SOF AT&L is divided into eight program executive offices (PEO) and four directorates. The PEOS are Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4); Fixed Wing; Maritime; Rotary Wing; Services; SOF Support Activity; Special Reconnaissance; Surveillance and Exploitation; and SOF Warrior. The Directorates are Acquisition Comptroller, Logistics, Procurement and Science and Technology.
SOF AT&L is manned by military and civilians from all four military services. While SOF AT&L is co-located with USSOCOM headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, these SOF acquisition professionals live and work around the country on bases and posts such as Fort Eustis, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane, the Navy Yard, Fort Belvoir, and Natick.
SOF AT&L provides full life-cycle management by seamlessly developing technologies within the Science and Technology directorate, to producing and fielding that technology in programs of record through the PEOs, and finally to sustainment and eventual divestiture through USSOCOM’s logistics directorate.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DIRECTORATE
USSOCOM’s directorate of Science and Technology (S&T) vision is to “Discover, enable, and transition technologies to provide an asymmetric advantage for special operations forces and to hyper-enable the SOF operator now and in future environments.”
S&T priorities are aligned with the USSOCOM Commander Capabilities and Programming Guidance (CPG). The current CPG builds upon the 2018 National Defense Strategy and SOF future operating environment. S&T is focusing its research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) efforts on these four main pillars:
Next Generation Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Tactically Relevant Situational Awareness: Focuses on ISR, mobile ad-hoc networks, small form factor, low probability of intercept/detection (LPI/LPD) C4 systems
Network and Data Management: Focuses on cyber, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML), and Big Data Analytics.
Biotechnologies/Human Interface: Focuses on tactical combat casualty care, real-time medical monitoring, and maintaining optimal SOF performance.
Next Generation Effects/Precision Strike Next Generation Effects/Precision Strike: Focuses on problems related to weapons for SOF use, ammunition, precision munitions, and devices for scalable effects.
Two additional focus areas are the Hyper-Enabled Operator (HEO) concept and next-generation mobility.
Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF)-HEO
JATF’s new applied research focus is to advance technology toward a HEO in the cognitive domain. HEO seeks to enhance the SOF operator’s cognition by increasing situational awareness, reducing cognitive load, and accelerating decision-making at the tactical edge.
S&T must continue to strengthen relationships with Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and other external organizations in order to leverage their larger efforts against USSOCOM S&T priorities. S&T’s Strategic Engagement process seeks to discover new technologies, reduce redundancies, gain efficiencies, and synchronize long range future planning.
Beyond the employment of improved technologies, adversaries will continue to rapidly evolve and adapt by employing novel tactics/techniques, capabilities, and resources to challenge U.S. interests. The challenge for SOF is pacing with the commercial technology sectors as competitors and adversaries rapidly acquire and leverage these technologies, anticipating emerging challenges and, when necessary, maintaining the ability to rapidly respond to erupting crises through nontraditional means or the employment of overwhelming force.
Technical Experimentation (TE)
S&T conducts TE events throughout the year, each with different themes. TE events offer multiple venues to rapidly assess, develop, counter, and exploit emerging capabilities to address immediate SOF needs. TE events allow industry, academia and other external organizations the opportunity to engage and demonstrate technology and concepts and get direct feedback from SOF and acquisition professionals.
TE 19-3 will take place in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019 at the Rellis Campus of Texas A&M University in Bryan, Texas. The theme of TE 19-3 will be command, control, communications and computers (C4), small unmanned systems and HEO.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)
S&T manages USSOCOM’s SBIR/STTR program. The objective is to stimulate technology innovation by awarding contracts to small businesses to meet federal research and development needs. SBIR/STTR Topics are released in April, August, and November.
Sharing Technology Needs
As a reminder, S&T provides multiple means of sharing SOCOM’s technology needs with the public. The three SOF Hard Problems (Small Unit Dominance, Mission Assured Communications, and Signature Management) are available on the USSOCOM website. The “Virtual Symposium” remains available to provide vendors background information on S&T investment priorities for FY 19. S&T is in the process of updating the Virtual Symposium to reflect FY 20 investment requirements.
