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Special operations forces work to stay mission ready: Weapons and Warfare

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This week on Weapons and Warfare, head to Tampa for Special Operations Forces Week, aka SOF Week 2024. Host Ryan Robertson takes a look at some of the problems facing the SOF community and what they’re doing to stay mission ready in the face of those challenges.

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Also featured in this episode:

  • The Department Of Defense’s Replicator Initiative — created to help defend against China — chose its first weapon: a one-way attack drone.
  • Special Operations Command paused plans for an amphibious cargo plane that could land on water.
  • An important Army vehicle has received a glow up, and the newest variant of this combat workhorse is the most survivable and modern edition to date.
  • The weapon of the week may look like a toy, but its users aren’t playing around with throwable, 360-degree camera.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

HELLO AND WELCOME TO WEAPONS AND WARFARE, FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS I’M YOUR HOST RYAN ROBERTSON.  AND WE ARE IN TAMPA FLORIDA FOR SOF WEEK 2024. 

THIS IS AN ANNUAL GATHERING OF SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES FROM ACROSS THE SPECTRUM. 

EVERY BRANCH OF THE U.S. MILITARY IS REPRESENTED HERE, AS WELL AS A NUMBER OF OPERATORS FROM AMERICA’S ALLIED PARTNERS. 

THERE ARE LOTS OF TALKS ABOUT PLANS, POLICIES, AND WHAT THE NEAR AND LONG-TERM FUTURES LOOK LIKE FOR OUR SPECIAL FORCES. 

THERE ARE ALSO A LOT OF COMMERCIAL BUSINESSES LOOKING TO GROW THEIR RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH THEIR INNOVATION AND PRODUCT LINES.

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS WE’RE GOING TO TAKE A LOOK AT ALL OF THAT, BUT FIRST SOME HEADLINES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED.

ONE PIECE OF NEWS MAKING THE ROUNDS HERE IN TAMPA THIS WEEK WAS THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THE PENTAGON HAS SELECTED AEROVIRONMENT’S SWITCHBLADE 600 AS PART OF THE FIRST TRANCHE OF THEIR REPLICATOR INITITIVE. THE ONE-WAY ATTACK DRONE GOT THE NOD, AT LEAST IN PART, THANKS TO ITS PERFORMANCE IN UKRAINE.

[Kara Kramer, Dir. of Bussines Dev., AeroVironment] 

“Being part of the tranche is a, it’s a confirmation that this system is the right fit for the current needs, globally. And we, we’ve been a company for over 53 years, and we really enjoy being able to support defense. That’s why you know, we’re here at SOF Week, and it’s why you’ll see us at almost every defense show. So we want to hear from the end users. We want to hear that it’s you know, working well in the field and that we want to hear about what what folks need in the future so we can develop to that. So replicator is a confirmation that we are headed in the right direction.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

IN AUGUST OF 2023, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY KATHLEEN HICKS INTRODUCED THE REPLICATOR PROGRAM AS PART AMERICA’S DEFENSE AGAINST CHINA, WITH AN END GOAL OF PRODUCING THOUSANDS OF AFFORDABLE, SINGLE-USE, AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS.

DON’T EXPECT TO SEE A HERCULES WALKING ON WATER ANYTIME SOON. SPECIFICALLY THE M-C-130-J SUPER HERCULES.

THAT NEWS COMING OUT OF SOF WEEK HERE IN TAMPA AS COLONEL T. JUSTIN BRONDER, SOCOM’S PROGRAM EXECUTIVE OFFICER FOR FIXED-WING PROGRAMS, SAID THE PLAN TO FIT THE CARGO PLANES WITH GEAR THAT WOULD ALLOW FOR WATER TAKEOFFS AND LANDINGS, HAS BEEN TABLED, AT LEAST FOR NOW. 

WHILE IT’S BEEN TALKED ABOUT FOR YEARS, THE FACT THAT  RESEARCH WAS DONE INTO THE IDEA SHOWS JUST HOW SERIOUS THE U.S. MILITARY IS LOOKING AT THE POTENTIAL FOR OPERATING OUT OF AUSTERE ENVIRONMENTS IN THE FACE OF LOOMING THREATS FROM CHINA IN THE PACIFIC. 

