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U.S. Special Operations Command

U.S. Special Operations Command

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is a unified combatant command of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was activated by the Department of Defense on April 16, 1987. The new unified command was created in response to congressional action in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987. This included a four-star command to prepare Special Operations Forces to carry out assigned missions, and to plan for and conduct special operations.

The operations of SOCOM include the following:

  • Develop special operations strategy, doctrines, and tactics
  • Prepare and submit budget proposals for SOF
  • Exercise authority, direction, and control over expenditures
  • Train assigned forces
  • Conduct specialized instruction
  • Validate requirements
  • Establish requirement priorities
  • Ensure interoperability of equipment and forces
  • Formulate and submit intelligence support requirements
  • Monitor special operations officers' promotions, assignments, training, retention, and education
  • Ensure combat readiness
  • Monitor preparedness for assigned missions
  • Develop and acquire particular equipment, material, supplies, and services
History

The founding of SOCOM came about as a result of lack of command and control and inter-service coordination failures in operations in the early 1980s, especially with the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw and the attempted rescue of of hostages at the American Embassy in Iran in 1980. Since that time, SOCOM has been involved in clandestine and special forces activity, such as direct action, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, psychological warfare, civil affairs, and counter-narcotics operations. Each branch of the armed forces has a Special Operations Command capable of running its own operations. In the case of necessary cooperation in an operation, SOCOM becomes the joint component command of the operation.

Before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, SOCOM's primary focus was supporting command missions of organizing, training, and equipping SOF and providing these forces to support geographic combatant commanders and ambassadors. The responsibilities of SOCOM were extended in the 2004 Unified Command Plan, which assigned SOCOM responsibility for organizing DoD plans against global terrorist networks and conducting global operations.

Branches
Air Force Special Operations Command

The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is a branch of SOCOM and the United States Air Force responsible for special operations in the operation of the Air Force. AFSOC is intended to be optimized for episodic theater engagement and is driven by the need to counter global violent extremist threats. AFSOC works to support the Air Force and the larger armed forces with organizing, training, equipping, validating, and deploying forces capable of generating advantages in competition short of armed conflict; enabling the joint force to win in armed conflict; executing efficient operations to counter violent organizations; and responding to crisis.

Untied States Army Special Operations Forces

The United States Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) is a branch of SOCOM and the United States Army responsible for special operations in the operation of the U.S Army with the mission to prepare for any conflict and arm the joint force with special operations forces capable of advancing partnerships, influencing adversarial behavior, executing special operations, and responding to crisis. This includes being prepared to compete, deter, and win against adversaries across military operations and as part of a joint force. ARSOF works to leverage adaptive and innovative institutions, empowered soldiers, and integrated units to deliver these capabilities.

Joint Special Operations Command

Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is a division of SOCOM that prepares assigned, attached, and augmented forces, and when directed conducts special operations against threats to protect the United States and interests abroad. JSOC is engaged in the case when multiple special operation commands are engaged in an operation, and in which case JSOC works to coordinate commands.

Marine Forces Special Operations Command

The Marine Forces Special Operations Command is a branch of SOCOM and the United States Marines responsible for special operations within the marines. Their extended mission is to recruit, train, sustain, and deploy expeditionary forces to accomplish special operations. This includes equipping and training Marines to succeed in austere conditions against a range of adversaries. These marines are expected to perform in distributed operations across uncertain environments and achieve silent success and strategic impact.

Naval Special Warfare Command

One of the more well-known special operation branches of SOCOM, due to the popularity of the Navy SEALS, is the operational arm of the Naval Sea Warfare Command (NSW). The NSW is a branch of the U.S. Navy, and is a multipurpose combat force organized and trained to conduct a variety of special operations missions in all environments. SEAL teams conduct clandestine missions infiltrating objective areas by fixed and rotary wing aircraft, navy surface ships, combatant craft, submarines, and ground mobility vehicles.