PEO FIXED WING
PEO Fixed Wing (FW) delivers special operations manned and unmanned fixed-wing airpower capabilities. Overall, FW effectively executed more than $2.3 billion in FY18 to develop, deliver, and sustain a portfolio of FW intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike, and mobility weapons systems in direct support SOF operations worldwide. FW delivery of revolutionary ISR assets, MC-130J and AC-130J recapitalization, lethal munitions, and advanced technology ensure SOF mission success today and through tomorrow’s fight worldwide.
Find: Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance
The airborne ISR (AISR) team fields manned and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that include improved full-motion video and electronic warfare capabilities. The Expeditionary Organic Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Capability Set (EOTACS) program is a new program of record in the AISR Team portfolio. EOTACS uses a “family of systems” approach to providing small UAS to SOF in all USSOCOM components.
The Multi-mission Tactical UAS (MTUAS) program has started fielding the new MQ-27B Scan Eagle, which provides full-motion video, command and control (C2), and increased payloads.
The Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Tactical (MALET) program began fielding the new MQ-9, Block 5 aircraft and will complete the fielding of the MQ-1C, service common Block 25 extended range aircraft by the end of fourth quarter FY19.
The MC-130J recapitalization adds SOF capabilities to the service-common aircraft. Three mission systems include electronic warfare, situational awareness, and terrain following radar, which enable the MC-130J to conduct air-refueling, airdrop, insertion, extraction, and resupply missions under adverse and hostile conditions. Data from these three systems is pushed to aircrew displays through a special mission processor.
The CV-22 is also being updated with a similar terrain following radar, a color helmet-mounted display, and enhanced situational awareness capabilities.
The Integrated Strike Program leads AC-130J recapitalization efforts, which include the addition of an advanced precision-strike package to provide close-air support and precision fire capability in both electronic warfare and degraded weather environments. Additionally, technology advancements over the past year in legacy AC-130W gunships will continue to inform advancements in infrared suppression systems, missile warning systems, and helmet-mounted displays for potential application to the AC-130J, increasing crew efficiency and survivability. To aid in the AC-130J’s precision fire, stand-off precision guided missiles work to deliver increased accuracy, reduced collateral damage, and the ability to hit static and moving targets while maintaining minimal visual and acoustic signature.
Technology Insertion: Tomorrow’s Fight
PEO Fixed Wing continues to push the technology envelope to ensure future superiority and lethality for U.S. SOF operators. For example, PEO Fixed Wing supports the high-energy laser (HEL) demonstration as well as advanced technology sensors, defensive countermeasures, advanced avionics, and mission training systems. The HEL demonstrates a precision, scalable, low-kinetic weapon with the integration of “best-in-breed” subsystems. The AC-130 HEL is scheduled to execute a planned prototype demonstration in FY22.
PEO ROTARY WING
PEO Rotary Wing (RW) equips the Army Special Operations Aviation Command and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (160th SOAR(A)) with the most advanced and lethal weapons systems available. RW’s sole purpose is to ensure these incredible soldiers receive overmatch capabilities and robust support, so they remain time on target.
To guarantee the 160th SOAR(A) aircrews maintain readiness and an advantage against all threats and in all operating environments, RW is simultaneously recapitalizing its aircraft as well as rapidly integrating lethality and survivability upgrades; all while looking toward the future of SOF vertical lift. Collaborating with the Technology Applications Program Office at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Systems Integration Management Office at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Product Manager SOF Training Systems in Orlando, Florida, the RW enterprise successfully executed nearly $500 million this fiscal year to develop, deliver, and sustain the RW systems of the 160th SOAR (A). Some of the highlights were:
The light assault/attack A/MH-6M Little Bird (LB) Program Management Office (PMO) continued development and testing of the Block 3 effort that will recapitalize the LB fleet. This modification will improve both aircraft performance and situational awareness in the cockpit.
The medium assault MH-60M Black Hawk Program Management Office (PMO) continued the Block 1 modification with the induction of eight Block 0 aircraft and delivery of nine Block 1 aircraft. This modification increases payload availability, increases reliability for the users, and provides better situational awareness for aircrews.
The heavy assault MH-47G Chinook PMO awarded several major contracts to ramp up the MH-47G Renew program that will recapitalize the heavy assault fleet.
