2021 SOFIC Lisa Sanders Science and Technology
As director of U.S. Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM) science and technology office, Lisa Sanders strives to identify the disruptive technologies that warfighters and commanders need in order to prevail. Following remarks on May 18 by National Defense Industrial Association Chief Executive Officer Gen. Hawk Carlisle and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Sanders outlined her vision for meeting that objective. “Our [science and technology] vision is all about innovative support for commanders’ line of effort to innovate for future threats,” Sanders said during her presentation to a virtual audience as part of the 2021 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC). The investments she and her team make typically address capabilities that are too high risk for programs of record or the development of tools that do not easily fall into specific elements of her organization. Sanders provided a list of priorities to audience members, a large portion of whom were prospective contractors: “Reliant, survivable [and] federated networks” and information systems that foster good special communications. Giving small units of special operators improved precision effects, allowing them to tailor their use to maximum lethal efficacy. Both kinetic and non-kinetic electronic warfare systems. New ways to monitor in real time and improve special operators’ physical and cognitive abilities. More access for special operators to artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, to enable quick decision-making in contested and disconnected operating environments. Sanders addressed the need for payloads that increase situational awareness. “Our gaps are really about how do I take the capabilities I’ve learned to expect in the last 20 years of war and make them tactical and make them not require you to go back to … an army of analysts to determine what’s coming,” Sanders said. By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC USSOCOM Shares Software Accomplishments and Future Vision
In his Tuesday morning program overview, Col Paul Weizer, USA, offered a two-part overview of his Program Executive Office for Special Operations Forces Digital Applications (PEO SDA). PEO SDA is the newest USSOCOM PEO, chartered on June 1, 2020, to provide a single source dedicated to rapidly develop/acquire/sustain/divest of software-intensive, hardware-agnostic capabilities that provide SOF warfighters information dominance at the point of need with the speed of relevance. “We announced the creation of the new office last year at [virtual] SOFIC, before we actually chartered the organization, discussing where SOCOM was going in software acquisition and what we were doing to stand up the organization,” Weizer said. Noting that one of his personal discoveries over the past year was that “software is an art and not a science,” he said that the vision of the office has remained constant over that period while the mission has evolved “a little bit” as the office received a greater understanding of goals and challenges. Weizer outlined an office structure that currently includes three product line portfolios—Mission Support Systems, SOF Digital EcoSystem, and Special Operations Mission Planning & Execution—and one “government software factory” focused on the Tactical Assault Kit/Team Awareness Kit (TAK), an “open-source collaborative solution” now credited with more than 250,000 users on 15 Department of Defense programs. “TAK is probably the most prevalent non-program of record capability that USSOCOM and maybe even the Services have,” he said. “The Tactical Assault Kit/Team Awareness Kit has multiple product lines, everything from national mission force down to first responders and civil individuals using it to link up with friends while camping.” He went on to identify a range of specific challenges and opportunities across the portfolios, ranging from overcoming bureaucratic inertia to the need to reach non-traditional software developers. After fielding an initial set of questions received from the virtual audience, Weizer shifted to a “second half” presentation, during which he shared his own experiences and thoughts on things like the industry development decision cycle, DoD materiel development process, and DoD software acquisition pathway. “How do we provide information dominance at the speed of relevance to the SOF warfighter?” he asked. “Is there a model we can use to shape our strategy?” In answering his own questions, Weizer shared a vision for a government-managed/vendor-operated “virtual marketplace” that would bring together both users and developers. “I don’t expect to be able to answer every question about this today,” he concluded. “But I do expect, over time, when I talk to you one-on-one and when I have the opportunity for engagements throughout the year, to get your ideas on a ‘virtual marketplace’ and what your visions might be as to how you think this may or may not be an answer that SOCOM could utilize to get after meeting our requirements with best-of-breed capability.” By Scott Gourley
2021 SOFIC Keynote General Richard Clarke
Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), believes the decision to end the military presence in Afghanistan represents the beginning of a new era full of opportunity, rather than the closure of an old one. Clarke reflected upon his initial deployment to Afghanistan when the conflict first began some 20 years ago, as he delivered the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) keynote speech to a virtual audience on May 18. Troops who took part in those initial operations, and the industry partners that helped supply them, look almost nothing like they do today, he said. Needs and requirements evolved, he said, and continue to do so. “We had urgent needs then, and we will have urgent needs in the future,” Clarke said. “We’re going to face different pressures to monitor—different, but I would argue even more vital to our national security.” Citing the recent shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline that delivers petroleum products to the Eastern seaboard, Clarke made specific note of cyberterrorists in China, Russia, and elsewhere akin to those who triggered the disruption. “We must modernize,” Clarke said, adding that he is confident the nation will rise to the challenge. The emerging arena of strategic competition would require winning without fighting, Clarke said. “It’s no longer a series of time-bound events where one side wins and one side loses,” Clarke said. “In future competition, there won’t be a victory. Instead, our competition would endure. And sometimes it may be infinite.” While the nation must be ready to defend itself against any future attacks, Clarke said such preparation also must include offensive capability. Because doing so will require different approaches, he believes investing in people and core technologies is essential. USSOCOM has realigned 14 percent of its budget—some $9 billion—over the past five years to modernize capabilities, he said. Clarke is encouraged—and urged his audience to feel the same—knowing that the nation’s military, industry, and academic institutions are still the world leaders in new technologies. Collaboration, he believes, will allow the country to prevail. “Everything we’re doing now is going to be multi-domain, it’s going to be partnered, and it’s going to be contested. Every step,” Clarke said. “Our goal is to maintain a strategic advantage. There are countries that are closing in. We’ve got to innovate to win.” By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC PEO-C4 Team Strives for Acquisition Innovation
Tuesday afternoon’s SOFIC schedule included an overview presentation by Ms. Deborah Woods, USSOCOM Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (PEO-C4), the office that manages the development, acquisition, and sustainment of C4 systems that collectively form the SOF Information Environment. Woods opened her presentation with recognition that the recent environment has resulted in “COVID-fueled innovation” with respect to many acquisitions business processes, as well as expanding the use and adaptation of digital products, tools, and services. “Embracing this expanded digital medium and resulting cultural paradigm shift is a necessity to remain relevant, maintain an advantage over our competitors and generally thrive in this new world order,” she said, adding, “This shift demands an ever-increasing attention to security and cyber threats, whether from adversaries, competitors, or even organized crime.” “Cyber threats will continue to reinforce the need to spend time and resources on our security posture and to remain ever vigilant,” she continued. “However, in spite of these challenging and costly threats, we have opportunities to tap into the SOF culture and their unique abilities and skillsets to innovate for our partnership with you and adopt new capabilities or modify them and implement new methods or tactics, techniques, and procedures to mitigate and/or overcome risks, allowing us to be more proactive and less reactive.” Woods referenced the call for transformation that had been presented earlier that morning by Gen Richard Clarke, USSOCOM Commanding General, and elaborated on how that command guidance is reflected from a C4 perspective. In addition to reviewing the operational environment and the PEO-C4 Team vision and mission, she provided an overview of her three program offices—Enterprise Networks, MISO [Military Information Support Operations] Systems, and Tactical Communications—and explained the minor structural modifications that have taken place over the past year to reflect the establishment of USSOCOM’s PEO SOF Digital Architecture. “From an opportunity perspective, technology will continue to advance and SOF’s innovative culture and skill set will evolve and inform new capability needs,” she said. “Enabling increased information dominance to the tactical edge, Team C4 will focus on the ability to advance every layer of the communications architecture while ensuring security compliance and implementing data discovery capabilities. The team is focused on every layer of the architecture and on security that will drive changes or modifications to legacy systems or systems being procured and fielded.” Woods concluded by identifying specific areas of interest going forward, including Neural Networks; Cloud Technologies; Edge Computing; Multi-Level Security; Sonic Projection; Group 3 UAS Modular Payloads; Physiological Analysis; Target Audience Analytics; LPI, LPD, Jam-Resistant Capabilities; Wireless/Tethered Personal Area Network; Mission Module Technical Insertion; Conformal Batteries and Regenerative Power; and Antenna Profile Reduction. By Scott Gourley
