Next Gen Body Armor, ISR sensors, Nigh Vision Make SOCOM’s Wish List

Free fallin'TAMPA — Experimental light weight body armor, the latest in infrared sensors, and next-generation night-vision technology are all among a series of key areas of focus for the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Science and Technology community, service officials said May 14 at the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here.

Special Operations leaders have made developing technologies to improve small unit dominance, human performance, battlespace awareness and Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) a priority as the coffers funding modernization get smaller even for SOCOM, said Karen Sander, director of SOCOM S&T.

A2/AD is a much-discussed Pentagon theme often geared toward potentially adversarial nation-states like China and Iran. SOCOM forces, however, will need stealthy access, long-range Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and mobile transportable electrical power for a wide range of potential combat environments.

As a result, SOCOM S&T is immersed in locating a range of non-lethal, surveillance and “insertion” technologies to help forces maneuver, Sanders said.

Non-lethal weapons are another focus for SOCOM S&T because many of their operations might require them to thwart an assailant or render an enemy still without necessarily using lethal force.

One of the key ways that SOCOM S&T identifies and attains emerging technologies is through a process they call Technical Experimentation — a series of experiments designed to take place three times a year placing promising technologies, systems and capabilities in the hands of special operators in a combat-relevant environment.

The U.S. Army does something similar twice a year at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sand Missile Range, N.M. with the Network Integration Evaluations.

“It is not just a demonstration. The idea is for them to bring technology to see how it operates in a relevant environment with relevant users to gain some feedback. This will help them improve their technology and more directly meet our needs,” Sanders said.

The first two Technical Experimentation events for this year took place in Muscatatuck, Ind., and Avon Park, Fla.; the third and final experimentation event, to be focused on maritime technologies, is slated to take place later this year at Camp Roberts, Calif.

The recent experimentation in Indiana was specifically focused on identifying potentially useful urban technologies. For examples, the experiment was able to assess communication equipment as well as software and digital mapping technologies, Sanders said.

In preparation for the events, Broad Agency Announcements are sent to vendors, government service laboratories and academic partners interested in proposing or submitting technologies and systems for the experiment. At the same time, if participants have a worthy idea that does not adhere to the stated theme, they are encouraged to propose or submit their ideas regardless, Sanders explained.

“These experiments help us to find where the real break points are in terms of capability,” she added.

For instance, key information was learned about the abilities of “Lidar” to help special operators navigate through a degraded visual environment, or situation wherein vision or awareness is temporarily obscured. The Technical Experimentation helped discern the difference between dusk and smoke as it pertained to Lidar, a sensing technology which combines radar-type approaches and laser technology, Sanders explained.

“We’re looking to do a new acquisition with Lidar. We set up a specific focus with Lidar as a subset of one of our avenues. We realized there’s a difference between dusk and smoke. This experimentation can help us set our standards so that we don’t set a minimum threshold that no-one can meet, or so that we don’t set an objective that everyone can meet. You want to get your criteria so that it is a challenging enough problem,” Sanders added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • prodozul

    So…nigh vision huh?

  • Tad

    Where’s Batman and his gadgets when you need him?

  • bobbymike

    MUMSPEC – Mission Specific Mutli-spectral Camouflage

    Satellites take pictures of mission areas classify the most common colors and in what percentage of the foliage and terrain and then new camouflage is printed specific for the mission. Patent pending.

  • Nick T.

    I’m curious to see what they mean by “next-gen body-armor.” Better ballistic protection? Active-camo? More light-weight? I’m more curious what what it’s going to be made of actually.

  • xpoqx
  • xpoqx
  • xpoqx
  • blight_

    Lighter body armor sounds promising, though the other consideration needs to be ventilation and weight distribution as parts of mitigating fatigue to the user.

    Some kind of lidar vision that would theoretically have better capability in smoke vs light amplification, and would be less visible to an opponent than an infra-red search beam.

  • platypusfriend

    Non-Newtonian fluid armor, perhaps?

    • blight_

      The shear thickening fluid armor stuff, you mean?

      • platypusfriend

        Exactly. I’ve seen videos of it enhancing standard aramid vests; I’m sure there’s a step up from that, even…


    Call in Stark Industries. Anywho, SOCOM has a wish list. Looking at the defense budget, I have doubts that they will get all, if anything, that is one this list.

  • Restore Palestine

    Same old American slavish worship and pursuit of so-called sophisticated equipment for perpetual warfare.

  • SJE

    As shown in the photo above, Airforce pilots must now fly without planes following the recent sequester.

    • ljd
  • E.fulton

    How bout a polymer material like the webs spiders create soo strong an easy to move in maybe incorporate a system that understands body alertness an tightens/hardens when needed by expanding or retracting those fibers. Maybe incorporate the stickiness of webs for grip in certain areas of suit

  • E.fulton

    Insects like ants can’t break webs an they are extremely strong per scale of course. So jus think of the strength an power of a suit pulled tight I bet a fine edged blade couldn’t penetrate