August 8, 2010:
Although U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has a large budget (which is now double the $4.8 billion it got in 2003), it has not got a lot of time. When SOCOM wanted to equip their MC-130W aircraft with the ability to drop air force SDB (130kg/285 pound small diameter bombs), they were told development, modeling and such would take over two years and cost up to $30 million. Since SOCOM has a license to scrounge and hustle they got around all this by getting a U.S. Air Force SDB bomb rack (used by F-15s), a navigation panel from an old T-423 aircraft (and updated it with new electronics and software) and fitted all this to an MC-130W, along with some dummy SDBs. It worked. A few tweaks later, it worked with real SDBs. All this took less than a month and less than a million dollars. The MC-130Ws can now carry and drop SDBs (a smart bomb that looks like a missile and has a very small explosive charge compared to 227 kg/500 pound bombs). This capability will be added to the new AC-130 gunships SOCOM is building.
This sort of hustle and enterprise is common in SOCOM, especially with equipment programs. When SOCOM sees a need for something, they either quickly buy it (if it already exists, usually as a non-military item), or quickly develop their own if the components are available. They don't get involved in expensive, time consuming projects that require the development of a lot of new technology. SOCOM has discovered that there's already a lot of new stuff out there, and more arriving daily. It's just a matter of paying attention and spotting what will be useful. There are sometimes failures, and acquisitions that didn't work out as well as hoped. But overall, SOCOM has been a source of much new, and proven, gear for the other services.