The Silent Knight Radar (SKR) team successfully completed initial operational test and evaluation. SKR provides SOF aircrews with a common terrain following/terrain avoidance capability and improved maneuverability in denied environments.
RW aligns its efforts with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) by prioritizing the delivery of more lethal, capable, survivable, and innovative weapons systems. However, the NDS also directs improvement and reform of its business practices as a method to achieve greater lethality for the warfighter. This remains a challenging and complex problem set, and requires both industry and RW to collaborate in new and innovative ways. RW is interested in creative solutions from industry partners that:
Increase speed of responding to requests for proposal, reduce unproductive portions of procurement lead-time, and reduce lead times for weapon system procurement.
Decrease “flash-to-bang” time on delivering systems to the warfighter.
Explore future rotary wing capabilities, to include supporting Future Vertical Lift (FVL) development.
Offer ways to hyper-enable aircrews and operators through integrating federated, complementary systems to aid in rapid decisive decision-making (i.e. How can we make what we have more effective?)
RW and industry must work together to increase responsiveness and relevancy by “moving at the speed of SOF” in order to ensure the warriors of the 160th SOAR(A) are as prepared as possible for what they will confront on tomorrow’s battlefield.
PEO Special Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Exploitation (SRSE) is responsible for the acquisition, development, fielding, and sustainment of SOF ISR capabilities.
The Technical Collection and Communications (TCC) PMO oversees the development and testing of commercial and government material solutions for integration into TCC programs of record, which includes Hostile Forces-Tagging, Tracking, and Locating (HF-TTL), Tactical Video Systems/Reconnaissance Surveillance Target Acquisition (TVS/RSTA), Blue Force Tracking (BFT), and Special Communications Enterprise (SCE). The technology focus areas include non-global positioning system based capabilities, unattended ground sensors, and advanced methods for clandestine communications.
Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) continues to provide leading-edge biometrics and forensics devices to SOF operators worldwide. The program equipment enhancements are identified and evaluated through SOFWERX industry days, limited user assessment testing, and combat evaluations. Additionally, SSE fielded the latest software to exploit captured electronics. Several exploitation analysis centers received upgraded shelters, which dramatically improved environmental systems, lighting, and electrical distribution.
The Mission Support Systems PMO initiated fielding of the National Reconnaissance Office Fusion Analysis Development Effort platform in support of the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System Special Operations Forces (DCGS-SOF) requirements. In support of national capability development, the Special Operations Forces Planning, Rehearsal, and Execution Preparation (SOFPREP) program began a SOF-to-Service transition of globally correlated 3-D geospatial intelligence data under an emerging capability technology development project. The Integrated Survey Program (ISP) accelerated prototyping and experimentation to meet SOF requirements for detailed tactical planning data including 3-D models.
The Joint Threat Warning System (JTWS) Program began the initial fielding of signals intelligence capability to the maritime domain for both standard and non-standard craft. The JTWS team was able to re-apply the same modular software programmable sensor developed for maritime against ground mobile requirements with minimal additional investment leading to the procurement of sensors providing high-priority signals intelligence capabilities. JTWS also fielded the air lite system on the C-146 platform providing valuable threat warning for deployed Air Force Special Operations Command platforms.
Program Manager Military Department (MILDEP) continues to sustain the Afghan National Tracking System (ANTS), which supports the Afghan National Security Forces. MILDEP was designated the lead for the new remote advise and assist/virtual accompany kits; this green force tracking capability will revolutionize the ability of SOF operators to interact with host-nation partners.
