The Special Operations Forces Industry Conference was held in Tampa, Florida last week, May 17-21, 2021. The event was originally scheduled for the Tampa Convention Center. This was the second year in a row that the annual conference was held virtually to mitigate the threat of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The conference is a joint venture between the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida and leading corporations in the defense industry represented by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). SOFIC is an opportunity for the special operations community to interact with industry and collaborate on future cutting-edge capabilities that can assist special operators to accomplish their missions. A number of events that took place during the previous in-person SOFICs were presented online this year.
The leadership of USSOCOM and SOF component commanders provided addresses, there were some industry keynote presentations, exhibitor showcases, networking events, and more. The SOFIC agenda was packed with events for the SOF professional to observe. A concurrent event held on May 20 and 21 was the International Special Operations Forces Conference hosted by USSOCOM. The ISOF Conference included 230 representatives from 58 nations.
There were a number of well-known members of the special operations community as featured speakers to include General Richard Clarke (USSOCOM Cdr), Leslie Babich (SOFWERX Director), Spencer Baker (USSOCOM Acquisition Agility Director), LTG Fran Beaudette (USASOC Cdr), Maj Gen James Glynn (MARSOC Cdr), RADM Hugh Howard ( NSOC Cdr), Lt Gen James Slife (ASFSOC Cdr), and several leading figures in USSOCOM associated with acquisition, R&D, and other related enterprises.
News Articles about SOFIC 2021
A number of articles were published about SOFIC 2021 by numerous defense journals and news media outlets. Many of these articles are described and linked to in the below text.
Keynote Address by Clarke. The SOFIC event was kicked off with a keynote address by the USSOCOM commander General Richard Clarke. He cited the new operational environment that requires a revamping and modernization of US special operations forces to contend with a resurgent Russia and threatening China. He stated that SOF’s four main missions will continue to be crisis response, counterterrorism, competition, and support to joint forces in conflict. “As Afghanistan War Ends, General Sees New Opportunities for Special Operations”, Military.com, May 18, 2021.
SOF Acquisition Process Changes. The US Special Operations Command needs to be able to develop and field prototypes in a rapid timeline. The ‘middle tier of acquisition pathway’ enables USSOCOM to do just that. “Rapid Acquisition Benefits Special Operations, DOD Official Says”, DoD News, May 19, 2021.
Amphibious C-130 Hercules for SOCOM. There is the possibility that USSOCOM will pursue development of a C-130 with an amphib capability. The emergence of great power competition – especially with China in the Indo-Pacific region makes the ‘MC-130 Amphibious Capability’ (MAC) program an attractive option. See “Special Ops Want to Turn the C-130 Into a Seaplane. Really.”, Popular Mechanics, May 21, 2021.
C4 – Big Budget Cut. The money to be spent on computers, communication, information technology, and command and control is being reduced by USSOCOM. The 2020 PEO C4 budget was $940 million – while the 2021 budget is just $800 million. “Spending on Special Ops Radios, Computers Takes Big Dip”, National Defense Magazine, May 18, 2021.
SOF and High Tech. Members of the US special operations community will be working with innovation hubs as ‘technology liaison officers’. Workplaces will include firms located in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and Washington, D.c. These ‘operational officers’ will be checking out academia and industry partners for capabilities that can be pushed to USSOCOM. “Special Operators Deploying to U.S. Tech Hubs”, National Defense Magazine, May 18, 2021.
Attack Laser for AC-130J? One research and development project by Air Force Special Operations Command involves the mounting of 60kW attack laser on an AC-130J gunship. (Shepard Media, May 21, 2021).
New Capabilities for Technology Shortfalls. USSOCOM’s Hyper-Enabled Operator project is helping in transitioning some technologies to acquisition program offices. Some of these technologies include voice-to-voice language translation, communications, situational awareness tools, and others. “SOCOM investing in new capabilities to address technology shortfalls”, C4ISRNET, May 18, 2021. See also “Commandos Asking for New High-Tech Training Tools”, National Defense Magazine, May 19, 2012.
New HSVTOL to Replace CV-22s. USSOCOM has plans to replace the Air Force’s CV-22B Osprey aircraft with a new High-Speed Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft. The concept is currently in the research stage. The future aircraft would be used for infiltration and exfiltration of SOF and equipment, personnel recovery, aeromedical evacuation, and tactical mobility. “Special Operations Command is Now Seeking a High-Speed VTOL Aircraft”, The Drive Warzone, May 20, 2021.
SOF ISR. The special operations community will be adopting a different approach to its intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance requirements. “SOF Pivots Towards Three-Tiered ISR”, Shephard Media, May 19, 2021.
Upgrade in Ammo and Small Weapons. US special operations forces will be getting some major upgrades in firepower over the next several years. An evaluation and fielding plan between now and 20215 will see improvements in the sniper and machine guns used by SOF operators. “SOF shooters are about to get serious upgrades for small arms, ammo”, Air Force Times, May 20, 2021.
AFSOC Transformation. Lt Gen James Slife, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, says that US SOF is going through a generational change that happens about once every two decades. “Special Ops Undergoing Historic Transformation, AFSOC Says”, Breaking Defense, May 19, 2021.
SOF and the Digital Battlefield. Operating in the information space will require a change in the mindset for many SOF units. They will have to be able to counter misinformation while conducting operations around the world. In addition they will have to ensure the validity of their own information assets and processes. “SOCOM Leaders Say ‘Digital Spectrum’ Key to Next Fight”, Breaking Defense, May 20, 2021.
Photo: MARSOC Critical Skills Operator. Photo from USSOCOM Fact Book 2021.