MEET THE NEW BRADLEY, NOT THE SAME AS THE OLD BRADLEY.. ONE OF THE ARMY’S MOST IMPORTANT VEHICLES HAS RECEIVED A GLOW-UP. THE ARMY RECENTLY RELEASED PHOTOS OF ITS NEXT-GENERATION M2A4E1 BRADLEY VARIANT OF THE LEGENDARY FIGHTING VEHICLE. 

THE SAYS IT IS THE MOST MODERN AND SURVIVABLE VERSION OF THE BRADLEY TO DATE. ONE REASON FOR THAT IS THE INTEGRATION OF AN IRON FIST ACTIVE PROTECTION SYSTEM, ALONG WITH AN IMPROVED HIGH DEFINITION FORWARD LOOKING INFRARED GUNNER’S SIGHT, AND AN ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL UNIT TO PREVENT HEAT STRESS FOR DISMOUNTS. THE ARMY RECEIVED FUNDING FOR THE NEW VARIANT TO REPLACE EVERY BRADLEY FROM THEIR INVENTORY THAT WAS DONATED TO UKRAINE.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]  

EVEN THOUGH EVENTS LIKE THESE AREN’T PUT ON BY THE MILITARY, THEY ALLOW AMERICAN MILITARY LEADERSHIP TO CONNECT WITH NOT ONLY THEIR TROOPS BUT ALSO THE GENERAL PUBLIC. 

AND THE MAIN MESSAGE COMING OUT OF SEVERAL PANELS AND KEYNOTE SPEECHES HERE, IS THAT THE SOF COMMUNITY IS FACING SEVERAL GROWING CHALLENGES. FROM BUDGET CONCERNS TO TROOP LEVELS, THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE THOSE PROBLEMS IS COOPERATION AND COLLABORATION.

FROM THE START OF THIS YEAR’S GATHERING SOF LEADERSHIP MADE IT CLEAR, WHILE THERE ARE OBSTACLES TO BE OVERCOME, IT CAN’T BE DONE AT THE COST OF TAKING THEIR EYE OFF GROWING THREATS FROM SOME OF AMERICA’S OLDEST ADVERSARIES. 

[Gen. Bryan Fenton]

“In this decisive decade, autocrats and terrorists the light seek to up end, the free and open international system, from the PRC to Russia, from Iran to North Korea, and violent extremist organizations. Those adversaries seek to divide and weaken the power of these partnerships.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]  

COMMANDER OF U-S SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, GENERAL BRYAN FENTON, WENT ON TO SAY THAT DESPITE THOSE GROWING CHALLENGES THE THREATS FROM TERRORIST GROUPS LIKE AL SHABAAB, AL QAEDA AND ISIS STILL REMAIN. WHILE NEW ONES FROM GROUPS LIKE HAMAS, THE HOUTHIS, AND HEZBOLLAH CONTINUE TO DEMAND ATTENTION AND RESOURCES. 

ONE REASON WHY, ACCORDING TO COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR SHANE SHORTER, IT’S EASIER FOR ADVERSARIES TO WAGE HAVOC THAN IT’S EVER BEEN BEFORE.

[CSM Shane Shorter, USSOCOM Senior Enlisted Leader]

“We’re seeing the character of war rapidly change with smaller, faster and cheaper uncrewed systems and robotics, ubiquitous surveillance tools of every kind. And of course, artificial intelligence are all creating wicked problems.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]  

ONE THING THAT ALWAYS GRABS YOUR EYE AT CONFERENCES LIKE SOF WEEK 2024 IS THE SHEER AMOUNT OF TECHNOLOGY AND TOOLS THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO TODAY’S WARFIGHTER. GENERAL FENTON SAYS THAT AS ACCESSIBLE AS THESE TOOLS ARE, THEY’RE NOT WHAT IS GOING TO DETERMINE THE DAY FOR SPECIAL FORCES OPERATORS. 

