NEWS FROM SOFIC: Special Operations Tech Leaders List Their Top Requirements

By Stew Magnuson and Mandy Mayfield
A U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airman participates in pre-deployment validation training at Melrose Air Force Range, New Mexico.

Photo: Air Force

TAMPA, Fla. — The national defense strategy, which emphasizes preparing for conflict with peer and near-peer adversaries, is causing Special Operations Command’s technology development leaders to rethink their priorities.

“The national defense strategy is pushing us towards near-peer competition," James Smith, SOCOM”s acquisition executive, said May 21 at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Lisa Sanders, SOCOM’s science and technology director, said “the work that we do in the Science and Technology Directorate — the money that we are provided — aligns with the national defense strategy."

Smith said the document emphasizes next-generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which involves “finding, fixing and finishing or exploiting” opponents. It will be a core challenge for the command to tackle.

“The question is: how do we do that? Can we do that from space? Can we do that from the cyber domain? Can we do that by using sensors? I think the answer is ‘yes’ to all those questions,” he said.

As for mobility, the command’s fleets of aircraft, submersibles and ground vehicles are set for the next few years, Smith said. “The challenge then for us is how do you get those platforms more relevant in a near-peer competition scenario? How do we make them more survivable?” he asked.

Navy SEALs just received the first of three dry-combat submersibles and SOCOM is already thinking about modifications to make them more “relevant” and more interoperable with future Navy submarines. “There are a lot of opportunities there,” he said.

Similarly, the Army is developing its future vertical lift program for a new generation of helicopters. Special Operations Command will look for industry to help it with SOF-unique modifications to those aircraft, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the SOCOM acquisition community is moving “very aggressively” in the persistent fires and effects domain, he said. “We are looking for a missile that can deployed by a small team or individually," he noted.

Improvised explosive devices are still a scourge for special operators, and IEDs attached to unmanned aerial systems are an emerging threat. Whether these bombs are in the ground or in the air, SOCOM is looking for devices to detect, defeat, exploit and analyze them, he said.

The hyper-enabled operator concept calls for technologies that reduce cognitive loads, increase situational awareness and allow for great decision-making. To improve communication with friendly forces, the command is looking for language translators with voice-to-text and text-to-voice capabilities, Smith said. Devices that can do facial recognition or tell special operators when someone they are talking to is under stress, would also be helpful, he noted.

“Those types of technologies at the edge with the operator greatly facilitate the types of engagements we ask our special operators to do,” Smith said.

Sanders’ science and technology division is looking for technologies at a lower readiness level. It doesn’t do basic research, but it does facilitate projects that will eventually make it to programs of record, which Smith oversees.

The top S&T priorities are: tactically relevant situational awareness; communications and navigation in all environments; tailored lethality; and biotechnologies, Sanders said. The technologies must fulfill SOF-unique requirements, she added.


Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

Comments (2)

Re: NEWS FROM SOFIC: Special Operations Tech Leaders List Their Top Requirements

Patton stated: The Golden Rule of War is: Speed, Simplicity, and Boldness.

John Cunningham at 5:12 PM
Re: NEWS FROM SOFIC: Special Operations Tech Leaders List Their Top Requirements

If I had a say, I would list these top priorities:
• Develop a SOF identification system or unique item because Russian SOFs look almost like US SOFs in terms of dress, helmets, NVGs, and tactical vests. It’s as if Russians buy American gear.
• Develop a way to deliver supplies to Allied forces without falling into enemy hands. Wood gliders might be a good way. And develop a lock or combo code so that the supplies can’t be opened by the enemy.
• Develop a way to trace and track stolen arms, weapons, and supplies that fall into enemy hands. This was kind of done in Vietnam with bobby trapping weapons.
• Develop a way to trace and track all that cash handed out to make Allies. Perhaps use some other form of currency. Millions of dollars spent on dubious friendships didn’t help Foreign Affairs or Operators.
• Develop a way so that SOCOM know if an Operator is KIA, MIA, or POW. Op. Red Wings is a classic example: who, what, where, how, why, and when? There really has to be a better way to rescue and save a POW/MIA without going on a massive wild hunt/chase.
• Develop a robot dog tracker---yes, that’s right, use Boston Dynamics to get a robot dog to hunt down for POW or MIAs…or use a small drone.
• Redevelop the Iron Man Suit to repel bullets because that was what the intended function was for. Use layered armor or ERA if SOCOM has to. It’s kind of silly that Iron Man can’t resist bullets. Use a robotic Bobcat if need be to get first into the door.
• For Operator’s sake, redefine your requirements from vague to more specific.
• Buy the 5.56mm minigun at 16 pounds and make an ammo backpack for it. It can be carried and fired like Blaine in the movie “Predator” and is lighter than the MK48. Add it to the squad for awesome suppressive fire.
• Make some better body armor like armored shoulder pads or a motorcycle helmet to protect the face from shrapnel. Examine where Operators get hit the most and develop some countermeasures.
• Develop a rolling armored shield or popup. SOFs really do travel light, fast, and with minimal to no armor; they need something to use as cover.
• Hire more and better therapists. The news about Operators going wrong, bad, or Rambo in the news on each other or using excessive force is pretty sad. No one wants spousal or child abuse either.

Krashnovians at 10:27 PM
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