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SOFIC 2015: Special Forces Commanders Identify Needed Materiel Solutions

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The current Special Operations Commanders from each of the Military Services outlined on Wednesday their perspectives on the capabilities and solutions that they need from industry.  While there was an expected focus on smaller, faster, cheaper, there were some unconventional perspectives as well.

Lt. General Charles T. Cleveland, who leads the Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), stressed the imperative for his organization to develop partnerships with industry so close that industry understands current and emerging SOF needs and can advance these solutions within the SOF community. 

LTG Cleveland said that, in the post-JUONs environment, USASOC needs “leap-ahead, not incremental technology.”  As to specific capabilities, General Cleveland said that USASOC needs to know what is under triple canopy, so his organization needs enhanced foliage-penetrating sensors.  He also identified a requirement to consolidate current intelligence tools (including Palantir, Chaos, Socrates) into a single system.  Lastly, he observed that USASOC can always use better body armor and stressed the value of the TALOS program in leading SOCOM to these solutions.

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Rear Admiral Brian T. Losey, who heads the Navy Special Operations Command (NAVSOC), stressed the usual need for “cheaper-faster-smaller” systems and particularly the need for “partnerability” to be built into systems where SOF partners, including “less than secure” partners, can use these systems, or variants thereof.  ADM Losey stressed the importance of the Navy’s Trident Spectre experiments as a venue where industry and inter-Agency partners can come together, annually, to see how current and prospective systems might work together.

As to specific materiel needs, ADM Losey identified the requirement for software-defined networks and radios to provide and enhance cooperation with a range SOF partners.  He also underscored the imperative for greater power density in operator system batteries, for miniaturization of sensor size (and price), and for systems to enhance communications with subsea platforms.

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Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, who heads the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), opened his remarks by observing that "Our customer is the enemy... and we deliver violence to that customer."  He further observed that he expected more of the same for SOF missions looking into the future, stating: “Looking fifteen years into the rearview mirror, it looks a lot like today and a helluva lot like the next 15 years.”

As to specific materiel needs, General Heithold stressed that AFSOC is recapitalizing and transforming its aviation fleet – specifically its venerable AC/MC-130s – with AC/MC-130Js “without taking a knee.”  These new aircraft, while fewer in number, will be up-gunned, sporting 105mm guns with deep magazines.  He asked industry to ponder “disposable tactical off-board sensing” solutions that take the JTAC sensor off the gunship aircraft, thereby allowing the aircraft to operate at out-of-range altitudes. 

General Heithold further challenged industry to ponder the integration of a tactical laser on the AC-130J aircraft that would allow a select number the aircraft an ability to covertly disable enemy systems.

Looking ahead, General Heithold challenged industry to assist the special operations community in thinking about the next-generation manned ISR platform as AFSOC’s venerable U-28 aircraft comes to the end of its operational life.

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Maj. Gen Joseph L. Osterman, who directs the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), spoke of the imperative for his organization to take steps in the cyber domain and to more aggressively exploit social media opportunities.  He called for industry to advance materiel solutions to MARSOC aimed at a range of areas including: advanced medical technologies to improve operator survivability, battery life extension/energy harvesting, command and control (C2), intelligence fusion, identity management/modern camouflage to make operators less (bio)detectable in urban environments, novel explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) capabilities, targeting technologies for faster more precise engagements, and UAS payload miniaturization.