Magazine article National Defense

Special Operators List Equipment Needs

Magazine article National Defense

Special Operators List Equipment Needs

Article excerpt

* When two dozen Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound in May 2011, each was wearing a $65,000, state-of-the-art set of night-vision goggles unavailable to any other fighting force.

It is one of many examples of how U.S. special operators have access to the most technologically advanced weapons and gear on the market. Still, they are always looking for improvements.

Special Operations Command constantly solicits industry for technologies that improve upon existing gear or that can perform a desired function that is beyond the reach of current equipment.

Lisa Sanders, SOCOM's science and technology chief in May ran down a wish list of gadgets and capabilities at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Topping the list are lighter and more flexible body armor, advanced night-vision goggles and portable infrared sensors. Operators also need improved forensic devices to gather information from "sensitive sites" in the field, and biometric tools that can identify combatants that hide among civilian populations.

Through broad agency announcements (BAA), the directorate is able to gain access to off-the-shelf technologies and engineering breakthroughs.

The directorate hosts an experimentation event three times a year to allow industry, academia and other government agencies to see how certain technologies work in an operational environment.

The latest BAA, which called for proposals for a tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS), was released the day of Sanders' SOFIC speech and has drawn proposals from industry and government agencies.

The suit is seen as an infantry uniform that can provide enhanced strength and improved ballistic protection while preserving the wearer's fluid movement. Using wide-area networking and sensors attached to their bodies, operators will have more situational awareness of the action around them and of their own vital signs.

SOCOM has no patience for drawn-out development programs. Only gear that is ready for fielding is given serious consideration, Sanders and other SOF officials said. The idea behind the BAAs and subsequent technical experimentation events is to find out what is on the market, identify items that work for SOF and field them in as little time as possible.

Participants had to submit a summary of their proposal describing how each would achieve the desired characteristics with current and emerging technologies--just two weeks after the BAA was issued. Demonstrations are scheduled for early July at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Envisioned as a hybrid of body armor and battle uniform, the initial TALOS capability should be ready within a year, and SOCOM would like to field the suit within three years.

Sanders described four main areas in which SOCOM wants to advance its technological capabilities: Comprehensive signature management to conceal the purpose and origin of communication signals in the field; human performance, which includes gear like the TALOS suit and lethal and non-lethal weapons; weapons and gear for use in anti-access, area denial situations; and improvement of battlespace awareness to include biometric devices and other portable sensors.

SOCOM also wants to improve what it calls "small-unit dominance"--allowing a handful of operators to infiltrate a contested environment and, through a combination of technology and training, have the capabilities of a much larger force. …

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