Tag Archives: socom

The World According to Shephard: Week 44

NATO SOF prepare for battle

NATO special operations forces have taken part in an exercise across eastern Europe  involving scenarios loosely based on recent Russian incursions into Ukraine. The exercise was designed to enable NATO and non-NATO entity special forces to counter an invasion by an enemy force as well as ‘diversionary’ forces.

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) hosted its ThunderDrone Prototype Rodeo, the culmination of the first in a series of rapid prototyping events that began in September. The results are expected to go beyond the physical drone with its mechanical features, autonomy, swarming and machine learning all being explored.


Swarms of unmanned requirements

The Australian Army is also enhancing its aerial unmanned capabilities with the procurement of FLIR Systems’ PD-100 Black Hornet 2 nano-UAVs. The deal will increase the Army’s Black Hornet fleet to over 150 providing enough to equip every army combat team at the platoon and troop level with an organic reconnaissance capability.

The US Navy’s requirement for an unmanned Carrier-Based Aerial-Refuelling System has hit a bump in the road after Northrop Grumman withdrew from the MQ-25 Stingray programme following changes to the programme requirements. There is a risk that further changes could see other competitors to follow suit.


Meanwhile in Israel the country’s first commercialised AUV, the HydroCamel II has completed over 250 hours of sea trials in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the system’s developers at Ben-Gurion University, the AUV’s autonomy and manoeuvrability capabilities set it apart from its competitors.

Watching the ships roll in

Above sea the Ukrainian coast guard is bolstering its fleet by purchasing up to 25 new high-speed patrol boats. The acquisition is part of Ukraine’s strategy for maritime security at each seaport to be ensured by a squadron of boats including unmanned patrol boats, a patrol attack boat, a high-speed interceptor, a coast guard boat and a new trimaran.

However in the UK the Royal Navy found itself in hot water this week after the National Audit Office published its investigation into equipment cannibalisation in the navy. The report found that between April 2012 and March 2017 there was a 49% increase in the practice with 60% of instances occurring between 2016 and 2017.

Picture are, on the left RFA GOLD ROVER, and on her right HMS LANCASTER sailing together on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) duties.

In Poland it has emerged that the Polish Navy may be forced to decommission its only Kilo-class submarine, ORP Orzel after a fire broke out on the boat. The fire is believed to have begun while crew members were discharging the submarine’s batteries while moored in the north of the country.

The digital battlespace

Moving into the digital world where the defence industry may be on the brink of a revolution as blockchain service providers  report increasing levels of interest from the industry. While the exact nature and extent of the impact blockchain will have remains uncertain, it is clear that this technology is here to stay.

Meanwhile Thales is in the process of analysing logged data from the recent Formidable Shield ballistic missile defence exercise to see if modifications made to its SMART-L Multi Mission radar can further enhance the technology. During the exercise the radar was able to detect the missile from a distance of 1,500km.


In the race to advance electronic warfare capabilities the US is expediting efforts to field technology into theatre that enables critical vehicle systems to remain functional in GPS-denied environments. GPS signals are increasingly vulnerable to jamming or spoofing by adversaries such as Russia who are actively deploying advanced EW capabilities.


SOCOM seeks new technologies

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.

Special procurement lessons

Special operations forces are able to procure equipment and vehicles much faster than using the regular procurement route. They have shown that the time it takes to develop a requirement, secure funding and get a vehicle into service is vastly quicker.

Can lessons be learned from this?

In this ever-changing post-Cold War world, militaries need equipment much faster – possibly in months instead of years.DAGOR2 Therefore it would not be amiss to suggest that procurement executives could look to SOF acquisition procedures and follow their model to get kit into service.

It is unlikely that regular army acquisition will be able to get to the rapid levels of equipment introduction into service that Special Forces achieve. This is because SF works in a much faster changing environment and they are more likely to require smaller amounts of lighter equipment as opposed to large numbers of heavier vehicles that the army needs. This means that the amount of funds requested will be less in comparison.

However, it does all comes down to the money. There has to be a way of releasing the cash to allow acquisition programmes flyer_gmv_natcto move forwards. Right now there is little flexibility in the system and therefore companies draw out the work in each phase to fit the budget cycle which regulates the procurement schedule rather than have a priority to get equipment into service.

Acquisition organisations need to be more streamlined to suit the requirements of the user and this means reducing bureaucracy. The mere size of army commands makes them slow and adds to the paperwork and processes that a programme needs to get through. A sprinter is going to get to the finishing line much quicker if he has fewer hurdles to jump. If the military can reform this then as seen with SOF procurement, industry will respond in kind.

See Land Warfare International for more