VSOFIC NEWS: SEAL Teams Get Funding Boost for New Tech

By Stew Magnuson

Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Andrew McKaskle

Special Operations Command has wrapped up most of its work developing new undersea and surface craft for SEAL teams, but is on the lookout for cutting edge technologies that can make them more lethal and survivable, SOCOM acquisition officials said May 13.

John Bailey, chief engineer for program executive office maritime, said SOCOM has a technology insertion roadmap and a detailed list of items it needs to enhance its new platforms.

Last year, the PEO was looking for money to fund the items on the list. “The good news is we have gotten that funding,” he said during a talk at the Virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, organized by the National Defense Industrial Association.

The vehicles include undersea platforms such as the SEAL Delivery Vehicle MK 11 and dry combat submersible, and surface systems such as the Combatant Craft Assault, Combatant Craft Heavy and Combatant Craft Medium.

“The base capability is really there but there is a technology insertion roadmap aligned with National Defense Strategy to really enhance our competitive edge," Bailey said.

Capt. Kate Dolloff, program executive officer for maritime, noted that unlike special operations PEOs for aviation and land forces that rely heavily on adapting technologies developed by the Air Force and Army, most of the platforms her office develops are unique.

“We get a lot of support from the Navy as subject matter experts, but we do not get much in the way of hardware,” she said.

The PEO’s technology roadmap is closely tied to the National Defense Strategy, she noted. The NDS, released in 2018, focuses on great power competition and emphasizes that military systems need to be more lethal and survivable.

To enhance survivability, for example, all of the surface boats used by SEAL teams are receiving forward-looking infrared sensors to “detect, recognize, identify, range, track and highlight objects of interest in the maritime environment,” according to a presentation slide. Twenty-one of a planned 58 systems have been delivered.

PEO maritime's technology areas of interest for fiscal years 2020 to 2024 include enhanced undersea communications and networking. These are technologies that are normally developed along with the Navy, Bailey said.

High-energy, safe lithium-ion batteries for submersibles to extend their range is also a priority, he said.

“There's amazing capability and innovation being done by industry every day in battery technology. The challenge on our side is to figure out how to verify that they are safe enough for use on military assets including Navy vessels, even submarines,” Bailey said.

Unmanned technologies on the roadmap include the MK 18 Mod 1 Swordfish, a man-portable unmanned underwater vehicle intended to expand situational awareness in contested environments. The strategy is to acquire the service-common general purpose platform and adapt it for SOCOM use, according to a presentation slide.

As for unmanned surface vessels, Bailey said that isn’t in the cards yet.

“There isn't a program of record yet, but we are watching that work being done in Navy closely. And I think there may be opportunities in the future in this space. And this is also an area that AI and machine learning I think can figure prominently in the future,” he said.

PEO maritime is also looking for any technology that allows it to increase its efficiency and effectiveness when operating with big Navy. Those capabilities could include communications or data fusion, he said.

“I would caution that this is an area that's highly technical, and there are some very specific technologies we're looking for. So we are typically looking for companies that have established capabilities,” he added.

Like most military services, the PEO is also looking for better precision navigation and timing technologies to enhance GPS, he said.

“There's been a lot of investment across DoD," Bailey said. "Our role would be to take those technologies, marinize them, and make sure they're packaged appropriately to withstand the harsh maritime environment."

As far as training and simulation, in the past PEO maritime has invested in craft simulators. “We're currently moving more towards virtual reality and augmented reality because those are much more affordable,” he said.

One SEAL vessel that has not undergone a major redesign in recent years is the Special Operations Craft-Riverine.

“It’s still our venerable riverine capability and it’s a great hull," said Capt. Rocky Russell, program manager for surface systems. But it is aging.

“We’re starting to look at a serious design effort … and what the next-generation craft for riverine looks like,” he said.

Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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