Few events on the defence exhibition calendar provide as much direct engagement with the user community than the SOF Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa every May.
As well as giving industry the invaluable opportunity of getting their kit directly into the hands of SOF operators, SOFIC provides a unique insight into those capabilities currently required by USSOCOM.
While yours truly was unable to attend the event due to the small matter of my wife giving birth (baby boy, chunky 9.5lbs, parents thrilled), Shephard Media was there in force interviewing key members of the command and representatives from industry.
As SOCOM Commander Gen Raymond A. Thomas III explains in our focus piece in the latest issue of Special Operations Forum magazine, the command at 30 remains an ‘unmatched capability to conduct counter-terrorism operations with our partners and execute a select set of niche missions in support of the joint force’.
Nevertheless, Thomas has cautioned that the command’s current expertise and equipment set is not necessarily tailored to compete with near-peer competitors.
Indeed, he argued that peer competitors were exploring ‘leap-ahead approaches’ that threatened to exceed the pace of the Pentagon’s own capability development, while less-capable foes were exploiting commercial technologies and new TTPs to gain an advantage.
Recently, Daesh insurgents in Iraq were able to literally fly under the radar of the Coalition’s air superiority with swarms of $2000 quadcopters, including at least one that had a ‘40mm weapons device’ attached to it.
While the problem was quickly overcome on that occasion, SOF operators will need access to effective counter-UAS technologies beyond simply small arms fire.
Elsewhere, SOCOM is investigating a range of new technologies to be able to operate in the potential denied battlefields of the future. Focus areas include submersibles, terrain following/avoidance and all-weather radar, advanced electronic attack capabilities, countermeasures and precision munitions.
Western SOF forces can no longer rely on the current generation of night vision technologies to provide a tactical advantage, given the advances and availability of Chinese and Russian equipment.
A recent solicitation revealed the command is considering upgrades in the area of optics, lasers, sensors and radar technology capable of enhancing ground-to-ground and air-to-ground targeting.
Consideration is being given to man-portable equipment as well as long-range enemy identification based on laser vibrometry technology.
SOCOM is seeking a next-generation capability in regards to fragmentation weapons as well as future technologies in the area of personal protective equipment, including ballistic body armour, combat helmets and eye protection.
Specifically, SOCOM is looking for lighter weight solutions with improved protection levels – the command is seeking protection against small arms ammunition up to 7.62x51mm in calibre with a ballistic insert plate measuring no more than a single inch in thickness.
As well as continuing to refine both tactics and technological developments to enhance its manhunting and network defeat capabilities, SOCOM is investigating ‘machine learning‘ to shift through vast amounts of ISR data.
The command has also published requirements for next-generation human performance technology, designed to improve physiological, physical, psychological and intellectual performance.
As our online coverage of SOFIC demonstrated, SOCOM’s leadership and industry are largely in unison about the areas needing investment in order to maintain technological superiority – but equally aware on the challenges ahead.