The United States Special Operations Command is always looking for ways to give its soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen an advantage over current and potential enemies. To that end, SOCOM has been partnering with several industry sectors to design, develop, and produce ground-breaking equipment. More specifically, SOCOM wishes to incorporate artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality in its mission concepts.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) technology could be used in SOCOM’s drones or in its explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) equipment. Augmented reality (AR), which provides additional computer-generated information to a person, could be used to enhance operators’ situational awareness (SA) on an objective. The U.S. Army has been experimenting with the Augmented Reality System for Soldier ARC4, a helmet enhancement that would enable commanders on the ground and on base to rapidly provide additional information to their troops (for instance, where an improvised explosive device (IED) had been found or live drone footage as a team approaches an objective). Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, could be used to better train SOF candidates and units before they deploy.
The Rapid Reaction Technology (RRTO) Innovation Outreach Program, a Department of Defence (DoD) initiative, and SOCOM will be partnering in an attempt to update old and develop new technologies for America’s special operators. Recently, SOCOM held an Optical Dominance Industry Day at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (AAP). Among others, companies were encouraged to display new technologies on communications, smart fabric and sensors, batteries, interoperable targeting and designation systems, integrated helmets, and enhanced optical devices.
SOCOM described the event as an opportunity for innovative firms to “make short technical presentations to government representatives about their technologies and products.” If a company manages to display its products’ potential, it “may be selected for pilot projects or experimentation if their technology appears to match the USSOCOM needs posted in the special notice.”
Judging by the limited information published prior to the event, it seems that SOCOM seeks to develop multisensory data fusion and processing technology. Such technology, for instance, could fuse different data (weather temperature, terrain elevation, 3D imagery) and provide operators with a crucial advantage downrange. Picture this scenario: A platoon of Rangers outfitted with such technology is approaching a high-value-target building somewhere in Afghanistan. An orbiting drone spots a suspect bundle close to their path. Each Ranger receives immediate feedback on the threat, which proves to be an IED. The Ranger commander diverts his men, and the element assaults the target successfully.
One of the things that make American special operations forces (SOF) so effective and fearful is the technology that they field. Of course, high-tech gadgets and enhancements alone don’t mean anything. Otherwise, a country could buy itself an effective SOF force. As per one of the SOF Truths, “Humans are more important than hardware.” That doesn’t mean, however, that SOF should shun technological advantages. It means, rather, that they should constantly keep in mind what makes SOF special.