Acquisition program

A key objective in establishing a unified command, specifically SOCOM, was to help equip Special Operation Forces (SOF) of the military services with the right weapon systems to carry out their missions. Accordingly, the SOCOM commander was granted authority to independently develop, acquire, and field specialized equipment, creating unique SOF-peculiar equipment or modified standard equipment intended for SOF needs. The acquisition program's budget has increased since 2001, which saw the budget at $788 million and then grew to $1.91 billion in 2006 as SOCOM's operations have grown. The budget amount grew to $2.3 billion for 2021, which was a 12 percent reduction from the 2020 budget amount.

Of the 86 acquisition programs initiated by SOCOM from 2001 to 2006, 76 of the acquisition programs were ACAT III in size, meaning they were below $140 million in research and development costs or under $660 million in procurement costs and the programs were under the direct decision authority of the SOCOM commander. These 86 acquisition programs could be grouped into five major areas: rotary wing, fixed wing, maritime systems, information and intelligence systems, and special operations forces warrior equipment.

SOCOM acquisition programs from 2001 to 2006

Program type
Number of programs
Funding ($M)

Fixed wing

29

$1,670

Information and intelligence systems

15

$393

Maritime systems

5

$30

Rotary wing

10

$2,019

Special operations warrior

27

$885

However, with the increase in technological and operational complexity, the shift towards less conventional warfare, and an increased use of SOCOM and related special operation forces, SOCOM's development and acquisition program has continued to grow and develop in its complexity and interest to continue to ensure SOF readiness and operational effectiveness. This is also to keep SOCOM in line with the larger DoD mandate of developing operational capabilities to maintain the U.S. Military's operational superiority compared to strategic competitors and in the face of possible strategic competition from revisionist powers. This increased technological purview of development and acquisitions includes programs under these broad headings:

  • Aviation systems
  • Biometrics and forensics
  • Command, control, communications, and computers (C4)
  • Cyberspace operations
  • Human performance
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
  • Irregular warfare
  • Medical
  • Mobility
  • Power and energy
  • Soldier systems
  • Weapons and electronic attack

Aviation systems programs

Program
Description

Lightweight displays that maximize use of commercially available technology to provide symbology for flight, weapons, and sensor imagery to the pilot. Integrates into existing helmets and cockpit configurations.

Expeditionary, maritime, runway independent, uncrewed aircraft systems with advanced capabilities that include: open system architecture, modular payloads (plug and play), encrypted digital data link, navigation, information dissemination, and integrated material matrix structures that provide increased protection, stealth, RF apertures, and electromagnetic suppression. Technologies that reduce size, weight, and power.

Aircraft display systems

High reliability NVIS compatible systems to potentially complement existing crewed aircraft avionics and/or replace legacy display. Systems that reduce glint and light escapement for increased survivability.

Aircraft self defense systems

Scalable defensive technologies to protect SOF aircraft against the full spectrum of ground-to-air and air-to-air systems.

All-weather/all-terrain engagement

Technologies allowing for all-weather and all-terrain air-to-ground munitions engagement.

Biometrics and forensics programs

Program
Description

Dustless latent fingerprint

Innovative, low cost and man-portable techniques or technology in latent fingerprint collection, to include identification, imaging, and collection. Should be small, portable device to locate and capture latent fingerprints on porous and non-porous surfaces without use of dusting powders and leaving no residues.

Forensic evidence detection

Body-worn system to detect, locate, and identify forensic evidence at a distance up to 3 meters. Evidence of interest includes fingerprints, body fluids, explosives.

Identify explosive materials and sources

A chemical technology and database that can identify the origin of an identified substance back to a source or geospatial location with a high level of accuracy, preferably using technologies already employed by SOF. Develop affordable technology capable of identifying trace and bulk materials with a high level of confidence. Test for chemistries of interest, such as explosive and narcotics, using mechanical, chemical, electronic, or a combination of and with an output in a standard and searchable format.

Mobile DOMEX tools

Tools for exploiting cell phones, SIM cards, computers, and digital storage devices. Devices should include logical and physical extractions and data analysis capabilities.

