2021 SOFIC Hawk Carlisle Intro
As he welcomed participants and thanked the sponsors of the virtual 2021 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) President and Chief Executive Officer Gen. Hawk Carlisle made sure to note that the focus of the next four days would be serving the command’s special operators.“We all know our special operations forces give this nation an asymmetric advantage against our peer competitors and continue to deter serious potential adversaries out there,” Carlisle said in introductory remarks on May 17, the first day of the four-day conference.Carlisle asked that all SOFIC participants be mindful of the “incredibly challenging times” posed by violent extremists, as well as adversarial nations such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.“That is what this conference is all about—how do we continue to lead the world technologically, how do we continue to provide things faster to those warfighters out there,” Carlisle said, “so that those young women and men can do the mission this nation asks them to do.” By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC William Innes
As he outlined the myriad of avenues available for present ideas, William Innes, U.S. Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM) deputy director of acquisition, acknowledged that the overall picture could appear to be much to digest for interested representatives from industry and academia.Speaking from Tampa to a May 17 virtual audience as part of the 2021 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), Innes couched his presentation into a single point.“The idea is to move fast,” Innes said, “and get that technology into the warfighter’s hands.”Innes iterated his organization’s commitment to serving the more than 76,000 special operators who are deployed to 4,000 locations worldwide around the clock, as well as the civilian employees who help them do their jobs.While USSOCOM is able to leverage technologies from the individual armed services, Innes noted that the command has frequently been the first to develop and field them. Nevertheless, delivering these innovations cannot be done solely in house, he said.“We need industry to be there with us as our partners in acquisition,” Innes said.SOFWERX, the independent and non-profit arrangement by which the command can bring in new technology, is “a really good tool to use to reach out to small businesses and non-traditional suppliers,” Innes said.Likewise, the command’s science and technology priorities list offers the command a key method of letting industry and academia know what is needed, Innes said. The listing would include desired systems or technologies that USSOCOM may not necessarily be able to budget for. The list could attract respondents who have useful and practicable answers.Describing USSOCOM as the “engine of innovation,” Innes said, with small businesses playing a major role in doing so. The command spent $1 billion on small business contracts last year, he said—making up 22 percent of his department’s budget.“We’re not supporting small businesses just to support small businesses,” Innes said. “We want to do it because they’re innovative, non-traditional, they move fast, and they meet our capabilities.”Innes also discussed CRADAs—cooperative research and development arrangements—by which the government can present requirements to industry. In turn, commercial developers and manufacturers can tell the government what they are capable of producing. USSOCOM has an OCRADA—the O standing for “overarching.” Again, the goal is to accelerate development of needed technologies.Collectively, the path forward entails finding “every tool that is available. We need you to keep up with us,” he said to industry representatives in the virtual audience. By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC Industry Opportunities Highlighted
During his Monday afternoon SOFIC briefing, Mr. David Breede, USSOCOM Program Executive Officer for Special Reconnaissance, described new directions of technology interest within his four program management offices as well as new opportunities for industry participation.In terms of evolving technology interests, Breede noted that operating in today’s strategic environment requires solutions different than those provided over the last two decades.“We have to pay more attention to our signatures—visual, noise, RF and digital characteristics—than we may have focused on before,” he said. “Sensors have to become smarter to operate autonomously for long periods, sending back only data that is relevant. And those sensors need to contribute to and benefit from a cooperative network of systems that all add value to the execution of a mission. All this needs to be done in contested environments, where access to communications and precise navigation and timing signals won’t be assured.”He said that the allocation of resources in this environment will require “common solutions to different problems,” adding, “Let’s enable software to tune the hardware based on mission requirements; radios, amplifiers, filters, and now antennas can be software defined, so we’re not buying and sustaining an inventory that is narrowly focused on a single niche capability requirement.”Breede encouraged industry to support the new directions, identifying business and partnering opportunities ranging from rapid prototyping through the SOFWERX ecosystem to the continuing use of broad agency announcements where appropriate.“We’ve also published a more wide-reaching solicitation to address some of our technology interests across the special reconnaissance portfolio with the intent to execute a small number of prototype development efforts starting later this year,” he offered. “We’re in the midst of the submission phase, which is open through 8 July, and we’ve set aside some time for Q&A sessions on 25 and 26 May. This will all lead to a downselect of projects that we’ll run through a virtual assessment event in late August to decide if we move forward with a contract for prototyping.“I encourage you to join the SOFWERX ecosystem, if you haven’t already, to get all the information you need to participate,” he added. By Scott Gourley
