From Gun Slinging to Gun Dealing: Is SOCOM Getting Into the Weapons Business?

“The SITIS…states an objective of developing ‘an innovative domestic capability to produce fully functioning facsimiles of foreign made weapons that are equal to or better than what is currently being produced internationally.’ 

According to a recent posting on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program website, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is considering getting into the weapons manufacturing business.  The SBIR/STTR is a congressionally mandated program that is coordinated by the Small Business Administration (SBA); their mission is to “elicit innovative solutions from the small business community that address defense technology gaps confronting the DOD and to include technologies that will also have high commercialization potential in the private sector.”

Each year, SBIR/STTR funds $1 billion in research and has also funded $31 billion in commercialized technologies. To be eligible for the program, businesses must be American-owned, independently operated, for-profit, have the principal researcher employed by the company, and have fewer than 500 employees.

According to the USSOCOM website, their use of the SBIR program:

“supports the full spectrum of the SOF AT&L Science & Technology commodity areas by stimulating technology innovation in small businesses through contract awards aimed at discovering, developing, and rapidly inserting new capabilities to solve Special Operation Forces’ needs.”

The SITIS titled “Foreign Like Weapon Production Capability” states an objective of developing “an innovative domestic capability to produce fully functioning facsimiles of foreign made weapons that are equal to or better than what is currently being produced internationally.”

The reason for this requirement is given as well, but we warn you that the language is a bit dense:

“For decades surrogate forces and allies have depended on foreign made weapons which are used in conflicts around the world. USSOCOM intermittently supplies surrogate forces and allies with foreign made weapons from international intermediaries. These foreign made weapons lack interchangeability and standardization which hinders field and depot level part replacement. Developing a domestic production capability for foreign like weapons addresses these issues while being cost effective as well as strengthens the nation’s military-industrial complex, ensures a reliable and secure supply chain, and reduces acquisition lead times.”

What this means in plain English ends up being extremely good for our Special Operations soldiers, specifically the Army’s Special Forces.  Green Berets are unique among Special Operations Forces, being tasked with a primary mission of unconventional warfare. The official DOD definition for unconventional warfare is:

“Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”

This means that Special Forces units stand ready to infiltrate behind enemy lines and recruit, train, and equip a resistance force able to conduct combat operations.  One of the biggest challenges in accomplishing this mission can be the logistical requirements to not only equip, but maintain and repair weapons platforms that the United States military does not utilize in their inventory.

Since Mikhail Kalashnikov’s Автомат Калашникова was introduced into active military service in 1948, its simple and resilient design has spread throughout warzones around the world.  From the countries once part of the Soviet Union, the Kalashnikov family of weapons have spread to every continent on Earth (with the current exception of Antarctica).  The AK-47 and her related models have become the weapon of choice for countless armies, guerrillas, and terrorist organizations over the last century.

When our Special Operations Forces deploy, the chances are higher than not that they will encounter these weapons and their ammunition.  Countries all over the world manufacture their own AK-47s and the rifle has been the basis for the invention and development of many variations and crew-served weapons platforms.

In 2004, an estimated 100 million of the approximately 500 million guns in the entire world were calculated to belong to the Kalashnikov family of weapons; three-quarters of those were estimated to be AK-47s.  However, while the weapons are plentiful and extremely hardy, they do break and need repairs.

Just procuring the weapons in the first place can be a challenge; finding repair parts can be next to impossible.  For example, in Afghanistan, AK-47s are difficult enough to source for partner forces.  When it comes to crew-serve weapons, the challenge becomes even more pronounced.  Finding repair parts for AK-47s? Challenging. Finding repair parts for a Pulemyot Kalashnikova Modernizirovany (PKM)? All but impossible.

The United States military has been at war in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years and these logistical problems still exist. Now imagine a new battlefield in the future and consider what the challenges could be for our most elite fighting forces.  There are just not any reliable, sustainable supply chains to provide heavy weapons and their related parts. Especially when you consider the possible issue of attempting to purchase Russian weapons in future conflicts where our nations may not be on the same side, either directly or through proxy.

What this request seeks to do is to put the power of manufacturing both weapons and parts into the hands of Special Operations.  Given the capabilities that technology has brought us, to include 3D printing, it only makes sense to make investments in the capabilities of the men leading the fight.

Instead of having to purchase poorly engineered third-world knockoffs of heavy machine guns, the ability to produce the weapons in house would be a game changer.  The SITIS requires that the solution would be able to produce weapons “like” the 7.62 x 54R belt-fed PKM and the 12.7 x 108mm Nikitin Sokolov Volkov (NSV).  The ability to create “new” NSVs is of special interest, as the DShK machine gun replacement has not even been produced in Russia since the introduction of the KORD.

If SOCOM developed the organic capability to manufacture the weapons required to outfit, supply, and sustain Special Operations Forces performing at the global level, the success of global security missions would be more fully in the hands of our Quiet Professionals.

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