JUST IN: Special Operators Look to Space to Boost Capabilities (UPDATED)

By Stew Magnuson

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TAMPA, Florida — The day when a military satellite circles Earth with a U.S. Special Operations Command logo affixed to its side is not going to happen anytime soon, but SOCOM is increasingly looking to space-based technology to assist its global missions, leaders said this week.

Army Gen. Bryon S. Fenton, SOCOM commander, said the past four years have seen increasing coordination among SOCOM, Cyber Command and Space Command.

A recent mission in Syria where the three commands coordinated to take down an ISIS leader shows a convergence of the three arrows in the U.S. military’s quiver.

“Many of our teammates in the community are talking about a SOF-Space-Cyber Triad … that brings value back to this nation,” he said in a keynote speech at the SOF Week conference in Tampa, Florida.

The recent mission required special operators to navigate through advanced air defenses by using “integrated cyber effects and space-based capabilities unfamiliar to us in years’ past but becoming the norm on today’s battlefield,” he said.

“We will see more of that in the future,” he added.

Rather than building satellites dedicated to the special operations missions, the command is looking to hitch a ride on other agencies’ spacecraft with hosted payloads, Col. Nathan Foster, SOCOM program manager for remote capabilities.

His office supports the collection of intelligence through multiple platforms, including “national capabilities” — military speak for spy satellites mostly operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.

However, as of last year, the command has a small cubesat, the Modular Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (MISR-B), on orbit and is preparing to launch two more — MISRs A and D — this June, he said.

Cubesats generally weigh about 4.4 pounds and have short lives in space, falling into the atmosphere and burning up. They have been used as a low-cost means to do everything from communications to remote sensing.

“We’re very excited to be able to demonstrate on orbit capabilities to our programs of record," he said, although he could not go into details publicly on their missions.

However, the end goal is to improve the ability of special operators conducting missions at the tactical level to leverage the data that other agencies such as the NRO provide and to quickly communicate vital intelligence to and from the “tactical edge,” Foster’s slide presentation indicated.

The command is also looking to place payloads on military satellites that will be dedicated to special ops missions, said Acquisition Executive James Smith, although he didn’t foresee a satellite entirely dedicated to the command, he said. SOCOM is working with the Space Development Agency, which is now under Space Force, to place some of these specialized payloads in orbit, he added.

Meanwhile, Fenton said “the more we bolt in [space capabilities] to the SOCOM enterprise … the better off we will be.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated who the Space Development Agency reports to.

Topics: Special Operations, Space

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