For years, the Pentagon has been looking to maintain its competitive edge over its near-peer competitors by outfitting U.S. troops with the best technology out there.

The U.S. Special Operations Command, known as SOCOM, has been a pioneer in this effort, often providing real-world testing for various weapon systems and technology that eventually is widely distributed among conventional forces.

This effort stalled amid decades of fighting technologically inferior enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the return of great-power competition, this time with China and Russia, has brought the need for technological superiority to the fore.

Central to this push for tech is SOCOM’s Hyper Enabled Operator program, known as HEO.

SOCOM has already experimented with equipping commandos with advanced weaponry and sensors. In 2013, the command introduced the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS.

TALOS was an Iron Man-style exoskeleton meant to give special operators several advantages over adversaries. The program was canceled after a few futile years, but the concept lives on in the HEO.


New Technology for New Threats

Naval Special Warfare RQ-20B Puma drone Palau
Naval Special Warfare forces demonstrate how to operate an RQ-20B Puma unmanned aircraft system in Koror, Palau, July 21, 2021. (U.S. Navy)

The HEO program is designed to equip special operators with the technology necessary to understand what is going on around them without impairing their ability to fight or creating cognitive dissonance.