In the SPEAR category of Lightweight Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Protection, the team leader would only acknowledge that “We have done some work in that area, including hand wear, garments, and stuff like that. Some of it is classified and some is not.”
One currently planned FY06 start will target Integrated Laser Ballistic Optical Protection. Describing it as “Basically protective eyewear,” Chan added that “we will leverage highly off commercial-off-the-shelf items in the areas of goggles and spectacles.”
Current and pending SOF team efforts in the Target Identification and Acquisition arena do not cover the target acquisition world as much as they cover identification of friend/foe (IFF). The efforts, which started this year and will accelerate in FY06, remain sensitive as of this writing.
Three areas in the capstone SPEAR ORD are not being actively worked at this time: Signature Reduction, Physiological Management, and Command, Control, Communications, Computerization, and Intelligence (C4I).
Signature reduction, which includes new camouflage patterns, infrared reduction, and thermal reduction, is being monitored but “not actively worked” at this time.
“Physiological Management includes anything from nutritional supplements to monitoring physiological performance so that we know if someone is going hypothermic and stuff like that,” Chan added. “But we haven’t done anything in that area in the past, we’re not doing anything currently, and not in the next year or two.”
Likewise, he added that C4I, which covers the integration of computer subsystems, is another area of no activity and no funding at the present time.
However, one area that was not included in the original SPEAR ORD but has since been added to better meet the needs of SOF users is a category that is generically called Survival Equipment. The program was added to the mix during the last Program Objective Memorandum (POM) “build” with funding to do work in this area starting in FY06.
“It may seem obvious, but Survival Equipment basically captures a broad range of items that would fall under the generic term ‘survival,’” Chan said. “These are things like shelter systems, sleeping systems, hydration systems, and cooking systems. They include all the smaller type of things that kind of fell through the cracks before. So the guys were going out and buying commercial versions since there was no program that bought what they needed for their particular application. What we’re doing in this program is looking at what’s out there in the commercial world and basically adapting it for SOF applications because the ‘big army’ doesn’t have the right kind of tentage, the right kind of sleeping systems, the right kind of cooking systems or hydration systems. We’re looking at stuff that is highly mobile, very lightweight, very small. And we’re adapting those kinds of things for our application. And sometimes the adaptation is as simple as changing the color. A commercial fuel bottle, for example, by law has to be red in color. That red color doesn’t do well in our environment, so we have the fuel bottle maker make them in muted colors like browns and black. Then we buy those bottles for our guys because anyone who does any cooking on a stove needs a fuel bottle.”
While it could be as simple as changing a color, it could also be slightly more complex, as in introducing a small design change. Chan pointed to the MSR XGK™ cooking stove as an example of this “modified commercial-off-the-shelf” approach.
“It’s a very popular backpacking stove,” he explained. “It’s multifuel. It does everything that anyone would need in a stove. It’s lightweight and very effective. It’s been the baseline standard for mountaineers for years. The problem is that it had a hard tube coming off the stove, because that’s the way it was designed and no one ever changed it. As a result, it didn’t work for our application because we weren’t able to fold it up and make it compact. So we worked with the vendor and now it comes out with a flexible tube. So our guys now have a stove that folds up very nicely and can fit inside a very small pot, because they’re only going to carry one small pot with them.
“It may be as simple as changing the color or maybe modifying the design a little bit,” he said. “And we’re going to look across a broad spectrum of things, from sleeping bags to shelter systems to other personal gear. In terms of hydration systems, for example, is the basic Camelbak® good enough? Do you need something special? What about water filtration? Do you want to go with the basic MIOX® [purifier], which is basically an advanced chemical treatment? Or do you need a filter type of a system? Or do you want to consider one of these new designs that will deal with heavy metals? Well maybe what we need is a mix of solutions because one day they are going into Iraq, the next day Afghanistan, and the next day Southeast Asia. And each of these environments entails different risks in different areas. And we want to be able to respond to all of this.”
In addition to the development and fielding of new SOF personal gear products, Chan noted that FY06 will see the introduction of significantly reconfigured and enhanced distribution channels for SOF personal equipment, an evolution that he likened to “creating the REI of SOC.”
He concluded, “Because ultimately, if you can’t get the equipment to a guy when he needs it, then you’ve failed.”
This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2005 Edition.