PEO SOF WARRIOR
By cultivating an aggressive, risk-taking culture among acquisition, financial, security and contracting personnel, PEO SOF Warrior planned and executed $1.8 billion toward the development, production, worldwide fielding, and sustainment of SOF-peculiar equipment supporting five USSOCOM component commands to include special mission units, and Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOC). Since SOFIC 2018, SOF Warrior continues to concentrate its efforts in acquiring a diverse range of combat and combat support, ISR capabilities affecting SOF lethality, survivability, mobility (air, ground, and sea), and situational awareness for application in all environments. Exemplary highlights from the past 12 months include:
Program Manager-SOF Lethality (PM-SL)
PM-SL responded to an urgent requirement requesting an organic mid-range precision strike capability by becoming an early adopter of Middle Tier Acquisition authorities. This team is also working closely with the Close Combat Lethality Task Force Director to pursue making SOF forces more lethal. The team awarded a $50 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. for the purpose of equipping SOF with a new, innovative, advanced sniper rifle. Partnering with the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium using other transaction authorities, the PM is acquiring Light Weight Medium Machine gun prototypes and ammunition to conduct a combat evaluation. This innovative capability can provide .50-caliber-like effects in a 7.62mm form factor. The PM is pursuing an intermediate caliber ammunition that will provide a 40 percent increase in effective range, doubling the hit probability at 1,000 meters. With success in using polymer-cased ammunition, SOF operators will also be afforded a 30 percent weight reduction.
PM-CP fielded an improved electronic countermeasure system in the fight to counter radio-controlled improvised explosive devices. The PM also awarded a $155 million contract for Modi Production to field 1,040 units four years earlier than planned to USSOCOM, U.S. Army, and U.S. Marine Corps units. Working closely with TSOCs, the PM acquired and equipped SOF coalition partners with critical “protect the force” ECM [electronic countermeasures] capabilities.
PM-Family of Special Operations Vehicles (PM-FOSOV)
PM-FOSOV fielded low-visibility, non-standard commercial vehicles (NSCV) in support of denied area operations. A new NSCV variant completed air-drop testing of an armored Toyota Hilux vehicle, allowing for a successful fielding and deployment release setting the condition to enter into production. The PM also executed a $76 million contract modification with General Dynamic-OTS adding the Army’s directed requirement for a GMV 1.1 variant and associated support. The Army realizes a $30 million investment cost avoidance and significant schedule reduction estimated to be at least four years by leveraging this USSOCOM program of record.
PM-Special Programs has increased and widened the proliferation of the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) to other services and government agencies to provide improved situational awareness to SOF and conventional forces; completed the C-17 fuselage-mounted antenna integration design; and tested a 9-mm handgun door breaching round to assess performance as a replacement for a 12-gauge breaching round. PM-SP fielded a new .50-caliber lightweight polymer-cased ammunition for use by rotary/wing aircraft – a huge SOF lethality enhancing success story. Additionally, PM-SP is focused on developing an improved fragment design for the advanced fragmentation grenade to increase lethality during close combat operation.
PM-Survival, Support and Equipment Systems
PM-Survival, Support and Equipment Systems awarded an $8 million, five-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract to Hardwire, LLC, to support USSOCOM’s sustainment of soft body armor capabilities. This PM also received a full fielding and deployment release for the SPEAR body armor load carriage system aviation body armor vest. This provides a significant enhancement in aviation vest configurations for the first time in recent history.
PM-Sensitive Activities acquired and delivered 1,969 end items in the areas of ground ISR systems, special communications devices and radios, virtual points of presence, software licenses, and cyberdefense capabilities, as well as 15 software capability releases in the areas of data fusion, data analytics, and identity management.
PM-Naval Special Warfare Special Programs
PM-Naval Special Warfare Special Programs awarded a contract to acquire the Extended Long Range Sniper Rifle (ELRSR). The ELRSR system significantly increases sniper lethality as compared to predecessor sniper systems. The team also tested a commercial-off-the-shelf inertial navigation device for application when operating in GPS-denied environments. The results were not as accurate as GPS; however, in its current state, it provided improved situational awareness in GPS-denied environments.
PEO Maritime is responsible for delivering cutting-edge undersea and surface technologies and capabilities to Naval Special Warfare Command. The key to each of the maritime mobility platforms is the Navy SEALs, the end users of each of the maritime programs of record. PEO Maritime is composed of five program offices that focus on the development, production, and sustainment of wet and dry submersibles, combat diving equipment, submarine-hosted dry deck shelters (DDS), and surface craft.
PEO Maritime’s undersea systems office enhances SEAL lethality by enabling increased mobility and payload capacity. The DDS is an in-service program that hosts the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) MK-8. The SDV is currently undergoing extensive modernization, including enhancements to operator interfaces and additions to the number of carried payloads. A replacement to the SDV MK-8, the Shallow Water Combat Submersible (SWCS), is currently in production. Both SDV MK-8 and SWCS are wet submersibles, requiring operators to be exposed to the environment and using underwater breathing gear while conducting operations.
