SOCOM Accidentally Bought Way, Way Too Much Combat Gear

Military Tech

U.S. Special Operations Command purchased at least $26.3 million in extra gear ranging from handheld radios to night vision goggles, according to a Pentagon audit, equipment that could potentially end up in the hands of other U.S. service members.

An audit of the Department of Defense Inspector General made public on March 29 examined five SOCOM equipment programs to ensure that the command, increasingly on the front lines of the Global War on Terror, was appropriately recording excess equipment in its inventory. The findings are not great: three of the five programs  — night vision binoculars, next-generation handheld radios, and biometric sensors used for site exploitation — accounted for that eye-popping $26.3 million number.

It’s anyone’s guess what complete total across all of SOCOM’s programs might look like, but for Naval Special Warfare Command, Army Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, it means thousands of extra pieces of gear that will end up “subject to return, redistribution, or disposal” in accordance with SOCOM Directive 700-22, the DoD noted.  

“For example, USSOCOM did not identify that the U.S. Army Special Operations Command had 17,571 handheld radios according to its property records but was allocated only 13,351 in the capability documents, for an excess of 4,220 radios,” the DoD IG report states. “USSOCOM did not identify excess SO-P equipment because the authorized allowance and allocation data in the [USSOCOM Table of Equipment Distribution and Allowances] were not accurate or complete, and could not be reconciled with inventory.

Related: We Asked Special Operators What Weird Gear They Rely On »

While referred to the purchases as the result of a “supply snafu,” the DoD IG report paints a frustratingly familiar picture of the complexity of procurement and equipping warfighters. Not only did SOCOM officials fail to maintain “accurate or complete” allocation data, but they also transferred inaccurate figures to spread through capability documents for all five programs and each successive variation. Hobbled by inaccurate authorization data, “officials could not effectively identify excess equipment” — a problem that seems more fit for the ragtag Afghan National Defense and Security Forces than it does America’s most elite warriors.

As part of his proposed fiscal 2019 military budget, President Donald Trump has eyed an 11% bump (of $1.3 billion) to SOCOM’s budget, a significant cash injection driven primarily, as the Tampa Bay Times observed in February, by a 40% increase in the command’s procurement budget. Appearing before Congress that month, SOCOM chief Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III urged lawmakers to see the purchase as more than just a “capital expenditure.”

"Special operations forces played an integral role as part of the joint force in the destruction of ISIS' physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq,” Thomas said. "We continue to have outsized effects around the globe, defeating our enemies, training, equipping and enabling our friends and allies, rapidly transforming the organization to be prepared for all future threats and caring for our fallen, wounded and ill and their families.”

Related: How The Military Decides Who’s Built For Its Toughest Units »

U.S. special operations forces, the premier counter-terror and unconventional warfare force on the planet, can and should get all the gear they need to get the job done. It would be a shame if the DoD IG report, rather than helping SOCOM fix the administrative and bureaucratic errors that all complicated organizations face, ends up throwing the brakes on SOCOM’s procurement process — and, in turn, sending special operators downrange with one arm tied behind their back.

But on the upside, perhaps some of that sweet, sweet SOCOM gear will end up redistributed to conventional forces. It’s an inside chance, sure — but it’s better than funneling high-tech gadgets to local law enforcement.

SOCOM officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read the full DoD IG report below:

U.S. Special Operations Command’s Management of Excess Equipment by Jared Keller


(U.S. Air Force)

Two airmen were administratively punished for drinking at the missile launch control center for 150 nuclear LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, the Air Force confirmed to Task & Purpose on Friday.

Read More Show Less

Two F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters recently flew a mission in the Middle East in "beast mode," meaning they were loaded up with as much firepower as they could carry.

The F-35s with the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron took off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates to execute a mission in support of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Air Forces Central Command revealed. The fifth-generation fighters sacrificed their high-end stealth to fly with a full loadout of weaponry on their wings.

Read More Show Less
(DoD photos)

The U.S. Senate closed out the week before Memorial Day by confirming Gen. James McConville as the Army's new chief of staff and Adm. Bill Moran as the Navy's new chief of naval operations.

McConville, previously vice chief of staff of the Army, was confirmed on Thursday along with his successor, Lt Gen. Joseph Marin. Moran, currently vice chief of naval operations, was confirmed Friday along with his successor, Vice Adm. Robert Burke.

Read More Show Less

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is prohibiting service members who work there from being in the area of a Ku Klux Klan rally scheduled for Saturday in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Elise Amendola)

The Pentagon is producing precisely diddly-squat in terms of proof that Iran is behind recent attacks in the Middle East, requiring more U.S. troops be sent to the region.

Adm. Michael Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, said on Friday that the U.S. military is extending the deployment of about 600 troops with four Patriot missile batteries already in the region and sending close to 1,000 other service members to the Middle East in response to an Iranian "campaign" against U.S. forces.

Read More Show Less