Stand-off/Remote facial recognition and iris capture

Techniques that could package facial images and/or irises from media sources into an electronic biometric transmission specification format that could be submitted, matched, and stored in an authoritative database.

Command, control, communications, and computers (C4) programs

Program
Description

Advanced antennas-low visibility/low profile

Antenna designs combining broad banded and great performance that have dismounted (light yet rugged), mounted, and fixed site applicability, but are visually difficult or impossible to distinguish from their mounted platform.

Advanced computer forensics tools

Automated software tools to perform digital forensics on computer systems. Detect changes to the standard configuration, to include the operating system and standard applications, and identify non-standard behavior.

Advanced data management

SOF requires technologies that provide automatic data synchronization, fusion, mining, indexing and dissemination of data collected by widely dispersed SOF resources.

Advanced situational awareness in all environments

Capabilities that fuse and correlate battlefield information from a variety of sources and display it in an accurate and shared common operational picture. This includes fusion of full motion video with other sources of information, visually displayed in near real time to significantly improve the opportunities for knowledge management and discovery during operations.

Combat diving communications

Communications that will enable the individual combatant diver to communicate underwater to individuals and platforms. Equipment must minimize any contact with the surface, and have the ability to send and receive text, voice, and video.

Cyberspace operations programs

Program
Description

Advanced computer forensics tools

Automated software tools to perform digital forensics on computer systems. Detect changes to the standard configuration, to include the operating system and standard applications, and identify non-standard behavior.

Exploitation and Counter-threat

Ability to globally identify, attribute, geo-locate, monitor interdict, and defend against threats to Computer Network Operations and Information systems or tools that can autonomously and anonymously counter, defend, deny, incapacitate, confuse, access, influence, monitor, control, manipulate, disrupt, spoof or utilize adversary's computer networks and communications systems while protecting SOF systems.

Information assurance

Information assurance must be maintained throughout seamless, worldwide information enterprise systems that connect joint and coalition forces and other agencies. These enterprise systems must be capable of assuming information systems security while analyzing the networks, identifying and categorizing risk, and resolving potential security vulnerabilities.

Measure of effectiveness/performance analytical technologies

Defendable and repeatable processes, models, and measurement technologies that allow for the ability to detect changes in behavior or belief over time along with the associated factors that caused the changes. Including reporting of shifts in reaction to stimulus.

Role based access control

An innovative approach to role-based access control for the SOF enterprise that limits access to authorized users.

Human performance programs

Program
Description

Heart rate variability

Heart rate variability's potential for measuring combined psychological and physical readiness in SOF operators. Emphasis of research should validate or repudiate the use of HRV as an operational performance indicator and discern the use of HRV measurement as an accurate alternative or additive to accepted biomarker and readiness indicators. Additional research opportunities should identify unobtrusive nd minimally time-consuming means of measuring HRV on active service personnel without interfering with movement or physical activities.

Nutritional status

Research and methods to accurately measure nutritional status in SOF operators. The proposed project should focus on cost-effectiveness, accuracy, and end-user compatibility (user friendly) methods or devices for identifying and individual's nutrient status.

Optimal performance strategy

Research, apply, and/or develop novel approaches that provide rapid and sustainable human performance for austere environments and/or the SOF training calendar.

Pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement interactions

Research, apply, and develop novel approaches to determining what, if any, meaningful interactions occur between and among SOF-common medications (OTC or Rx) and commonly ingested and commercially available nutritional supplements or neutraceuticals.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) programs

Program
Description

Technologies on the frontier of geospecific feature extraction, compression, data interoperability, and fusion of sub-centimeter natural, built and augmented environments. Technologies that extend DoD/IC capabilities to meet SOF specific requirements for operational 3D across C21 and M&S. Solutions focused on OGC standards and open system architecture to achieve agility, rapid innovation, and capability enhancement, and lower costs over the life cycle of the program.

