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May 25, 2012

US Special Forces wishlist includes spy tools, radios that talk to foreign allies

National Defense Magazine

TAMPA, Fla.: Special operations commanders say they need more powerful sensors that can help find targets, and that are small enough to be carried on the backs of soldiers.

There are some places where traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms don't work, said Army Brig. Gen. Neil H. Tolley, commander of Special Operations Command Korea.

Tolley's command has to deal with North Korea, where military assets are concealed, including at least 20 underground air bases. Four tunnels have been discovered under the Korean Demilitarized Zone and there may be more the United States doesn't know about, Tolley said. The entire military infrastructure is hidden from spy satellites, he said.

“After 50 years, we still don't know much about the capability and full extent of this underground facility,” Tolley said. “Our ISR platforms are not as effective as we need them to be so we have to put humans there.”

Republic of Korea and U.S. soldiers have to perform old-fashioned reconnaissance missions, and they need sensors they can carry on their person. The technology has to be powerful enough to give leaders a decent understanding of what exactly is in a facility from a stand-off distance.

The problem with current sensors is that as they increase in capability, they also increase in size, Tolley said. The most sensitive sensors are the largest and often are carried on trucks. But vehicles are not able to enter North Korea, he said.

“We need something a soldier can carry on his back,” he said.

Special operators also need more advanced camouflage techniques. The U.S. military used to say it owned the night, but now anyone can buy a pair of night-vision goggles, Tolley said.

“We're visible again, so how do we become invisible?” he said – not just at night, but during the day as well.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. forces and their partners are dealing with criminal organizations and insurgents that rely on dense vegetation to hide their activities. Navy Rear Adm. Thomas L. Brown Jr. said that Special Operations Command South needs radar that can penetrate foliage. The same goes for the Pacific theater, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Norman J. Brozenick Jr., commander of Special Operations Command Pacific.

Special Operations Command Central officials said they need sensors that provide a persistent stare from overhead or underwater. In addition, SOCCENT is in the market for anti-swarm technologies that can be used in places like the Strait of Hormuz. These would be tools that could affect the driver, hull or propeller on an adversary's boat.

Commanders also say they want more seamless ways to communicate with partner nations.

“I'd like to be able to turn on, tune in and drop into a discussion with my counterparts across 16 time zones,” Brozenick said. “That's not just a headquarters perspective. It goes straight down to the team level,” where it can be used by Navy SEALs and other commandos.

In the European theater, there is concern about communication problems arising as the polar ice caps recede. Army Maj. Gen. Michael S. Repass said it would be beneficial to rethink high-frequency communication and re-engineer it for the future. He said he had experienced jamming twice in the past year using satellite communications.

“I haven't been jammed on HF since 1983,” he said.

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