12 April 2019

Special Operations Forces go shopping

Daniel Ilie

Image source: Mediafax

Acquiring a system is a process that begins with a need identification. The purpose of the acquisition is to procure, provide the customer in a timely manner, and then sustain an efficient system that meets the mission need at an affordable cost. The cost must be regarded as the total resources needed to acquire, produce, operate, support and downgrade (discontinue the service) of that system.

The specialized literature says that the procurement process administration represents the systematic and logical management of the effort needed to transform the need into an operational system. Throughout the Romanian Ministry of National Defense, a NATO like Integrated Defense Acquisition System is implemented that identifies and establishes the needs and requirements of new weapon systems, the priorities for resource requirements, and that manages the entire procurement process through projects, or programmes.

All the procurement programs require an effort to ensure the Integrated Logistic Support (ILS) that begins before the formal start of the program and continues throughout the entire life cycle of the system.

These are just a few of the elements that should be taken into account by the security and defense customers when they develop shopping lists to fill in the shortfalls in equipment and weapon systems needed to equip their troops for specific missions. And the Romanian  (ROU) Special Operation Forces (SOF) are no exceptions to these imperatives.

Since the beginning of 2019 seems to be promising in terms of continuing the modernization and operationalization of SOF structures, here are some examples of shopping lists or priorities in the procurement of armament systems and equipment that, at least for defense industry stakeholders, or those in the field of research and development, may be signs of business or cooperation opportunities.

The USSOCOM Shopping List

During the 30th ”Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition” held in Wasington D.C., USA, at the beginning of February, the US Special Operations Command - USSOCOM Acquisition Executive (James Smith) presented a ”shopping list” with weapon systems and equipment needed for the US SOF in the context of adapting  the force to the current priorities described in the new US National Defense Strategy, the struggle for supremacy as a major global military power.

He believed that small-size teams [most likely referred to as SOF capabilities] could represent the surviving element that may shape the battlespace in the US favour in the event of a conflict with a capable peer or near-peer adversary, while for the larger capabilities/ platforms will be much more difficult to successfully conduct their missions. As a consequence, these specialized elite structures will need to be equipped as soon as possible with equipment and weapon systems to increase their lethality, as follows:

  • Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaisance (ISR) Sistems: USSOCOM looks for ways to find the "bad boys" through the use of social media and other digital means, as well as by using space satellites and smaller drones used in drone swarms. In James Smith’s opinion, large drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper will no longer be feasible in the future, alluding to the recent proliferation of the advanced surface to air missiles that could also be used to take down such unmanned aircraft systems. Personally, I would argue that there is still much to do, and that such drones with the possibility of being armed and executing the fire on the assigned targets will further prove their usefulness. And even against near-peer adversaries. But the concern is, however, more than justified.
  • Modern mobility (transportation) means: USSOCOM is still relying on combat support (attack) and transport air assets, either fixed or rotary wing, built on C-130J Hercules, or Chinook platforms, respectively. They will continue to invest in such existing platforms to improve their survivability. The modernization will refer to non-GPS navigation means and stealth technologies to prevent the detection of such large platforms.
  • Fire precision and effectiveness: USSOCOM seeks to acquire precision-guided munitions and the so-called suicide drones. Mentioning that the US defense industry has not developed such technologies to meet the needs and requirements of USSOCOM, James Smith said that cooperation with certain external partners is envisaged and experiments with this type of technology will be carried out in May 2019. I wrote in an August 2018 article about the USSOCOM intent to purchase such intelligent munitions to equip the US Navy SEAL.
  • Hyper-Enabled Operations: while USSOCOM quits for the time being the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) project due to the complexity of interconnecting its different sub-systems and its reduced tactical field efficiency, they will focus instead on the cognitive space and the need of real-time intelligence from social media and other intelligence sources to be delivered to the individual or small team conducting a specific mission in the field. They have been seeking big computing power systems able to carry data from the cloud to the operator.
  • Data and networks: Smith said that in the past 12 months, USSOCOM culture has changed dramatically, noting that the head of information branch has advanced mathematics and computer science education. It is not about the material solution, but how the architecture can be developed [layered]. It is about  the implementation of data network protocols, so that much richer data layer can be obtained for the organization.

It is interesting to note that USSOCOM wants to own all its own data, ie those generated by it, both input and output data from such systems that have the capability to process data, as drones with ISR capabilities. It seems, however, that defense industry companies are not very willing to do this, at least not for free.

Another point that has been highlighted, with some frustration, was that, in relation to the urgent needs to equip the US SOF, defense industry companies are moving too slowly, hampering the process of adapting the force to the new security and defense challenges.

Critical, essential and enhancing requirements for Belgian SOF

In the Global SOF Foundation capabilities catalogue, in preparation for the Global SOF Symposium - Europe 2019 conference to be held in autumn in Brussels, Belgium, Belgian SOF published their own list of critical, essential, and enhancing equipment nedeed to complete their missions. The intent is to pick up the attention and increase the interest of defense industry companies to participate in the defense and security equipment exhibition during the conference.