Advanced sensors including tagging, tracking, and locating devices

Tactical to nano-scale systems that can provide a long duration, small form factor, clandestine capability for rapid identification of individuals and equipment at various distances. New capabilities for detecting, identifying and tracking targets based on unique observables such as, but not limited to, biometrics, radio communications, unique mechanical defects, and augmentation of natural signatures. New capabilities to modify existing indigenous technologies for use in tagging, tracking, and locating.

Enhance resolution sensors

Technologies that allow for increased standoff distances improved resolution or better concealability over existing sensors.

Flexible mission suites

Technologies that allow roll on/roll off capabilities and rapidly reconfigurable mission suites to provide a flexible platform that can meet different mission needs. ISR platform architectures that segregate flight systems from payloads to allow rapid payload swaps without having to recertify the aircraft as flight worthy. Use of commercial standards and open systems architecture to reduce cost and schedule when adding new payloads.

Sensors placed at ground level that have the following characteristics: inconspicuous; long duration with no intervention or maintenance required; data transmission over several kilometers through heavy foliage, thick vegetation, mountain passes, or other types of natural and/or manmade environments that block signals or data transmission through heavy overhead foliage or thick vegetation via commercial SATCOM systems; tamper resistant; capable of sensing ground vibration, human body heat, natural human electrical charges, and other electromagnetic emissions.

Irregular warfare programs

Program
Description

Ability to detect significant cultural shifts

Analytical tools that provide the ability to detect changes in groups cultural behavior or beliefs over time along with associated factors that caused the changes including reactions to international stimulus to provide potential warning of future conflict areas.

Military information support to operations (MISO) advanced multimedia techniques

Advanced multimedia communications techniques including the traditional domains (acoustic, radio, print, television) and new media resources (sonic projection, scatterable speakers, media devices, internet, cable, mass cellular broadcasting, over and covert holographic imaging, and remotely updatable electronic paper) and the emerging social networking environment.

MISO measures of effectiveness

Planning and preparation support for cultural and behavioral modeling, including analysis, theme development and creating measures of effectiveness in operational environments. Provide defendable and repeatable processes, models, and measurement technologies and procedures that allow for the ability to detect changes in behavior or belief over time along with the associated factors that caused the changes, including reporting of shifts in reaction to stimulus.

MISO on demand survey capabilities

Technologies and methodologies that enable rapid, geographically focused data collection (especially attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors during and after execution of MISO) to provide evidence for the performance and effectiveness of MISO. In addition, these tools would also incorporate automated analysis, visualization capabilities, and reporting in template and user-customized formats. This capability would not include social media monitoring, scraping, analysis, or reporting.

MISO preparation of the environment/persistent engagement

Tactics, techniques, and procedures and enabling technologies (current or proposed) to allow PSYOP forces to prepare the operational environment during Phase 0 and maintain a persistent presence post operations.

Medical programs

Program
Description

Canine medicine

Research into strategies for acclimatization to acute extremes in temperature, altitude, and time zone change; sensory optimization and protection research for methods that enhance or conserve canine olfactory, visual, or auditory performance during combat; trauma resuscitation research to support the development for canine resuscitation, especially addressing ballistic projectile injuries; non-traditional anesthesia protocols, with approaches for routine and emergency canine field sedation or anesthesia; optimizing canine performance and nutrition, to develop strategies for the optimization of canine performance through improved physical conditioning programs, enhanced nutrition and genetics research; and pre and post trauma training, especially approaches to diagnosing and treating SOF-peculiar training and post-traumatic canine behavioral issues, in order to optimize pre-purchase selection and post-purchase training strategies across the enterprise and restore performance in canines with behavioral or post-trauma issues.

Damage control resuscitation - analgesia

The proposed project must research, apply, and develop effective treatment strategies that address the following elements: hypotensive resuscitation, optimal fluids, uncomplicated shock, non-compressible hemorrhaging, traumatic brain injuries, and austere damage control surgery.

