors that can fit in the common launch tubes, are powerful enough to transmit data and have at least four hours of endurance, he noted. From there, the timeline to field new capabilities could be speedy, he added.
“If you can bring me a drone, if you can bring me a solution I will demo it rapidly,” he said. “You show up here, we’ll have it in the air in six months. And if it works, we could field it in 12 months.”
The command is already in discussions with several industry partners, but LaFleur declined to identify them.
“At SOFIC especially, we have been talking to several of our partners,” he said. “There is a lot of interest out there.”