Over the last few years, an increasing number of special operations-related demonstrations and briefings have been held in conjunction with the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade event known as “SHOT Show.” And the January 2019 gathering was no exception, with U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) practically formalizing the special operation forces (SOF) tie-in with the Las Vegas-based event.
Clear evidence of the tie-in could be seen in a June 13, 2018 request for information (RFI) announcement, in which USSOCOM representatives outlined their plans to hold an International Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Range Day(s) event in January 2019. The selected days were immediately prior to SHOT Show, and the event was held just north of Las Vegas at Creech Air Force Base.
The RFI described the intent of the event as “provid[ing] participants with the opportunity to gain International Special Operations Forces (ISOF) insight/perspective on participant technologies,” adding that USSOCOM would “explore [the] emerging technologies, technical applications, and their potential to provide solutions for future SOF capabilities.”
Specific areas of technology interest identified in the RFI included: machine guns, suppression systems, lightweight ammunition, crew-served sighting systems, counter-defilade solutions, mortar systems, and optical systems.
As representative examples of machine gun and accessory technologies that would be explored during the ISOF range event, the announcement highlighted interest in: a lightweight assault MG (belt-fed and weighing less than 14 pounds) in 6.5 Creedmoor (CM) caliber; a lightweight medium MG (belt-fed and weighing less than 24 pounds) in the .338 Norma Magnum (NM) caliber; MG suppressors for the 6.5CM, .338NM, and 7.62x51mm calibers; MG optical systems providing between 8X and 12X magnification for day optic; MG lightweight ammunition and lightweight linking solutions in 7.62X51mm, 6.5CM, and .338NM calibers; and a Mid-Range Gas Gun (MRGG) – a semi-automatic, magazine-fed, sniper support rifle with barrel length of 20-22 inches – in 6.5CM caliber.
While the RFI clearly explained that there was “no intention on the part of USSOCOM to purchase or procure equipment based solely on participation in the event,” the private USSOCOM event served as a catalyst for other more public demonstrations in the days surrounding SHOT. Together, these public demonstrations served to provide “a glimpse behind the curtain” of several ongoing materiel development activities.
“Unofficial” Range Events
One of these unofficial demonstration subsets was held at a privately owned desert range in the foothills outside Las Vegas. This particular demonstration featured a range of potential SOF items, including a new prototype “purpose-built” Non-Standard Commercial Vehicle [See “Ground Mobility” chapter] from Navistar; .50-caliber M2 machine gun suppression demonstrations by suppressor designer Delta-P; two weapon stabilization systems from Paradigm SRP; a modified Can Am all-terrain vehicle from RPAMS (partnered with Franklin Armory for the demonstration); and several weapon and ammunition programs from Franklin Armory.
Non-Standard Commercial Vehicle
“This is our latest generation of special operations tactical vehicle,” said Mike Hawn, Navistar business development director for SOCOM and the Middle East and North Africa region. “It is built from the ground up as a purpose-built military vehicle designed to look like a small commercial pickup that you might see our special operators operating in around the world, sometimes in commercial vehicles that have been up-armored.”
Hawn explained that adding armor to a vehicle platform that was not designed to carry armor creates durability concerns.
“The vehicles wear out very quickly,” he said. “So the companies that up-armor the vehicles do things to make them more robust. But that adds cost.”
He added, “Initially, after 9/11, when we started operating that type of vehicle, the concept of sustainment was: ‘It’s a Toyota vehicle. There are thousands of Toyota dealerships in the Middle East and North Africa. You can pull into a Toyota dealership, get spare parts and you’re out the door.’ Well, the challenge with that today is that the vehicles have been modified so heavily to improve on the durability concerns that they’re really no longer a Toyota vehicle. They can get some parts, but a lot of the major components have changed in order to address the durability concerns.”
By contrast, he said that a purpose-built vehicle, like the Navistar prototype present at that event, came with the logistics support benefits of Navistar Defense/International Truck, with commercial dealerships in 70 countries around the world.
“So our special operators … have that opportunity to use that concept of sustainment at our dealerships,” he said. “They can buy spare parts that way or we can push parts to them, much like we’ve sustained our other military platforms for the last 14 years that our military has been in combat.”
Moreover, the purpose-built concept, which is designed around “a monocoque welded safety cell,” allows the use of blendable panels to quickly change the vehicle appearance in terms of vehicle make or even color.
“But again, it’s designed to give operators a more durable vehicle,” Hawn reiterated. “And it’s designed for reset. So our plan is to bring the vehicle back into our plant or wherever they are operating – we can do this remotely as well – to do a reset at five-year intervals, to give a 15-year life cycle for the truck.”
As CEO and founder of Paradigm SRP LLC, Todd DeGidio outlined the Talon and Talon ASP weapon stabilization platforms. Citing his own “former special forces background,” as well as experiences as a helicopter pilot for the Houston Police Department, DeGidio pointed to current deficiencies in providing stable overwatch protection.
“With the technology that we have available to us, it annoys me greatly that we don’t have a team piece of equipment that could provide precision accuracy from something like a moving vehicle,” he said. “So I came up with the Talon system, working with highly capable stabilization engineers, able to stabilize an un-dynamic payload, which is a feat in and of itself, down to 50 micro radians.”
Noting that the system could be used on any platform, from rigid inflatable boats to helicopters, he highlighted design versatility that would allow transfer between vehicles in 2 to 4 minutes as well as the accuracy provided.
He said that the Talon is capable of carrying weapons up to .300 WinMag caliber, primarily semiautomatic rifles, and has been demonstrated with the 5.56 mm squad automatic weapon (SAW).
