TAMPA, Fla. — Special operators need a host of small arms, ammunition and explosive devices to outrange and strike adversaries in future missions on what the Pentagon anticipates will be a more competitive battlefield.

Lt. Col. John “Tosh” Lancaster, program manager for U.S. Special Operations Command’s lethality acquisitions, ran down the list of needs — from machine guns to suppressors and bullets — on Tuesday at the SOF Week conference in Florida.

“Toe to toe with an enemy weapons system, does our weapons system outrange it? Is it more accurate?” Lancaster said. “If you look at what we have on the battlefield right now, we can’t say that in every category.”

The lightweight medium machine gun, a .338 Norma Magnum weapon, is scheduled to field in fiscal 2026, Lancaster said. But users still need accessories and a new suite of ammo for the weapon. The machine gun itself will need a dedicated optic to see far-off targets.

Without disclosing specifics, Lancaster also pushed for nighttime range finders for snipers.

The lightweight machine gun-assault — a lighter version of the lightweight medium machine gun still under development — is meant to replace the legacy 5.56mm Squad Automatic Weapon, which has been in service for decades. The caliber hasn’t yet been selected, but Lancaster hinted that 6.5mm is leading the chase.

The command is also seeking new suppressors for machine guns and rifle/carbine small arms. There must be a reduction in flash, sound, heat and round disturbance for all suppressors, he said.

But those straight-line bullets can’t arc over berms, walls or hills the way mortars do. What’s more, mortars and low-flying, dedicated drones are not always an option; when they are, they’re an expensive way to destroy a target, he noted.

“We have all kinds of things to kill behind berms,” Lancaster said. “We don’t have a squad-level, low-cost option.”

He specified a need for a weapon that can be carried comfortably on a three-day foot patrol and still get the job done.

But sometimes a different kind of boom is on the menu. While special operators are at the top of their craft for breaching obstacles, they need something even better. The command wants to update its breaching and demolition kits with new remote firing devices and slap charges — strips of explosive that can be quickly “slapped” on an obstacle to penetrate in one blast.

Essentially, the command wants explosives that are more effective and have higher yield.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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