[Gen. Bryan Fenton, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command]

“I think for us, it becomes an enabler, an amplifier, an enhancer, to all the missions that we’re trying to achieve  

It’s necessary, but at the very center of all that is a Special Operations teammate.” 

[RYAN ROBERTSON]  

THAT THOUGHT WAS ECHOED BY RETIRED ARMY GENERAL VINCENT BROOKS. THE FORMER COMMANDER OF U-S ARMY PACIFIC AND U-S ARMY CENTRAL SAYS THE ADVANTAGE AMERICAN SPECIAL FORCES BRING TO THE FIGHT IS A WILLINGNESS TO INTEROPERATE WITH NOT ONLY OTHER BRANCHES BUT OTHER ALLIED PARTNERS. 

[Gen. (Ret.) Vincent Brooks, Principal, WestExec Advisors]

“I think that this approach to having great capability in both the unconventional and special operations arena, as well as the general purpose arena, is what can give us a decided advantage over adversaries who have great challenges in bringing such things together.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]  

PERHAPS PROOF THAT WHAT THE SOF COMMUNITY IS DOING IS WORKING, COMES FROM THE VERY TOP.  CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF, GENERAL CQ BROWN SAID, IN ESSENCE, HE LIKES THEIR STYLE. 

[Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff]

“They don’t ask for permission. They tend to lean forward. And there’s a fine line between leaning forward and falling over. And they know how to lean forward. And they might fall over every once in a while. But what they really do is they actually challenge the status quo. And that’s what we need.”

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

TIME NOW FOR OUR WEAPON OF THE WEEK, AND THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF CANDIDATES. 

FROM FIREARMS TO FIRE CONTROLS, AND A WHOLE HOST OF VEHICLES, WE HAD OUR PICK OF THE LATEST TECH.

AND ONE ITEM THAT CAUGHT OUR EYE IS ABOUT THE SIZE OF A SOFTBALL. THIS 360° THROWABLE, TACTICAL CAMERA FROM BOUNCE IMAGING IS MUCH MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE.

AT FIRST GLANCE YOU’D BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING THIS BALL WAS JUST ANOTHER TOY FROM A TOYBOX, BUT YOU’D BE MISTAKEN. BECAUSE THIS BALL CONTAINS SOME VERY SERIOUS TECH. 

[Francisco Aguilar, CEO, Bounce Imaging]

“These are 360 degree throwable cameras that are used in law enforcement, search and rescue, and in the context this week, and special operations, and it’s something that you can throw into an environment and get an instant 360 degree view of what’s going on too many people, so that you can have a better view of what’s going on in that space”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

LIKE ALL GREAT IDEAS, A 360º THROWABLE CAMERA, PACKED INTO A BALL, TOOK SOME TIME TO BECOME A REALITY. BOUNCE IMAGING STARTED IN 2012, BUT THE TECHNOLOGY NEEDED TO COMPLETE THEIR VISION NEEDED SOME TIME TO CATCH UP. BUT WHEN IT DID IN 2016, IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG FOR POTENTIAL USERS TO SEE WHAT WAS POSSIBLE. 

[Mark Fargason, COO, Bounce Imaging] 

What folks love about this is that you can you can you take it out, turn it on, deploy it, view it on your video feed, understand it very quickly, with a very low cognitive load. ”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

TO PUT IT IN EVEN SIMPLER TERMS, THERE’S NOT A LOT TO THINK ABOUT WHEN USING IT. THAT’S WHY THIS HARD RUBBER BALL, EQUIPPED WITH SIX CAMERAS, AND TWO-WAY AUDIO, THAT’S RIGHT YOU CAN TALK TO PEOPLE THROUGH THE BALL, HAS BECOME AN INVALUABLE TOOL FOR POLICE, RESCUE, AND SPECIAL FORCES OPERATORS. IN FACT BOUNCE IMAGINGS CEO, FRANCISCO AGUILAR, SAYS THEIR USERS, ARE THEIR BEST INNOVATORS.  