Damage control resuscitation - austere surgical stabilization

Future theatres where SOF personnel will operate will likely be mush less medically robust than the past decade of fighting. Rather than sitting at hardened structures waiting on patients, surgical personnel may be increasingly asked to go to the patient. Research should focus on mobility and portability of medical and surgical equipment, with emphasis on equipment with greater capabilities than currently fielded devices, smaller size and weight, lo power demands and flexibility in power supplies. May also include research into a human systems approach to define limitations and mitigation strategies of surgical capability in austere environments.

Damage control resuscitation - far forward blood components, blood substitute, and injectable hemostatics

Research novel strategies to increase the ease, efficacy, and safety of blood transfusion forward of normal logistics support, for example evaluating blood for type and cross matching and for the presence of pathogens to include point of injury AB antibody titer. Should also include other blood components such as freeze dried plasma and platelets, cryoprecipitate, fibrinogen, prothrombin complex concentrate and injectable medication to address the coagulopathy of trauma such as tranexamic acid. A long term objective is a blood substitute that is comparable in size and weight of traditional blood products, and effectively functions like fresh whole blood without requiring refrigeration.

Damage control resuscitation - global treatment strategies and next generation wound management

Research, apply, and develop effective treatment strategies that address the following elements: hypotensive resuscitation, optimal fluids, uncomplicated shock, non-compressible hemorrghaging, traumatic brain injuries, and austere damage control surgery.

Mobility programs

Program
Description

Advanced mobility platforms to access sensitive or denied areas

Mobility platform or technology insertion to allow SOF platforms to operate undetected, or to be indistinguishable from indigenous vehicles and to transit over terrain typically considered impassable.

Advanced protection

Lightweight ballistic armor for SOF platforms, to include transparent armor. Ballistic armor systems should provide equal or increased protection over current systems without an increase in weight or reduction in durability at a manageable cost. The new systems should provide enhanced crew survivability, critical system survivability, and have low maintenance requirements.

Advanced unmanned surface systems

Expeditionary, maritime, platform agnostic, and scalable unmanned surface systems with advanced capabilities that include: open system architecture, modular payloads, RF and tethered encrypted digital data link, navigation, collision avoidance, system performance and system status information dissemination, signature management, and integrated material matrix structures that provide increased survivability.

At sea launch and recovery

Develop capabilities to launch and recover combatant craft medium and heavy at sea via crane. Develop capabilities to launch and recover NSW submersibles to include dry combat submersible. Develop systems that allows for deployment from vessels and other than amphibious ships with a well deck.

Combat driving propulsion

Underwater propulsion systems that can propel an individual or team of combat divers.

...

Power and energy programs

Program
Description

Advanced power systems technologies for improved battery and other energy storage device capabilities for use by SOF undersea vehicles

Provide a safe and reliable, air independent power system capable of being used on multiple OSF undersea manned mobility platforms and unmanned undersea vehicles with growth potential for broader vehicle applications. Should be capable of preventing, controlling, and halting thermal propagation, conflagration and explosion, and testable to DoD and US Navy high energy safety and environmental standards.

Design solutions that incorporate advanced power technologies and provide

Intended to provide centrally wearable power on dismount, intelligent and efficient power distribution management, automatic power charging and recharging capability, seamless integration for all powered subsystems, and novel power systems.

Hybrid propulsion systems wireless power transmission for dismounts

Propulsion systems that combine powering technologies to provide enhanced for SOF maritime combatant craft. Desired enhancements include: improved range, speed, payload; allowing for novel designs, craft layouts, and engine packaging options; low-noise operation or mode.

Novel advanced power sources for small units (12 or less)

Provide novel renewable power technologies (eg: solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, or other) for powering small unit encampments.

Novel advanced power sources for SOF dismounts

Small, lightweight, and portable capability to efficiently scavenge power from known sources and efficiently convert to transportable batteries.

Soldier systems programs

Program
Description

Active or passive heating and cooling

Ability to maintain individual core and extremity temperature against extreme environments during SOF operations, including military free-fall operations, static/dynamic land and maritime operations, and maintaining temperature of battlefield casualties.