2021 SOFIC James Smith Acquisition Executive
James Smith, the acquisition executive for U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), told a virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) audience that his office is constantly working to develop and try out new tools for operators in the field to use. Smith had a message for potential contractors who were listening to his presentation. “We need you to equally address SOCOM in that manner, with that same flexibility, and that same agility,” Smith said. Larger companies, Smith said, should avoid bringing the same strategies to USSOCOM that they would present to the “big” Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The USSOCOM scale is much smaller, he said. Likewise, small businesses and commercial entities that work on non-traditional projects should give the command a chance to engage in dialogue, he said. Smith outlined areas for industry to explore: Next-generation ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) in all domains, to facilitate exploitation of foes’ weaknesses. Next-generation mobility, enable delivery of forces where they need to be when they need to be there, in as timely a manner as possible. Precision fires and effects, to ensure that special operators outmatch their adversaries. Biotechnology, to focus on ways to improve operators’ physiology—particularly during high-intensity situations. Hyper-enabled operators, employing the use of cutting-edge computing, machine-assisted decision-making, and connectivity anywhere to anyone. Data and networks, to ensure the efficacy of special operations forces command and control. Smith also provided a priority list, including: special communications, tailorable lethality, electronic warfare, human performance optimization, and data-enabled special operator forces. By Nick Adde
2021 SOFIC USSOCOM Considers Contested Logistics
Tuesday afternoon’s SOFIC presenters included COL Joseph Blanton, USA, USSOCOM’s Program Executive Officer for Special Operations Forces Support Activity (SOFSA). SOFSA is USSOCOM’s dedicated life cycle support activity. Utilizing tools that include the management of the Global Logistics Support Services (GLSS) contract, PEO SOFSA’s mission includes full-spectrum logistics support for a variety of SOF and non-SOF products, providing a worldwide logistics reach that ensures rapid and responsive support for all global SOF sustainment needs. Blanton began his presentation with a historical overview of SOFSA, highlighting the organization’s establishment one year after USSOCOM and pointing to organizational growth that has coincided with a number of milestone programs. The most recent organizational milestone, which was announced at vSOFIC in May 2020, was the establishment of the Expeditionary Support Program Office (PM – ES). Blanton said that the focus of PEO SOFSA is now on future capability development as the entire command looks forward to the challenges surrounding strategic competition. Referring to a presentation delivered earlier in the day by Gen Richard Clarke, he said, “The Commanding General established a really good foundation and gave some solid context for what the contested environment looks like. And he gave some examples or some vignettes of what an operational environment might appear to be in a contested environment. So for us, the challenge is how you support and sustain in the contested environment—‘contested logistics’—and right now we’re looking at developing an understanding of that future operating environment, through simulations and exercises, [to] define and understand the operations from a sustainment concept.” Reflective of this effort, Blanton highlighted several recent activities undertaken by the new PM – ES organization, including an austere welding combat evaluation, austere 3D printing prototyping, power distribution panel experimentation, and portable fuel testing. In terms of austere welding, for example, he said that the team looked at “six or eight different welding systems,” adding, “What we are looking at is to come up with a more mobile configuration, getting down to about three different systems to meet all the requirements.” He continued: “And we’ve been able to scale it down, and one example we’re looking at is actually a backpack version of a welder.” After offering several more examples, he summarized, “It gets back to the contested environment and contested logistics. And frankly, what does that mean? I wish I had a really clean answer. If I take you back to the [Commanding General’s] comments on what the contested environment looks like, and the operational vignettes he gave, how do we support that?” Emphasizing the criticality of industry support, Blanton concluded, “As we’re going forward, I hope we will take that to heart, and let’s start talking contested logistics as we look to sustain the operational force into the future.” By Scott Gourley