Special operations component commanders on Wednesday detailed acquisition wish lists that included everything from new drones, precision guided munitions for small boats and laser weapons that can be mounted on an aircraft.

“Our people must be enabled with key capabilities that help us maintain an edge over our potential adversaries in some of the most challenging environmental conditions,” Gen. Joseph Votel, head of Special Operations Command, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict symposium and exhibition. Votel was recently nominated to lead Central Command (CENTCOM).

SOCOMHowever, officials noted that research and development funding will continue to be limited, leaving industry with the brunt of responsibility for driving technologies forward.

“We recognize we need to do more R&D, but we’re not in a position to give a lot more money out there,” Vice Adm. Sean Pybus, SOCOM deputy commander. “We hold out our hand to industry. Can we spend that money more wisely? Can we collaborate and save some money?”

For defense contractors, dealing with Special Operations Command—which has legal authorities that allow it to buy technologies in a matter of weeks or months—is often seen as a welcome reprieve from the slow pace and bureaucracy of the conventional acquisitions process.

“We’re the most industry friendly major command in the United States Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “That’s by design, because you have the answer to our problems.”

Fielding improved unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is a high priority for all of the component commanders. The quality of sensors is improving at such a rapid pace that oftentimes it’s more beneficial to upgrade existing systems with a new payload—for instance, a camera that captures much clearer imagery, or a lighter infrared sensor that allows the UAS to stay in the air longer—rather than buying a new drone altogether, they noted.

“The UASs are just a truck,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC).  “What I’m really interested in is how do I operate a smaller and smaller platform with longer duration endurance and higher capacity and capability within the payload?”

U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) currently uses the RQ-7 Shadow manufactured by AAI Corp. [TXT]. A major disadvantage of the platform is that a runway is necessary for takeoff, which makes operations more predictable, said Maj. Gen. Clayton Hutmacher, USASOC’s deputy commander.

Future systems need to be more easily launched and recovered and quieter, with longer endurance and range, he said. “It needs to be open architecture, a nonproprietary system so that we can plug and play and update.”

AFSOC wants to use UAS to augment its manned aircraft through a concept called “tactical offboard sensing,” Heithold said. The idea is that an airplane would launch small, inexpensive drones that would fly to a preprogramed location and orbit around a threat. Operators would use gimballed sensors to pick up the adversary’s location information and transmit it back to the plane, which would fire guided munitions to take the enemy out from a distance.

The most important capability this would give special operators is the ability to attack from high altitudes even when a threat is concealed by clouds or bad weather, he said. “Particular enemies are using the cover of weather to amass against our forces. We’ve got to take the cover of weather away from them.”

The command recently bought several Raytheon [RTN] Coyotes, an expendable drone small enough to be shot from a common launch tube, which will be given to special operators in the field for a combat demonstration. However, the answer may not ultimately be that particular UAS, Heithold said.

The commanders are also looking for better ways to engage enemies offensively during battle. AFSOC sees directed energy as the next step forward in strike technology, Heithold said. It’s working toward a 150 kw laser that can be mounted on a AC-130 gunship to blast a hole in a plane during a 3-5 burst of energy.

“We’re moving this technology forward. We’ve already identified an aircraft and a canon to put it on, and we’re looking at an acquisition strategy to figure out how we can get this into the endzone,” he said.

Naval Special Warfare Command, meanwhile, is looking for precision guided munitions that can be fired from its boats.

“Right now if you look at what we’re able to deliver off our combatant craft, we’re nowhere near what’s delivered in the air,” said Rear Adm. Brian Losey, head of NAVSPECWARCOM.

The command also wants to broaden the access of its special operators through “low signature” vessels that discreetly move forces around, he said. One option is leasing vessels that can be reconfigured to allow SOF operations in a variety of environments.

“We’re not trying to hide. We’re operating in plain sight,” he said. “The cost benefit analysis at least from an operator’s perspective is huge, and this is a largely untapped area I think out there in industry.”

Unmanned underwater vehicles that can penetrate areas usually inaccessible to submarines and other Navy platforms are another requirement, he added.

As weapons of mass destruction become more pervasive and available to nonstate actors, Army special operators need technologies that can detect, monitor and counter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons at a tactical and operational level, Hutmacher said. Secure communications gear and equipment that improves situational awareness of troops will also continue to be in demand. Those systems need to be interoperable not only with other SOCOM components, but also the conventional services.

MARSOC has similar requirements for integrated communications networks that can “self-heal” after being jammed or hacked. “Our strengths become our vulnerabilities,” Osterman said, in part because nonstate actors can sometimes use off-the-shelf products to defeat high-end technologies.

Votel also referenced several of SOCOM’s technology gaps, including advanced ballistic protection, active diver thermal protective systems, and comprehensive signature management systems, which would give operators the ability to remain undetected at close range in any environment .