Special operators want lighter, user-friendly equipment--and fast.

Author:Jean, Grace V.
Position:SPECIAL OPERATIONS - Conference notes
 
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The U.S. Special Operations

Command doesn't care whether industry has the latest and greatest technology if it can't put it quickly into the hands of troops.

"Innovation and responsiveness are keys to our success. Agility is essential," said Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, in a speech to the 2010 Special Operations Industry Conference, in Tampa, Fla.

If the speed of acquisition is throttle that determines the speed of war, then fielding new technologies "as rapidly as possible is a primary method of shortening conflicts and saving lives," Olson said.

Since 9/11, SOCOM's equipment budget has more than doubled from $900 million to $2 billion in 2010--$1.5 billion in procurement and about $500 million in research and development.

Next year, however, R&D funding will drop by 26 percent, which means that SOCOM will be doing less of its own development and will be searching for new technology in the private sector, said James Cluck, SOCOM's acquisition executive.

"We would never have enough money to pay for it all ourselves," said Cluck in an interview with National Defense. Another challenge is the slow pace of the military acquisition process. "We try to do it as rapidly as we can, but it's tough to match up science and technology with the way we do budgeting and programming in the department," he said.

"We have to wring every bit of capability out of the technologies that are available," said Cluck. "Sometimes we just need to figure out how to use current technologies better."

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Cluck praised the competitive prototyping approach to developing weapon systems. "That gives industry a fair shot at having a prototype opportunity ... and it gives the users a fair opportunity to evaluate the range of options that industry may be providing.

"If we write a full specification before we award, we're just taking an educated guess that it's going to work as we expect it to work. If it doesn't, it's either going to cost us more money to repair that in a different direction, or we start over and we lose time," Cluck added.

"I think we do best when we look at mature technologies and rapidly apply them and insert them into existing programs," said Cluck.

Special operators want lighter gear that requires little to no training time.

"The key to success is being light, nimble and fast Anything weighing you down is going to kill you," said Navy Lt. John Wiedmann of SEAL Team One. Operators typically pick...

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