[Francisco Aguilar, CEO, Bounce Imaging] 

People have come up with really clever ways to use this to look over walls down tunnels, inside attic spaces around corners, in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to do it with a much lower demand on their thinking than with other tools.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ANOTHER COOL FEATURE, IT DOESN’T REQUIRE ANY OTHER EQUIPMENT, THAT’S BECAUSE USERS CAN VIEW IMAGES FROM THE BALL, RIGHT ON THEIR SMARTPHONE. JUST DOWNLOAD THE ‘BOUNCE VIEWER’, AND GO. 

[Mark Fargason, COO, Bounce Imaging] 

So we know it’s making a difference, which we’re super proud of. And, you know, we hope to get it out to more folks in the future.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ONE LAST THING, THIS VERY RUGGED CAMERA, IS ALSO MULTI-LINGUAL. MARK FARGASON TOLD US THE BALL IS PRELOADED WITH VERY SIMPLE COMMANDS, IN 20 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. MEANING USERS NOT ONLY HAVE A CLEAR PICTURE, BUT THEY’RE BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS AS WELL.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON

ALRIGHT FOLKS… WE’RE ALMOST AT THE END OF THIS EPISODE OF WEAPONS AND WARFARE…TO WRAP UP, I WANT TO SPEND SOME TIME TALKING ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICE.

THAT’S RIGHT… WE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE. PRAC-TICE

WHETHER YOU’RE AN ATHLETE… 

A MUSICIAN… OR A MEMBER OF THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES COMMUNITY… 

YOU NEED TO PRACTICE. 

HOW ELSE CAN YOU EXPECT TO PERFORM AT A HIGH LEVEL?

HOWEVER… WHETHER IT’S THE SOF COMMUNITY… OR THE WIDER MILITARY AS A WHOLE…

PRACTICE FOR SERVICE BRANCHES CARRIES MUCH MORE WEIGHT.

IF SOLDIERS DON’T TRAIN… NATIONS ARE PUT AT RISK…WHICH IS WHY THE UNITED STATES MILITARY PUTS SUCH AN EMPHASIS ON TRAINING…ON PRACTICE. 

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT KIND OF FANCY SUPER WEAPON AN ADVERSARY HAS IF THE SOLDIERS TRAINED TO USE IT GET BAD TRAINING. 

THE US MILITARY’S LEVEL OF TRAINING IS THE GOLD STANDARD BY WHICH ALL OTHER MILITARIES ARE MEASURED…

AND IT’S WHY OUR ALLIES AND PARTNERS WELCOME OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN FROM AND TRAIN WITH US PERSONNEL.

WE SAW ONE PART OF THIS TRAINING ON FULL DISPLAY IN TAMPA–DURING A CAPABILITIES DEMONSTRATION…THAT MOST IN TAMPA CALL THE BATTLE OF THE BAY.

SPECIAL OPERATORS FROM 10 COUNTRIES PROVED WITH THE RIGHT TRAINING… WITH THE RIGHT PRACTICE…OPERATORS FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES…WITH DIFFERENT CULTURES… DIFFERENT LANGUAGES… CAN COME TOGETHER AND PERFORM AT A HIGH LEVEL.

DO YOU HAVE A HILL TO CLIMB IN YOUR LIFE? DOES IT SEEM TOO DAUNTING A TASK… WELL, TAKE A CUE FROM OUR SERVICE MEMBERS…

AND START PRACTICING HOW TO CLIMB IT… THEN, ONCE YOU’VE GOT ENOUGH PRACTICE UNDER YOUR BELT… GO FOR THE TOP

SPEAKING OF PRACTICE… WE THOUGHT THERE’S NO BETTER WAY TO END THIS EDITION OF WEAPONS AND WARFARE…THAN WITH SOME SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM SOF WEEK 2024’S BATTLE OF THE BAY….

SO, FOR SENIOR PRODUCER BRETT BAKER, VIDEO EDITOR BRIAN SPENCER…AND GRAPHICS DESIGNER DAKOTA PITEO…

I’M RYAN ROBERTSON…. SIGNING OFF