Air Force Special Operations Command's CV-22 Ospreys are set to get upgraded armor and a forward-facing gun. (Senior Airman Julianne Showalter / Air Force)
TAMPA, FLA. — U.S. Special Operations Command may have a relatively small budget with which to add the latest generation of widgets to its fixed-wing fleet, but commando leaders say they’re making those dollars count — and doing so quickly.
Plans briefed to industry at the annual SOFIC conference here include adding a forward-facing gun and better armor to its 50 CV-22 Ospreys, Hellfire missiles to the AC-130 fleet, along with new command and control and radio frequency jammers and countermeasures to both platforms that can be rolled on and rolled off, depending on the mission.
But money is an issue.
“If you’ve got a million-dollar widget you want to put on the [Osprey] — there’s 50 of them. We can’t afford a $50 million program,” Lt. Col. John DiSebastian, SOCOM’s C-130 and CV-22 program director, told a small group of defense industry reps Wednesday.
“But if you’ve got a $100,000 or a $50,000 widget that can improve the sustainment, capability, or ops of the aircraft, then bring that to us.”
DiSebastian stressed that he’s looking for opportunities to do low-cost modifications on the tilt-rotor aircraft, hinting that the playing field is still pretty wide open as the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is continuing to refine and tweak how the CV-22 is employed.
But that doesn’t mean the commandos haven’t already outlined a path forward.
After three of AFSOC’s Ospreys were shot up over Juba, South Sudan in December, resulting in the injuries of four Marines on board, the command realized that the birds needed better armor.
DiSebastian said that “we’re looking to put armor protection on those aircraft in under 140 days” and they’re about a third of the way through that.
SOCOM leadership is also working on beefing up the firepower on the aircraft, testing new forward-firing weapons that it wants to put in place by the end of this year.
If that seems like a pretty quick schedule to those who are used to the years-long process of getting things done in the Pentagon bureaucracy, Lt. Col. DiSebastian said that’s the whole point.
The gun program “is something that if we went to big Air Force or big Navy acquisitions it would have been a five-year program,” he said, but since the command is doing the research and development itself, “companies are looking to put a capability on this aircraft and shoot it by the end of this year.”
According to slides presented at the briefing, SOCOM is also looking at the potential of using helmet mounted displays, digital map upgrades, and using mobile devices to help do mission planning in the near future.
When it comes to the AC-130 gunship, the command has developed a laser-guided small diameter bomb that will be fielded this summer, and is just starting the process of fitting Hellfire missiles on the aircraft, according to Erich Borgstede, SOCOM’s systems acquisition manager for standoff precision-guided munitions.
SOCOM’s C-130 variants are the most expensive part of its overall portfolio, and include the MC-130 cargo planes along with the AC-130 gunships.
While AFSOC operates about 200 C-130s, it has outlined plans to reduce the overall number of airplanes it operates while focusing more on adding capability to the platforms that it retains.