During the 2019 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference that took place earlier in the summer, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) offered a rare glimpse into its Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) initiatives.

In specific, SOCOM is developing a cell phone application that aims to simplify the SSE process. Glen Cullen, SOCOM’s SSE program manager, said in an interview with National Defense magazine: “We want to turn it into an app on a phone so that you basically are taking a picture of the person’s fingerprints.” He went on to highlight that despite the importance of fingerprints today, SOCOM is experimenting with and pioneering touchless technology.

One of the more important improvements to the new system is functionality. A cell phone will be the only thing an operator would have to carry, instead of the more cumbersome devices that are currently weighing down war-fighters. Moreover, SOCOM is trying to make the whole system cheaper by making the app the only thing required. So, instead of having to purchase additional devices to support the app, SOCOM is trying to buy just the app that would fit commercially-available devices.

“That means that anybody who’s got a cell phone can now collect fingerprints from somebody,” added Cullen.

The application under development will function with touchless fingerprint technology, thereby circumventing the shortcoming of current devices that often produce inconsistent results or have trouble capturing information in a timely manner.

For some time now, SOCOM has been placing added emphasis on SSE. There are, for example, a number of courses that teach SOF operators and SOF enablers (support personnel) the dark arts of SSE. More specifically, two courses that are quite popular are the SOF Site Exploitation, Technical Exploitation Course and SOF Site Exploitation Operator Advanced Course. The former is geared toward SOF enablers who are attached to SOF units, such as SEAL platoons, Special Forces operational detachments, Marine special operations teams, etc. Coursework includes training on advanced battlefield forensics, training on imaging, storing, and exploiting digital evidence, training on detecting hidden caches, and training on cell phone exploitation, among other things. The latter course focuses on SSE team organization. Coursework covers planning, interagency cooperation, tactical questioning, detainee-handling procedures, biometrics, and improvised explosive device exploitation. Both courses require a SECRET clearance and have a three-week duration.

SSE has become a crucial component in America’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. In essence, the introduction of SSE in SOF and conventional units has enabled a better understanding of the enemy and an improved and more standardized targeting process.