TAMPA, Fla. — U.S. special operations forces need a tool that can both jam radio frequencies to stop roadside bombs from exploding as well as neutralize drone threats by land, air and sea — and it has to be small.

That’s what Special Operations Command officials said Tuesday at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, hosted in Florida by the National Defense Industrial Association. A lieutenant colonel who serves as the command’s program manager for counterproliferation said SOCOM is seeking a next-generation multimission electronic countermeasure device. (Under rules of the conference, individuals at the paygrade of O-5 and below were not to be identified in press reports.)

But an O-6, Army Col. Anh Ha, who leads the command’s warrior-focused office, said a major initiative is ensuring an operator working in an isolated area — far from command infrastructure and with limited resources and power — can still have a shared, common operating picture with higher headquarters.

“Contested comms, this one always scares everyone,” Ha said. “What happens when we can’t talk?”

For its part, the Army’s research budget last year emphasized tactical architecture for electronic warfare, C4ISRNET reported. That included a request to increase spending for the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare effort, the Terrestrial Layer System—Brigade Combat Team program, the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool, and the Terrestrial Layer System—Echelons Above Brigade effort.

Big Army also pumped up its budget request last year to nearly triple its EW personnel.

The counterproliferation Army lieutenant colonel at SOFIC is focused on a smaller package. “Counter-unmanned systems: This consumes the bulk of our energy in the program office,” the O5 said.

The office stood up the counter-UAS program this past fall, he noted, and although the current focus is on aerial threats, the office is looking for ground and maritime counter-drone options, too.

His team wants to find portable, dismounted and fixed expeditionary site options for the next-generation multimission electronic countermeasure gear. The Marine Corps and SOCOM have an existing system called Modi, made by the Sierra Nevada Corporation and used by the Army and Marines.

The next-gen version needs to hit those other domains and be more portable. The current dismounted system weighs 40 pounds.

The program manager said “ideally” the office expects to select a system by fiscal 2024 and begin production in fiscal 2025. And SOCOM would like to run these systems as smoothly as they can in order to “reduce burden to our operators and incentivize autonomy as much as possible,” the O5 said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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