Special Operations as a Technology Driver

09.11.14 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The continuing prominence of special operations as an instrument of U.S. force projection is creating requirements for “revolutionary, game changing” new technologies and fostering the development of solutions to those requirements.

Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command until last month, told the House Armed Services Committee in two newly published hearing volumes that a range of new technologies are under development by SOCOM, including laser weapons, new emergency medicine techniques, color night vision, and more.

“USSOCOM is currently pursuing directed energy systems as a non-kinetic, stand-off anti-materiel solution. We have a requirement to surgically disable or disrupt a variety of fixed facility infrastructure and systems, with required capabilities ranging from breaching and access to disablement of critical equipment. The Man Portable High Energy Laser is one of several technologies under consideration for this critical mission,” Adm. McRaven wrote in response to questions for the record from a March 2014 hearing.

Emergency medical response is another concern. “Uncontrolled external hemorrhage remains the leading cause of death on the battlefield. Despite recent advances in hemorrhage control technologies, controlling the bleeding in large wounds (‘sharkbite’) remains difficult and a SOCOM Commander top priority. A ‘Sharkbite’ project developed a novel wound stasis dressing to treat SOF non-compressible hemorrhagic injuries. The ‘SharkBite Trauma Kit’ includes three revolutionary tools that are now pending FDA approval before transition to USSOCOM’s PEO–SOF Warrior’s Tactical Combat Casualty Care Program of Record and SOF medics.”

“Some of our most difficult advanced technology requirements include personal protection, signature management, first pass lethality, and color night vision,” Adm. McRaven wrote in response to questions from another hearing in February.

“USSOCOM… is leading the development of a series of technologies necessary to construct a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) in order to increase Special Operations Forces survivability…. The development of powered exoskeletons, advanced armor, and lightweight power generation and distribution systems have wide-ranging potential uses…. It is envisioned that novel ballistic materials, advanced power storage systems, and exoskeleton advancements will be made available to other DOD and Federal agencies prior to the fielding of the TALOS prototype.”

“Our adversary’s capabilities continue to evolve and improve. To maintain our edge on the battlefield SOF needs comprehensive signature management in all environments to avoid detection. We are evaluating novel technologies to provide SOF aircrews and their platforms with first pass lethality by rapidly acquiring ballistic wind data for vastly increased accuracy of unguided weapon systems.”

“Finally, maintaining our tactical advantage at night will require revolutionary, game changing capabilities like color night vision. The goal of our color night vision effort is to provide the SOF operator the ability to see true color on a moonless night with just starlight–a tremendous tactical advantage,” Adm. McRaven wrote.

With or without such advantages, however, “I would be concerned about thinking that the special operations community is the panacea for all our problems,” Adm. McRaven testified in February. “We are not.”