Advanced energetics

Energetic technologies to include small arms propellants, explosive charges, explosive warhead fills, enhance blast, thermo baric or incendiary components that increase destructive energy while remaining insensitive munitions compliant.

Advanced protection

Advanced body armor that provides superior armor capability through the increased enhancements to ballistic protection and body coverage, while reducing the weight, thickness, and thermal load. Possess the ability to defeat armor piercing ammunition to include reducing the strike energy to a survivable level. Advanced non-destructive inspection techniques for body armor and ballistic helmets.

Advancements in imager and laser technology in "out of band" wavelengths

Technologies that improve performance of lasers and imagers in the short, mid, and long wave infrared wavelengths.

Combat diving marine environmental protection

Equipment that will allow the combat diver to extend underwater mission duration in extreme environments.

Weapons and electronic attack programs

Program
Description

Counter improvised explosive devices (CIED)

Increased electronic attack and RF counter IED capabilities against emerging threats worldwide in mounted/dismounted configurations. Technologies that can reduce weight, improve performance, decrease power output requirements, decrease thermal loading, and decrease system footprints, while increasing interoperability of electronic attack systems with other SOF capabilities.

Counter-material and facility defeat or disablement

Provide scalable effects weapon which can neutralize equipment and facilities from all SOF platforms, with effects from simple stop commands to full incapacitation for extended periods of time and effective against people, vehicles, and other manned or unmanned aircraft.

Counter-personnel weapons with selective increase in severity of non-lethal force

Integrated, scalable and selectable affects weapons with tunable destructive or less than lethal non-destructive potential that can provide this capability while limiting or eliminating collateral damage and casualties.

Deny area/deny access

Clear buildings and facility of all personnel with or without entry to those facilities. Deliver scalable effects to clear perimeters of all personnel for SOF to operate in. Hail and warn non-combatants with the objective to determine hostile intent.

Direct fire support weapons

Technologies that provide lightweight, direct fire support weapons with enhanced blast, optimized fragmentation, combined effects, multi-option or smart fuses.

Timeline

May 21, 2021
Shadow Warriors pursuing next-generation surveillance technology to identify and track threats.
May 20, 2021
Special Operations Command is now seeking a high-speed VTOL aircraft
May 20, 2021
US Special Operations Command explores amphibious MC-130 transport concept
May 18, 2021
SOCOM invests in new capabilities to address technology shortfalls.
May 18, 2021
SOCOM budget reductions to program office for command, control, communications, and computers.
May 17, 2021
SEAL dry combat submersible set for operational test in late 2021.
May 17, 2021
SOCOM announces that it had awarded $19.2 million worth of contracts to five companies to produce prototype aircraft for the Armed Overwatch program.
May 17, 2021
U.S. Special Operations Command's (SOCOM) top acquisition official says he would like to see a pilot program that doubles interest in the command's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) opportunities scaled across the department.
May 10, 2021
SOFWERX zeroes in on rapid acquisition, with the innovation hub pivoting efforts from discovering new technology to putting capabilities into the hands of commandos.
April 28, 2021
SOCOM is awarded AeroVironment Inc. a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for USD$26 million to develop the Switchblade tactical missile systems into specialized maritime platforms.

Patents

Further reading

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

Defense Acquisitions: An analysis of the Special Operations Command's management of weapon system programs

Web

June 2007

New SEAL Dry Combat Submersible Set for Operational Test in Late 2021 - Seapower

Richard R. Burgess

Web

May 19, 2021

Opinion | What 9/11 Taught Us About Leadership in a Crisis

Stanley McChrystal, Chris Fussell

Web

March 23, 2020

Shadow Warriors Pursuing Next-Gen Surveillance Tech

Jon Harper

Web

May 7, 2021

Documentaries, videos and podcasts

Title
Date
Link

2018 USSOCOM Bull Simons Award

May 11, 2018

40th Anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw

April 28, 2020

References

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