- US special operators are investing in tech to give it an advantage against highly capable adversaries.
- US Special Operations Command recently awarded a $10 million contract for jet boots to give its divers that edge.
With the US military reorienting itself for a potential conflict with a highly capable adversary, the US special-operations community is investing in capabilities and technology that would give it an advantage in such a conflict.
A recent investment is in a futuristic piece of technology that would have a lot of benefits for one of that community's toughest job: combat diver.
—Patriot3, Inc. (@Patriot3Inc) May 26, 2022
In April, US Special Operations Command awarded a $10 million contract to the Virginia-based company Patriot3 for the purchase and maintenance of the Jet Boots Diver Propulsion System. The contract is a "firm-fixed-price" agreement for the delivery of an indefinite number of jets boots up to 2027.
Jet boots use a battery pack and a brushless motor system to propel the diver. The boots have two thrusters on the side of each leg that the operator can maneuver with their body, freeing up their hands for other tasks.
Jet boots are primarily used by the Army Special Forces combat-diver teams and Navy SEALs, and versions currently in use can move a diver at speeds up to 4 knots while allowing them to be "completely relaxed" and conserve energy.
The consensus among special operators who have used jet boots is that once you get used to them they are very easy to use and operate. For example, special operators using jet boots during visit, board, search, and seizure missions or maritime counterterrorism operations could get on target faster and be more rested once they arrive.
The boots have benefits and drawbacks, according to John Black, a retired Green Beret warrant officer.
"Combat divers are known to and expected to be able to dive for very long periods of time and to swim for hours on end. Depending on the current of the water and the pace of the dive, this could leave the diver exhausted by the time he reaches the beach. Then the diver is expected to conduct a mission," Black told Insider.
"Diving is a means of infiltration. The combat diver cannot be exhausted just from the infiltration," Black added.
Moving through the water with such ease would be a great help to combat divers, but in some cases, there is a downside to minimizing exertion.
"In colder waters, using jet boots must be carefully planned," Black said. "A diver being motionless for an hour in cold water, while constantly breaking new water, could leave the diver hypothermic. So it must be remembered that it is a tool, not a vehicle."
An asset if used right
—Patriot3, Inc. (@Patriot3Inc) February 4, 2022
Being able to go farther faster and arriving less fatigued — and thus better prepared — would be an asset to a combat diver team and could make a difference between success and failure.
"They come with a hefty price tag, but you get amazing results. You have guys doing 5-[kilometer swims] and using barely any oxygen and more importantly being completely rested and ready to go upon hitting the beach," a retired Green Beret with extensive experience in combat diver operations told Insider.
The Army Special Forces operator spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing work with the government.
A primary tenet of US special operations is that "people — not equipment — make the critical difference," and special operators familiar with the jet boots caution against relying too much on technology, as a poorly selected and trained commando won't be as effective regardless of equipment.
US special-operations forces will continue to evolve along with their mission set, Black told Insider.
"If we expect our best fighters to go anywhere and do anything, they must be equipped with the most up-to-date technology and equipment," Black said. "I do see SOF teams using these [boots] more often, however keeping their core tasks and fitness at the base of everything they do."
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.