SOCOM is seeking a 20% increase in its research and development budget to develop autonomous drones and gear for great-power competition, while also grappling with supply chain security.
U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is requesting a 20% increase in its research and development (R&D) budget, which would amount to $835 million. The extra funding would go towards the development of autonomous drones, battlefield communications, and other gear and weapons to better prepare for great-power competition. SOCOM’s chief acquisitions executive, James Smith, stated that the increased budget reflects the growing role of unmanned systems in high-stakes operations. SOCOM’s Adaptive Airborne Enterprise project, which aims to allow a single operator to direct a swarm of Reaper drones, is an example of the kind of pioneering work being done by SOCOM. However, as the command develops new technology, it must also ensure that it is not compromised by enemy parts or software. Smith emphasized the importance of supply chain security, as malign actors could compromise the new technology. SOCOM’s commander, Gen. Brian Fenton, has focused on collaborative autonomy and wants to lead the department in a systems-of-systems approach to unmanned aerial systems. The request for increased funding is a reversal from last year, when SOCOM requested 14% less for R&D than it received in 2021.