Iron Man and Killing Geronimo*

Several years after the highly successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by DEVGRUs Red Squadron, Admiral William McRaven revealed an ambitious dream for special operations forces (SOF). This vision included troops equipped with exoskeletons reminiscent of Iron Man, able to withstand bullets and swiftly neutralize terrorist threats. Although this idea never materialized, a decade later (yes, believe it or not, it has been that long), U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is exploring new high-tech capabilities, with an emphasis on something akin to complete knowledge rather than physical invulnerability. A marriage of sophisticated technology with supremely capable operators. More Bond than Iron Man.

This change in direction is driven by both practical considerations and an evolution in SOCOM’s mission and role. Developing real-world technology that mimics comic-book feats is fraught with challenges, and SOCOM’s expectations of its operators have transformed over time.

Bond with gun
The tux may be a bit much, but what else are you supposed to wear when your armorer turns out to be none other than James Bond’s famed “Q”?


During Global SOF’s SOF Week conference, Col. Jarret Mathews explained SOCOM’s initiative to develop hyper-enabled operators. He described efforts to adapt to new mission areas such as internal defense, irregular warfare campaigns, and integrating deterrence with allied forces.

In future operations, especially those involving training foreign allies, SOF teams may lack certain tools previously employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as missile-equipped drones. Mathews expressed that SOF teams operating discreetly in various countries don’t have access to these assets but still need to support their partners’ goals.

SOCOM is embracing augmented reality and artificial intelligence to enhance its capabilities. In a demonstration, Mathews showed how an operator using augmented reality glasses could instantly translate written language, gather data on enemy locations, and alter or conceal electronic footprints, likening it to “seeing around corners.”

This technology push includes SOCOM’s “Automate the Analyst” project, aimed at creating a continuous advisory system for the operator. While civilian technology like ChatGPT and other AI models offers similar functionalities, they often rely on public datasets and extensive cloud resources unavailable to SOCOM operators.

Avatar of half a woman
This image needs some explanation. I took this photo during the most recent SOF Week. In person, this was equal parts fascinating and unsettling. This half a young woman, a spokesperson for a major corporation, was fully three-dimensional and spouting the company line to passersby. Did I mention she has no lower half? Creepy. You could walk the whole way around her, and it looks just as if she was a real person, but she obviously was not. She was centered within a pyramid of glass, which accomplished the illusion very well.  The future is here, people. And this is just the stuff I can talk about. Photo by the author.

SOCOM Partnering With Nvidia

To overcome this limitation, SOCOM is collaborating with companies like Nvidia (that’s right, the graphics card people) to develop an instant translator that functions without internet access, though this remains an ongoing endeavor.

SOCOM acknowledges that it’s lagging behind adversaries like China and Russia in some technological areas. Brian Sisco, who leads SOCOM’s Futures team, established in 2020, stressed that the U.S. has been too focused on counterterrorism and must adapt to challenge high-tech opponents.