As the US military realigns itself for a potential conflict with a highly capable adversary, the US special operations community is investing in skills and technology that would give it an advantage in such a conflict.
There has recently been an investment in a futuristic piece of technology that would have many benefits for one of the toughest jobs in this community: combat diver.
In April, the US Special Operations Command awarded Virginia-based Patriot3 a $10 million contract to purchase and service the Jet Boat Diver Propulsion System. The contract is a “fixed-price” agreement for the delivery of an indefinite number of jet boats through 2027.
Jet boots use a battery and 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 their hands for other tasks.
Jet boots are primarily used by Army Special Forces combat diving teams and Navy SEALs, and currently used versions can move a diver at speeds of up to 4 knots while “completely relaxed” and conserving energy.
The consensus among specialist riders who have used jet boats is that they are very easy to use and operate once you get used to them. For example, special operators using jet boats on visit, boarding, search and seizure missions or maritime counter-terrorism operations could get to their destination faster and be more rested upon arrival.
According to John Black, a retired Green Beret warrant officer, there are pros and cons to the boots.
“Combat divers are known to be able to dive for very long periods and swim for hours. Depending on the current of the water and the pace of the dive, this can exhaust the diver over time He reaches the beach. Then the diver is expected to perform a mission,” Black told Insider.
“Diving is a means of infiltration. Combat Diver cannot be exhausted by infiltration alone,” Black added.
Moving through the water with such ease would be of great help to combat divers, but in some cases there is a downside to minimizing the effort.
“In colder waters, jet boat use needs careful planning,” Black said. “A diver who is motionless in cold water for an hour while constantly breaking new water could cause the diver to become hypothermic. So it must be remembered that this is a tool, not a vehicle.”
Being able to progress faster and arrive less fatigued and therefore better prepared would be an asset to a combat diving team and could make the difference between success and failure.
“You come at a high price, but you get amazing results. You have people who 5-[kilometer swims] and using very little oxygen, and more importantly, be fully rested and ready by the time you reach the beach,” a retired green beret with extensive combat diver experience told Insider.
The Army Special Forces operator spoke on condition of anonymity due to ongoing work with the government.
A key tenet of US special operations is that “people, not equipment, make all the difference,” and special operators familiar with the jet boats warn against over-reliance on technology because a poorly selected and trained command is independent equipment like this will not be as effective.
US Special Forces will evolve along with their mission set, Black told Insider.
“If we’re going to expect our best fighters to go anywhere and do anything, they have to be equipped with the most up-to-date technology and equipment,” Black said. “I see SOF teams using these [boots] more often, but with core responsibilities and fitness as the basis for everything they do.”
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.