Joining the undersea fleet is the Dry Combat Submersible (DCS). The DCS enables increased range and payload, and protects SEALs from the undersea environment by encapsulating them within a one atmosphere dry submersible shell. To prepare Naval Special Warfare Groups for the delivery of SWCS and DCS, both programs have delivered production representative platforms currently to train, mitigate risk, and insert technology.
The surface fleet continues its extensive recapitalization effort, consisting of the Combatant Craft Assault (CCA), Combatant Craft Medium (CCM), and the Combatant Craft Heavy (CCH) mobility platforms along with enhanced mission equipment technology to augment the platform capabilities. Development began on the new maritime precision engagement system, which will ultimately provide the entire combatant craft fleet with a standoff weapon capability. The production of CCA continues with delivery of five new craft over the last year, while the CCM remains in full-rate production, fielding an additional eight boats to both East and West Coast operational units. Both CCA and CCM platforms continue to deploy to operational theaters worldwide. The CCH maintains a forward-deployed presence on a rotational basis, with additional craft in production and maintenance availabilities.
The SOF combat diving program rounds out the maritime portfolio and is developing new equipment focused on diver communications, navigation, mobility, and environmental protection. Each piece of gear is integrated with current platforms and delivers cutting-edge technology to operators, not only enhancing the diver’s ability to conduct their mission but also expanding their mission set.
PEO COMMAND, CONTROL, COMMUNICATIONS AND COMPUTERS
PEO C4 is responsible for acquiring and delivering cutting-edge C4 and military information support operations (MISO) systems. In 2018, C4 executed more than $639 million, delivering 25,000+ communications, information technology (IT), and MISO capabilities to USSOCOM forces worldwide.
A significant focus area of the PEO has been modernizing IT and communications at the edge and tactical levels, where SOF are forward deployed. The Next Generation Tactical Communications (NGTC) program conducted the third operational user assessment (OUA) for the AN/PRC-163 Next Generation Handheld (NGHH) tactical radio in December 2018; low-rate initial production radios have been procured with fielding anticipated to begin in June. The RF-345-STC Next Generation Manpack (NGMP) tactical radio is moving forward with OUA scheduled for this summer. The NGHH and NGMP are both dual channel, multi-band radios enabling simultaneous communication over two channels hosting both narrowband and wideband voice and IP-address-based data waveforms. These systems are designed to accept an attachable mission module (MM) allowing for rapid integration of emerging technologies. ISR Full Motion Video (FMV) MM’s currently in production enable operators to receive and disseminate FMV, and communicate and transmit other data while maintaining voice communications without additional transceivers.
The AN/PRC-161 handheld link-16 radio received conditional fielding and deployment release (CF&DR) approval last May and is presently in full-rate production. The AN/PRC-161 integrates ground forces into the air tactical data link, enabling rapid and accurate execution of digitally aided close air support.
The Satellite Deployable Node (SDN) program awarded a new contract for micro-satellite terminals, enabling deployed SOF to gain access to IT services through a scalable, man-packable solution. The SDN-ISR kit entered full-rate production in July 2018, providing SOF with the ability to receive FMV/ISR data over the SDN family of systems.
The Tactical Local Area Network (TACLAN) program underwent a restructuring of the acquisition and sustainment strategies, achieving significant efficiencies. The TACLAN program received approval in April 2019 for the current wearable field computing device.
PEO C4 led the merger of $90 million in removable airborne media system and multi-mission payload (MMP) programs, reducing duplicative MISO FM, TV, and cellular broadcast capabilities. The MMP program successfully accomplished the integration of an MMP-heavy pod onto an EC-130J aircraft. New media production center software planning tools were implemented to improve pre/post-test of MISO products through measures of effectiveness. New technologies and prototypes were developed and demonstrated as part of the autonomous aerial insertion and resupply into dense, urban, complex terrain, enabling aerial dispersion of psychological operations products to reach into isolated populations. C4 initiated development of a distributable audio media system and demonstrated the next generation loudspeaker wireless and micro system prototypes.
This interview originally appears in Special Operations Outlook 2019.