“We’ve actually tested it on shooting drones down as well,” he added. “So it has that capability now as well with a 500-round ammo box that can go in it. But again, precision is our key.”
Although the company is bound by a range of international non-disclosure agreements, he offered that one Talon client he could mention is the French GIGN anti-terrorist unit.
In addition to the Talon, the company has also developed a heavier Talon ASP design, which is capable of carrying heavier weapons like .50 caliber, .338 Lapua, and .338 Norma Magnum.
“It’s a little less mobile,” he acknowledged. “But it’s still going to be more mobile than anything of its stature. It’s going to be a hand-controlled system, just like our Talon. And it’s going to have the capability of actually getting out there, reaching out and touching something or somebody at a distance that you can’t do with a .308 platform.”
According to Dave Strong, vice president of business development for Delta-P suppressors, the company offers a complete line of 3-D-printed suppressors, produced in a high-volume, ISO-quality-certified operation, in caliber sizes ranging from 4.6 mm (for the Heckler & Koch MP7) up to 12.7mm/.50 caliber.
“Delta-P has focused on machine guns because that’s the most challenging thing that a suppressor could possibly do,” Strong explained. “It’s easy to suppress a rifle. It’s easy to suppress a semiautomatic weapon. But to suppress an automatic weapon, the stresses, the temperatures, and pressures are extreme.”
He continued, “NATO has established a working group with different areas of expertise for different countries, and one of the things they’re focused on is the toxicity of gas and what happens in a machine gun. In terms of backpressure, for example, you fire one shot, you got a burst of gas going through the suppressor, and it comes out the other end just fine if it’s a semiautomatic. But when you’re cycling a machine gun very quickly, it’s like cars backing up on a freeway. Think about a four-lane freeway necking down to one lane. And that’s what the suppressor will do.”
He said that Delta-P’s patented design process features one piece of metal continuously printed out of an Inconel alloy.
“You can print features into a suppressor that cannot be made by any other process,” he said. “Imagine trying to machine a hollow sphere in one piece. That’s impossible. But I can print a hollow sphere in one piece. So that gives you an idea of the kinds of design tools that engineer has when he can print. And it’s a combination of technology, using the design tools, as well as design for manufacturing.”
While Delta-P company representatives demonstrated the company’s suppressor design on a .50-caliber M2 machine gun, Franklin Armory showcased a modified Can Am ATV equipped with the Paradigm Talon weapon stabilization system.
Opportunities were provided for invited visitors to live fire the system, initially from a static posture and then demonstrating its live fire stabilized capabilities during off-road movement.
Official Range Day/SHOT Show
Along with these types of unofficial range events, the SHOT structure features an official “media/industry day at the range” event on the day prior to show opening. Once again, the event provided a venue to glimpse some recent special operations technology developments.
One example was the unveiling of the newly designed “PDX” in both short barrel rifle and pistol formats by Maxim Defense. Developed in both 7.62x39mm and 5.56mm NATO, the new PDX design emerged from the company’s response to the USSOCOM solicitation for a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) (USSOCOM awarded the PDW contract to SIG Sauer in early 2018).
According to Michael Windfeldt, president of Maxim Defense, the PDX was “designed to meet the demands of the Tier-1 community” and is “able to dominate close-quarter encounters” in a package measuring just 18.75 inches in overall length and weighing only 5 pounds 11 ounces.
Windfeldt said that the weapon had been shown at the ISOF Range Day the week prior and that the initial “enthusiastic response” had included the immediate purchase of two systems “for testing by a special operations element” of a United States ally.
One individual who participated in the PDX design and development was Kris “Tanto” Paronto, former U.S. Army Ranger and one of the CIA annex security team members “on the roof” in Benghazi during the attack depicted in the book and movie, 13 Hours.
“We’re trying to get it out as one of the new ‘sub guns’ for guys going downrange,” he explained. “It was developed for the SOCOM PDW solicitation. We have a great team at Maxim Defense. C.J. Dugan, a former unit guy, is the brainpower behind this. He knows what his guys need. I like to think I know what the OGA guys need. But when it comes down to it, C.J. is the brains: a brilliant tactician who is responsible for the design of the PDX.”
“The 7.62 x 39mm and 5.56mm calibers make sense,” Paronto added. “What is the most common weapon system downrange? Whether you’re in North Africa or anywhere in Southwest Asia, it’s the AK-47. You can’t find .300 Blackout in Kabul. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to find 5.56. And, in comparison to other rounds, the AK round is inexpensive, so you can afford to train more.
“It’s also easily concealable, with an amazing tactical buttstock design,” he continued. “And if you are going to utilize it in a vehicle, one of the hardest things to do is where to best place a weapon where you can get to it quickly in a combat environment. You’re not going to put it in a bag. And if you have a long gun in there, you are not just going to put it between the seats and still hide it when you come to a snap checkpoint. But you can hide this, pull it out quickly, and it’s ready to go.”
Asked which SOF elements might be looking at the design, he deferred, noting, “Because of the contracts and because of who they are, we can’t identify them. But that kind of tells you in itself who they might be.”
The SHOT Show, which begins the day following industry range day, is closed to the public, focusing instead on industry participation. However, as with the prior private and public range events, the show displays include a number of technologies with direct application to the special operations community.
Representative examples of SOF equipment exhibited during the 2019 gathering ranged from the “first” official public display of the new USSOCOM Suppressed Upper Receiver Group (SURG) design from SIG Sauer [contract award late July 2018] to the TANGO6T tactical sight, which was selected for use by USSOCOM elements under contract awards in October 2018 and January of this year.