Intenţia este de a capta atenţia şi a stârni interesul firmelor din industria de apărare de a participa la expoziţia de tehnică şi echipamente militare organizată cu ocazia conferinţei. Some of the critical and essential requirements are outlined below:

Critical requirements

  • Visual augmentation systems (VAS): size, weight, and power-enhancing handheld VAS commodities, as well as novel multi-spectral capability - integrated with small arms and major weapons systems, with the ability to sense environments in zero light and degraded visibility.
  • Soldier protection, survival, and equipment systems: novel technologies and designs that decrease weight while increasing level of protection.
  • Maritime systems: Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB); underwater operations equipment (diving rebreathers, diving and dry suits, fins, underwater navigation systems, Swimmer Delivery Vehicles, underwater communications systems, oxygen booster pump, oxygen generators, and auto inflation devices); high speed boat Operations.
  • Targeting and intelligence capabilities: Handheld Geospatial Mapping, Tracking, Planning Communications and Survey tools.
  • Manned aviation systems: airpower capabilities that are adaptable, innovative and can effectively enable SOF to accomplish missions.
  • Unmanned aviation systems (UAS): typically hand-launched, portable systems employed at the small unit level or for base security. They can provide “over the hill” or “around the corner” type of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition; C-UAS - designed to detect, track, identify, and defeat UAS engaged in hostile airborne surveillance and potentially malicious activity.

Essential requirements

  • Ground mobility: Low Visibility Transferable Armor for Non Standard Commercial Vehicle (NSCV) - armour materials that can be transferred and integrated from one NSCV to another with minimal manpower and in a minimal timeframe.
  • Visual augmentation systems (VAS): head-mounted, handheld, and weapon-mounted optical devices - size, weight, and power-enhancing handheld VAS commodities, as well as novel multi-spectral capability; a dismounted situational awareness system (data bearer, end user device and battlefield management application) with an integrated data hub and power management device.
  • Weapon systems: sound/flash mitigation technologies, technological and ergonomic advances in holstering and concealment clothing;
  • Ammunition and demolition: lightweight ammunition, medium caliber Precision Guided Munitions, novel breaching explosives;
  • Soldier protection, survival, and tactical combat casualty care medical systems
  • Boarding equipment
  • Targeting and intelligence capabilities: to include             biometrics collection and analysis and computer forensics tools.
  • C4ISR systems (command, control, communications, computers, information, surveillance and reconnaissance): to include alternatives to GPS for Position, Navigation & Timing.

We recall that in July 2018, Belgium announced the establishment of the Special Operations Regiment (SOR) by transforming the Light Infantry Brigade. Belgium SOR consists of the Special Operations Group, the 2nd Comando Battalion, the 3rd Parachute Battalion, the 6th Communications and Informatics Group and the Training Centers.

ROU SOF to acquire military equipment import-export services 

According to a Romanian public aquistions monitor website, the military unit 01016 Târgu Mureş, unit with responsibilities in procurement of goods and services for the ROU Special Forces Command (SOC), has been trying since the beginning of 2019 to award through the public acquisitions system and a simplified procedure, one military equipment import-export services contract, for the period 2019-2022. The estimated value of the services contract is ROL 164,210.53.

Based on the Statement of Work (SoW), the military goods will be delivered in accordance with the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) concluded between the Government of the United States of America - the Department of Defense and the Government of Romania - the Ministry of National Defense, and the maximum value of the military equipment estimated to be imported-exported is ROL 63,157,894.72 (approximately US $15,058,748).

When referring to LOA contracts, we can guess that it is about implementing a security assistance program in the framework of security cooperation granted by the US Government to the Government of Romania by implementing a process known as Foreign Military Financing (FMF) / Foreign Military Sales (FMS).

The published data do not show whether military and dual-use items worth more than US $ 15 million are following a US security assistance program like Section 1206 (Train & Equip Authority)/2282 (Building Capacity of Foreign Security Forces), or a classified one like Section 127e ”SOF support in combating terrorism”.

What we know is that the US government's security assistance programs support Romania to modernize its armed forces, including SOF, in order to improve and achieve interoperability with NATO and US military forces, and to enhance the expeditionary capabilities in support of the NATO collective defense and coalition stability operations.

According to a 2018 United States Government Accountability Office repport to the Congressional Committees, between 2016-2107, România has received US $ 24,450,000 security assistance within the "Global Train and Equip” projects managed through the US European Command (EUCOM).

Obviously, the beneficiaries of FMS programs will have to pay some general fees to cover the running costs of the US government structures involved in such military export-import procedures, or in the provision of security and defense services.

The SOW says that the value of the commission charged includes all the expenses incurred by the supplier, including all transactions performed by the customs commissioners (excluding VAT and storage costs resulting from the exclusive fault of the contracting authority) and will be calculated as a percentage of the value in ROL of  the military goods estimated to be imported-exported. However, the first auction scheduled for February 7, 2019 was canceled because there were no registered bidders at the closing bid deadline.

Although we can speculate on the reasons that may have contributed to this first failure, from the fact that it may be the lack of expertise among entrepreneurs, about the value of the services contract of ROL 164,210.53 for a period of 3 years (0.26% of the value of the imported military goods), the lack of information about the auction dates, or a mixture of causes, reasons and calculations, we do not know the true reason.

What is certain is that any delay in the procurement of weapon systems and equipment needed to properly equip the ROU SOF will negatively affect the readiness of the force, with unwanted consequences on these elite capabilities and their ability to conduct specific assigned missions, just as they are undergoing a process of modernization and adaptation to the new risks and threats to our national security and defense.

And, almost a year after the establishment of the ROU SOC, given that, with Romania's allocation of 2% of its GDP for defense, capital expenditures (equipment, infrastructure) should have become priorities, we have not seen much important acquisitions of military equipment for ROU SOF.

Now that we can benefit from financial support from an Alliance partner, it is the time to take advantage of and identify the legal incentives needed to complete as quickly as possible the acquisition process of the military equipment so needed to address the shortages.