Magazine article National Defense

SOCOM Looking to Fill Niche Technology Gaps

Magazine article National Defense

SOCOM Looking to Fill Niche Technology Gaps

Article excerpt

Special Operations Command's technology development enterprise is charged with acquiring items that the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are unlikely to need.

Its unique set of missions sometimes requires singular tools to help its operators do what they do best.

Still, SOCOM must rely on the services for the basics. As its chief acquisition executive James "Hondo" Geurts put it at the National Defense Industrial Association Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference, "I cannot build an AC-130 without a C-130 from the Air Force and an MH-47 without a CH-47 from the Army."

Nevertheless, SOCOM has some fields where it must go it alone. National Defense Magazine looks at some of the unique technology needs chosen from a list Geurts presented at the conference.

Biometric Sensitive Site Exploitation

When a Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, they needed proof positive that operators had eliminated the right person. They did so by taking samples containing his DNA.

Speed, of course, is of the essence. Commandos on raids do not have the time to collect biometric data and send it to some far off laboratory for analysis. SOCOM is looking for lightweight, handheld devices that can help it collect DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and do voice recognition, along with other means to identify persons living or dead.

Operators may also want to collect data that identifies people who are found in the same house as a suspected terrorist to create databases of possible associates.

The command's SOFWERX outreach center in Tampa, Florida, recently invited all interested parties to discuss ways to get at this problem. They looked at "far-out, game-changing technologies which will expand the SOF operators' abilities to perform rapid collection and analysis by leveraging capabilities that are small, lightweight, rugged and deployable," the SOFWERX website said.

A recent broad agency announcement called on industry to provide ideas for facial recognition and iris scanners that can collect data at long distances in different environmental conditions.

An even tougher challenge is that the command wants to confirm an identity - with low error rates - at speeds of less than two minutes.

Once data is brought back from the field to a SOF exploitation analysis center, the command needs "deployable, high-fidelity instrumentation for more in-depth processing of collected data or samples, with the ability to share data rapidly with the whole of the intelligence community," SOFWERX said.

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction

SOCOM commandos for decades have had the mission to find and secure weapons of mass destruction, particularly those that might end up in the hands of terrorist organizations.

A reorganization in late 2016 of how the Defense Department deals with chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons shifted the responsibility of countering WMDs from Strategic Command and placed it in the hands of SOCOM. Stratcom never had specialized forces devoted to the mission - military leaders pointed out - and SOCOM does.

How this reorganization will shake out remains to be seen, but it may mean SOCOM will have more duties on its plate. Meanwhile, poison gas has been employed in Iraq and Syria both by Islamic State fighters and the Bashar al-Assad regime. Organizations such as al-Qaida have also expressed the desire to acquire such weapons.

Commandos operating covertly to find and secure these dangerous weapons need better tools to detect, verify and characterize them, documents show.

SOCOM recently released a request for information on new ways for operators to safely enter a facility where chemical, biological or radiological devices might be located. That would require sensors that can "triage," or screen, for hazards to warn them of potential danger or confirm that they have found a site where weapons of mass destruction might be placed, or were in the past. …

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