SOCOM invests in new capabilities to fill technology gaps

WASHINGTON – The science and technology arm of the United States Special Operations Command invests in advanced computing, secure data sharing and other new technologies that it says will shape the future of war against adversaries close to their peers.

Components of the Department of Defense attempt to lock in emerging capabilities, such as artificial intelligence and new communication technologies, which will define the next decades of war, while getting rid of the legacy tools used during the last 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We need to maintain the budget and the resources to keep moving forward,” said General Richard Clarke, Commander of Special Operations Command, in a speech at the Operations Forces Industry Conference. National Defense Industrial Association specials. Where “we cannot stay is: USSOCOM only does counterterrorism, only a response to the crisis. We need to develop and make sure that we really look at what SOF [Special Operations Forces] can do in competition and what SOF can do in high end conflict. “

The Pentagon envisions the future battlefield as an interconnected network of sensors that transmit data to war fighters, combined with a myriad of emerging technologies including AI / machine learning, mesh networks, waveforms advanced and secure digital tools that enable commanders to make decisions faster.

SOCOM attempts to fill many gaps related to this future battlefield, including how to effectively search its ‘mountains’ of data, move that information through security classification levels, and communicate across a more complex battlespace, Clarke said. Operators will also face threats from the adversary’s unmanned systems, electronic warfare, cyber effects and information warfare, he noted.

“What we need to be able to do is not just play defense, but we also need to play offense for our abilities, our war fighters,” Clarke said. “To meet these challenges, we must innovate to transform our strength. It will be essential to invest both in human resources and in key technologies. “

SOCOM tries to do this through the Hyper-Enabled Operator effort of its science and technology branch, which aims to equip operators with access to informative data in austere environments to improve decision making, giving them an advantage. said cognitive. In fiscal 2020, the Hyper-Enabled Operator project had a budget of $ 16 million, according to a presentation at the event by Lisa Sanders, SOCOM’s director of science and technology.

This project transferred some technologies to the procurement program offices. According to Sanders, this effort requires advanced battlefield data analytics, voice-to-voice language translation, and over-line-of-sight communications with high bandwidth if satellite communication does not exist. is not available.

Sanders said a beyond-line-of-sight communication project has moved to SOCOM’s program executive office for command, control, communications and computers, while an integrated knowledge tool situation was transferred to PEO Special Reconnaissance to support a referral program.

She also said the program mainly focused on advanced computing, or the ability to process data on the battlefield without sending it back thousands of miles to a data center, as well as language processing. natural, which would allow computers and humans to communicate. better.

SOCOM’s priority area of ​​network and data management capability is seeking secure artificial intelligence capabilities, Sanders said, specifically focused on trust between machine-to-machine connections.

“Any kind of merged environment, being able to know that this information is secure, is important,” Sanders said. “Data integrity is important to us. So these are areas in which we are looking for additional work.

The S&T director also said that SOCOM has shortcomings in terms of non-kinetic effects, such as information operations, electronic warfare and cybercrime, adding that “we are looking for projects that come to us that have this kind. of capacities ”. According to Sanders’ presentation, the CFA Next-Generation Effects wants to more than double its next-generation effects budget to $ 35 million in fiscal 2022.

The Next Generation Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance focus area will focus on improving situational awareness. Sanders said a significant part of this relates to the space and special ops specific payloads the command needs to maintain situational awareness.

“Our shortcomings are really about how to take the abilities I’ve learned to expect over the past 20 years of war and make them tactical, and not force them to go back to the analyst and not have an army. analysts to determine what emerges from a set of [data] feeds, ”Sanders said.

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