Magazine article National Defense

Special Operations Command Modernizing Aircraft, Investing in New Technology

Magazine article National Defense

Special Operations Command Modernizing Aircraft, Investing in New Technology

Article excerpt

Special Operations Command is upgrading weapons systems, investing in new technology and modernizing its fleet of aircraft.

Military leaders have said special operations forces will be relied upon heavily in future combat, humanitarian and relief missions as the armed services largely leave war zones. Operators will fan out across the globe to locations, such as Africa, that often lack robust base support.

One of SOCOM's largest investments will go toward upgrading and sustaining its aircraft, which transport and support operators around the world in remote destinations.

SOCOM is in the process of recapitalizing its C-130 Hercules fleet, said Air Force Col. Michael Schmidt, SOCOM program executive officer for fixed-wing aircraft. The command uses modified C-1 30s for various missions such as troop resupply, infiltration and exfiltration.

SOF is modifying a number of MC-130J Commando LIs into AC-130J Ghostrider gunships. The first Ghostrider is now completing flight tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, he said.

The Ghostrider is slated to give SOCOM better close-air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. SOF will modify 32 MC-1:30Js at a cost of $2.4 billion over the coming years.

Additionally, SOF in 2013 purchased 19 MC-130Js to replace its aging MC-130H Combat Talon II and MC-130P Combat Shadow fleets.

The command uses a suite of mis- siles, high-caliber guns and bombs to target enemies from its aircraft. It plans to purchase new, advanced precision strike weapons to integrate with the recapitalized C-130 fleet, Schmidt said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

One new missile that will be outfitted onto some C-1 30s is the Raytheon-built Griffin system. The Griffin is a forward-firing missile that can be launched from air, ground and maritime platforms. The command is looking to acquire other types of missiles, but has so far seen little innovation from industry that balances capability with cost, Schmidt said.

"We have common launch tubes in the back [of the aircraft], so we can launch anything out of there that you can bring to us. I keep asking for people to bring innovative ideas to put in that tube and I haven't seen a lot, frankly," Schmidt said.

"The Griffin is a tremendous missile and it is doing well for us in combat. It has continued to improve. If you want to compete with Griffin, give me something less than $50,000 that does the same thing," he said.

SOCOM has requested $146 million in fiscal year 2015 for precision strike weapons. The AC-130.1s will be outfitted with laser small diameter bombs, missiles and high-caliber guns.

The aircraft needs cutting edge weapons as well as better situational awareness, said Lt. Col. Todd Darrah, program manager for the AC-130J.

"[We're] looking for any situational awareness capabilities that we can bring to the airplane. The days of grease pencil on the side of the window are over, and we need to have the ability for the pilots to be able to see where we're shooting all those guns," Dar-rah said.

In general, SOCOM is looking for a slew of improvements to its precision strike packages, particularly for the modified AC-130Js, he said.

"We're always looking for ways to roll in better sensors, better guns, better weapons, those kind of things on the aircraft," Darrah said.

Erich Borgstede, program manager for SOCOM's precision strike program, said other priorities include "enhanced lethality, more capability with moving targets, all weather, all terrain ... and I want you to do all of these things and make it affordable."

In the Defense Department fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, SOCOM was allocated $7.7 billion, a 10 percent boost over fiscal year 2014. The budget hike will allow an increase in personnel from 67,000 to 69,700.

In addition, finding for SOCOM procurement went up about $65 million over fiscal year 2014's total enacted funding, according to budget documents, which will fund some modernization and sustainment projects. …

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