For decades, American commandos have been outfitted with the best high-tech gear in the world. Whether it’s the first-generation night vision goggles (NVGs) in Vietnam or stealth Blackhawk helicopters like the ones SEAL Team 6 and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) used to fly deep inside Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, American war-fighters have long enjoyed a technological preponderance over their opponents.
According to the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), this summer they might be getting yet another technological advantage, but this project has the potential to overshadow all previous technological enhancements. Meet the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS).
The TALOS program isn’t covert or new. It was Admiral William McRaven, who as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), oversaw the mission that killed Bin Laden and later went on to command SOCOM. In 2011, SOCOM published TALOS’ development and objectives. The command envisions a protective suit that will be flexible, robust, and able to provide 360-degree situational awareness to the operators. This would be achieved by multiple sensors that would streamline data and footage from drones, surveillance aircraft, and other monitoring systems.
Moreover, the suit will be designed to provide energy independence to special operators, for example, by utilizing their movement to recharge the multiple batteries they have to carry to service their NVGs, radios, etc. Another aspect of TALOS would be life support sensors that would monitor the physical condition of the operator.
SOCOM expects the initial testing phase to begin sometime during the summer, but full operational use is years away. However, some systems that are being developed to be part of TALOS could find their way to the front lines much more quickly. Last year, James Smith, the acquisition executive at SOCOM, said during an interview at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations International Conference, that “in parallel and in combination with that, we’ve learned a lot through that Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit effort, about providing greater situational awareness to the individual operator and about providing greater lethality.”
Despite the potential utility of the TALOS, or indeed of any other piece of gear, it is paramount that the policymakers and military leadership remember the first SOF Truth: Humans are more important than hardware.
SOCOM states that “People – not equipment – make the critical difference. The right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with the equipment available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of the right people.” They shouldn’t forget what they preach, though.