SEAL Teams Need Better Communications, Battery Tech

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Photo: Navy

TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command is looking for a slew of new maritime technologies that will give operators — including SEALs — a tactical edge during dangerous missions, officials said May 23.

“Power and energy is the one [area] that I think is probably the biggest need common across all the platforms,” John Bailey, chief engineer at Special Operations Command’s program executive office for maritime, told National Defense.

The office — which oversees the procurement of Navy SEAL equipment and special operator watercraft among other maritime platforms — is engaged and committed to finding a safe, high-energy battery or other technology solution that can effectively power up many of the devices and equipment under its portfolio, he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida.

Lithium-ion batteries, which can sometimes present safety challenges, are usually not allowed on submarines. Special ops divers are often transported on such vessels, requiring alternative power sources, he said during remarks at the conference.

“The reality is that for us to put something into a submarine or … even onto a surface craft or into an aircraft, they all have to meet Navy or Air Force standards,” he said. “Lithium-ion batteries are a challenge.”

PEO Maritime has been working with SOCOM’s science and technology directorate to test out a variety of safe lithium-ion battery technologies, and has embarked on a few “game-changing” efforts, he added. The office is now looking to engage with industry to find options that will work, he added.

PEO Maritime is also interested in new communication technology, Bailey said. “Nobody else in SOCOM does underwater comms, so that is an area that SOCOM will be having to invest” in, he said. Radio frequency is unavailable underwater, so alternative options must be found to connect SOF divers with operators above the water, he said.

“Really when you think about where we’re trying to go with maritime communications, it’s the whole network,” he said.

The office is working with SOCOM’s program executive office for command, control, communications and computers on this issue, he added. PEO Maritime will then take items developed and marinize them for use on its platforms, he said. The office is reaching out to a variety of organizations to get at the technology and will put out a series of requests for information and requests for proposals over the next few years, Bailey said.

“We’re really looking to build a community of academia, industry as well as service labs that are all interested in figuring out how their individual technologies can talk to each other,” he said. PEO Maritime is also looking to invest new signature management, unmanned and navigation technologies, Bailey added.

Enhancing communications for SOF divers is one way the office plans to get at SOCOM’s new “hyper-enabled operator” concept, he said. The effort, which was announced at the 2018 SOFIC, aims to give special operators enhanced capabilities and is focused on communication, computing, data and human-machine interfaces technology.

Overall, PEO Maritime executes about $1.5 billion over the future years defense program, said Program Executive Officer Capt. Kate Dolloff.

“Procurement continues to increase as we’re recapitalizing our fleet both on the undersea side and on the surface side,” she said.

The program office is currently enjoying widespread support in Congress, she noted. “We have got quite a bit of support on the Hill right now,” she said. “Anytime we’ve gone to Congress and asked for anything they’ve helped us out.” That’s a marked turn over the past five years, where the office had not received as much support, she noted. The change, she said, is a “credit to the folks that we do business with.”

Bailey noted that the office is open to working with anyone and is interested in utilizing a variety of contracting options, he said. “If you have a technology that we want, we will work with you and figure out how we can get there,” he said.


Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, Maritime Security

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