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SOCOM pushes ahead on aircraft, vehicles

May. 13, 2013 - 09:38AM   |  
unit logo for Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
unit logo for Special Operations Command (SOCOM). ()
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As Congress debates whether to give the Defense Department special waivers to avoid some of sequestration's automatic budget cuts, the head of Special Operations Command maintains he's operating under no illusions.

As Congress debates whether to give the Defense Department special waivers to avoid some of sequestration's automatic budget cuts, the head of Special Operations Command maintains he's operating under no illusions.

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WASHINGTON — As Congress debates whether to give the Defense Department special waivers to avoid some of sequestration’s automatic budget cuts, the head of Special Operations Command maintains he’s operating under no illusions.

“Nobody in my organization believes, as we go forward, that the U.S. Special Operations Command will not have to participate, and potentially be taxed, as a result of the sequestration,” Adm. William McRaven told a Wilson Center audience May 3 in Washington.

The nation’s head commando added he is working with the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs to articulate what the nation receives when it invests in spec ops.

“I think we can make a good argument” on that point, he said. “But make no mistake about it, the budget will affect us either directly or, as it affects the services, it will affect us.”

Since operators rely on the services for everything from air or sealift to logistical and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, McRaven reminded the crowd that even if SOCOM’s pre-sequester bottom line rises, “we don’t do anything that doesn’t have a service component to it.”

Still, SOCOM is moving ahead with a range of new acquisition programs while embarking on a plan to reconstitute its rotary and fixed-wing fleets.

The plan that has received the most ink is the award — due by the end of May — for at least 1,300 ground mobility vehicles to replace its aging fleet of Humvee variants ridden hard in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The vehicle has to weigh less than 7,000 pounds and be transportable in a Chinook helicopter, the requirements state.

SOCOM’s fiscal 2014 budget request calls for $24.7 million to purchase 101 vehicles in 2014, at $245,000 per vehicle. Competitors are General Dynamics, current GMV-maker AM General and Navistar International. In January, SOCOM rejected Oshkosh Defense’s design for further evaluation, prompting the company to file a protest.

That protest was withdrawn April 26, but it remains unclear why the company’s design was rejected, why it protested and whether it remains in the running for the award.

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SOCOM’s eventual acquisition of 50 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft by 2017 has also led the command to issue another request for proposal for an internally transportable vehicle, which will be designed to fit in the back of the Osprey.

The April 5 document calls for two “Critical Flight Mission Payloads,” one at 1,000 pounds and another at 2,000 pounds, with a field-installable weapon station mount capable of fitting a variety of weapons.

Since the request is classified, an unclassified draft proposal released last June also calls for the ITV to fit two passengers in addition to a driver, feature a removable gunner’s seat, be capable of carrying three to six casualty litters and have a crush-resistant roll cage.

Aircraft upgrades

SOCOM is taking a hard look at upgrading fixed and rotary-wing assets, as well. The 2014 budget request asks for $20 million to kick off an upgraded version of the precision strike package on AC-130J gunships, as well as $10 million to fund an enhanced situational awareness program for AC/MC-130J aircraft.

The command also asked for $2 million to start an Electronic Warfare and Radio-Frequency Countermeasures program for the C-130J.

SOCOM also looks to play a role in the DoD’s Future Vertical Lift program by contributing $1 million to help design aircraft with “a significant increase in range, speed, payload, survivability, reliability and maintainability of vertical lift aircraft to meet emerging mission requirements.” The funding will help DoD planners develop a vertical lift solution that can also meet SOCOM standards, the budget documents state.

Still, the base budget isn’t enough to contain all of the initiatives that the command wants to undertake. In a draft of a fiscal 2013 budget reprogramming request leaked May 3, SOCOM also asked for $58 million “for multiple ISR TF classified programs,” one of which it described as a “new start” program funded with overseas contingency operations dollars.

But not all of the command’s requirements revolve around gear. While 2014’s budget justification documents confirm that SOCOM wants to ramp up its global engagement with partners outside of the Central Command region where it has focused most of its efforts since the turn of the century, leaders are worried about the distribution of its already stretched forces.

“One area of specific concern,” the document warns, “is managing this transition while still meeting what USSOCOM expects to be a persistent demand signal from [US Central Command]. USSOCOM does not expect to see a reduction in operational requirements after the current mission in Afghanistan is redefined.”

Despite this, McRaven’s command says it “will place a renewed focus on battalion-level security force assistance and unconventional warfare training in the jungle and forested environment.”

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