2021 SOFIC Reverse Industry Day
While the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) aims to provide information about U.S. Special Operations Command’s needs, it also serves as a platform for industry to offer insights that would help meet expectations.During a May 17 panel discussion, representatives from five companies that work with SOCOM provided such feedback. Representing both large and small businesses, the five agreed that transparency and a clear understanding of USSOCOM expectations are major factors in fostering an efficient and productive working relationship.Panelist Tomek Rys of Raytheon Corp. described a recent meeting at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, in which some 12 companies met with representatives from USSOCOM’s SOFWERX office to discuss procurement. (SOFWERX, a non-profit arm of the command, works with industry to rapidly develop innovations and deliver them to warfighters.)Rys described the event as “an enabler for information exchange,” which allowed industry participants to “start understanding [USSOCOM’s] requirements.”Rys said detailed meetings like the one at Robins are far more effective than typical interchanges between the command and industry, which he referred to as “drive-by’s.”Michael Buchko Jr. of MCP Computers agreed and added that standard processes do not allow for the communication necessary to reach an understanding as to what a given project would need.“Technology is changing so rapidly right now,” Buchko said, continuing on to say that more detailed communications could make it clear as to whether or not an 80-percent solution to a given issue would suffice.“That’s where immersion [into] the context—the real-time nature of communication—gets to a better procurement process,” Buchko said.Jon Grisar of the Liberty Alliance addressed the advantage of the OTA (Other Transaction Authority) process, which essentially entails anything that does not involve a standard procurement contract, grant or corporate arrangement. He said that OTAs allow businesses like his to focus on areas that otherwise would not allow for tightly defined requirements.“And it allows you to flex with those in order to accomplish whatever the mission is that has been set out, even though it could change as you get initiated into the contract,” Grisar said. “It allows for better communication to take place between the contractor and the government.”Michael McCormack of Eolian agreed.“OTAs allow us both in industry and government, metaphorically, to shoot, move and communicate better,” McCormack said. “If we see an opportunity for improvement, we can actually recalibrate our sights on that target.”Ryan Tintner of Northrop Grumman Corp. addressed the need to have better lines of communication that are quick while not compromising proprietary information.“We need to be talking more in terms of functional statements, and not necessarily trade secrets,” Tintner said. “Leveraging open standards actually will help us be able to talk about what is functionally needed, and not your secret sauce.” By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC Opening Industry Keynote Highlights a New National Security Future
In Monday’s Opening Industry Keynote, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Chief Marketing Officer of the venture-backed technology-for-national-security firm Rebellion, offered a vision for a new national security future that recognizes and embraces the challenges of adaptation and evolution seen over the past two decades.“We’re here together in this virtual gathering at a moment where technology, talent, and the way we approach deterrence are all shifting shape right before us, a moment where people are starting to redefine the rules that govern their lives, and in which the ability to create digital dilemmas for those who challenged the post-war rules-based order is the discussion of the day,” she said.She added, “Here, in this moment of transition, we have the opportunity to envision how we deploy the magic of American imagination and ingenuity to build the future of shared security, buttressed by deterrence and enabled by technological advantage.”Lemmon highlighted the challenges of artificial intelligence technologies as well as the critical risk of falling behind potential adversaries in the understanding and application of AI.The limited uses of AI-enabled attacks before today represent “the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “Technology is advancing. The challenges are intensifying. And the threats are evolving. Yet, to date, our response has been more of the same.”Identifying the need to “recognize the inadequacies of the status quo,” she said, “The only way to start is to start. We must be ready to not just survive what’s next, but to shape.”She warned, “Imagination is now a contested space,” asserting, “We must never lose the battle for imagination, and of imagination. We must be ready to counter autocracy and authoritarianism to protect what is best in our system of democracy, and to work to perfect and improve our system when we have the courage to recognize flaws and failings.”Lemmon continued: “So, at this moment of transformation, we look ahead to the future not with trepidation but with inspiration, filled with determination to achieve what we can envision and make real what we can imagine.”She concluded, “We have no time to lose and everything to be gained by working together across silos, across sectors and across communities to build a national security future shaped by shared principles, illuminated by diverse experiences, guided by ethics, and informed by the urgency of protecting the democratic values we hold so dear.” By Scott Gourley