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Special Operations Forces Look to New Technologies

A recently-released broad agency announcement (BAA) highlights a range of new technologies and capabilities sought by U.S. Special Operations Forces. Issued by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Science and Technology Directorate at the end of May, “BAA for Advancement of Technologies in Equipment for Use by Special Operations Forces” identifies interest in a range of specific technologies that could be applied to USSOCOM applications.

“USSOCOM has a long-term goal to develop technologies to meet special operations forces (SOF) mission requirements,” the announcement states, adding, “Prior studies and analyses have determined a number of technical challenges exist for SOF equipment that require improvements for missions into the future.”

Technology areas of interest identified in the BAA include:

  • Energy and power systems;
  • Command, control, communications, and computer systems;
  • Scalable effects weapons;
  • Mobility platforms;
  • Improved moving target lethality;
  • Comprehensive signature management;
  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance;
  • Small unit dominance;
  • Human performance;
  • Biometrics and sensitive site exploitation;
  • Lightening the load;
  • Night vision/electro-optics, and;
  • Electromagnetically undetectable communications.

Under the category of energy and power systems, for example, USSOCOM planners are seeking power enhancements for future ground operations, both surface and subsurface platforms, and wireless power transmissions.

Targeted ground technologies call for development of “reduced weight replacements (1:5 to 1:10 weight reduction) for standard military issue batteries with equivalent energy capacities.”

Combat controller Afghanistan

A coalition special operations forces combat controller coordinates close air support during a fire fight in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 7, 2012. A force of more than 100 Afghan National Army commandos and coalition special operations forces searched an Afghan village for weapons caches and known anti-Afghanistan forces. One technology sought in the recent broad agency announcement is lighter-weight batteries, a serious consideration with the amount of communications and sensor technology a special operator now carries. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weis

“Develop micro-batteries that offer extended duration capabilities for small devices in harsh environmental conditions,” the announcement notes. “Improve battery capabilities so the time to recharge is an order of magnitude less than current battery technology. Additionally, ensure design robustness to allow for longer periods of use in a wide range of environmental conditions to include low and high temperatures. Develop improved, low-signature, and cost-effective power generation systems, and low maintenance power management and energy storage solutions, for use in austere locations to support small unit operations.”

Other advanced power system technologies are sought for combatant surface craft (Capable of a power-to-weight ratio of 1.0 hp/lb and fuel efficiency of 0.1 lb/hp per hour) and higher density energy storage for submersible vehicles.

The BAA also calls for a range of new technologies that could be applied to enhance SOF Small Unit Dominance, including:

  • Enhanced capability to detect, locate and identify personnel targets including snipers at long range, day/night up to 1500 meters;
  • Concealment and signature suppression;
  • Stand-off precision weapons and ammunition;
  • Direct fire support weapons;
  • Advanced energetics;
  • Virtual training;
  • Casualty avoidance, and;
  • Personal protection.

Under stand-off precision weapons and ammunition, the BAA seeks “Technologies that provide lightweight, lethal, individual weapons systems (weapon, ammunition, fire control) effective up to 1500 meters that can provide first shot capability.” Other lethal capabilities can be found in the BAA’s call for direct fire support weapons technologies “that provide lightweight, direct fire support weapons with enhanced blast, optimized fragmentation (magnitude, shape, and density of fragmentation cloud), combined effects, multi-option and/or smart fuses.”

Current plans call for the BAA to remain open “until July 13, 2012, unless superseded, amended, or cancelled,” with USSOCOM planners expressing interest “in receiving white papers from all responsible sources from industry, academia, and research laboratories capable of providing the development, design, and prototype fabrication and technology proof of functionality to meet SOCOM-unique requirements.”

Following a 30-day scientific or peer review, USSOCOM will notify offerors within an additional 14 days whether their white papers were selected for a second phase proposal submission. Offerors will then have 30 days to prepare and submit a proposal, which will undergo an additional 30-day scientific or peer review process. Following that review, USSOCOM anticipates contract award within 60 days for selected proposals.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...