2021 SOFIC PEO Services Ted Koufas

The special operators could not expand the space in which they do their jobs without contributions from industry, Ted Koufas believes.

Speaking on May 20 at the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), Koufas invited industry representatives in the audience to complete surveys about how the services process works.

“We are really interested in your feedback as it relates to industry, and your thoughts on effectively measuring return on investment,” said Koufas, the program executive officer for Services at U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

The Services office constantly reviews methods of providing solutions that meet the needs of the USSOCOM enterprise, Koufas said.

“The objective of all our support is to make sure that our activities have quickly and accurately described … requirements that elicit high-quality offers, that [enablers] are properly informed about the source-selection process and are prepared to provide the necessary oversight in partnership with selected service providers,” Koufas said.

The goal, Koufas added, is to serve as innovative and effective arbiters in securing rapid, focused, and cost-effective services and expertise for the special operations forces community.

Prospective contractors would be well-served by describing their management approach to providing the command with the professional services it wants and needs, Koufas said. Companies whose offers are successful would then ensure that they have hired the right professionals to perform the jobs at hand.

“The bottom line here is to make sure you are describing the resource methods to phase in, sustain, respond to absences, vacancies, and surge requirements applicable to the situation,” Koufas said.

By Nick Adde

2021 SOFIC SOF Information Environment in the SOFIC Spotlight

Thursday morning’s SOFIC agenda included a combination briefing and panel conducted by Dr. Lisa A. Costa, Director of Communications Systems and Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

“I’m a big believer in the types of strategic partnerships that we can achieve together when working in partnership,” Costa said, opening with a set of foundational slides focused on activities within the J6 and CIO shop to enable a strategic competition advantage for the force.

Presenting an operational vignette called “The Far Ridgeline,” Costa highlighted the significance of the SOF Information Environment (SIE).

“The SIE is really the preeminent capability that allows us to conduct global operations at speed,” she explained. “It is the fourth largest network in DoD and we don’t just deliver to ‘the last mile,’ we deliver to every mile. In fact, we like to say that we deliver from satellite to submarine.”

Costa provided the audience with insight into specific project areas being performed by “Team J6,” including the Agile Dagger DevSecOps platform, resilient communications, and several data areas consolidated under the broader expression of “breaking glass.”

“The question I often get asked is, does the SIE shape the force, or does the force shape the outside? I think if you [had asked that] question 10 years ago, the answer would have been highly skewed toward the force shaping the SIE; the folks who are forward always get priority and we’re going to enable them no matter what. And that’s still true. But there’s no way that our operators in the field can know all of the capacity that exists within incubator startups, industry, academia, and labs. Our SOF professionals are agile learners, but we need to open up that aperture for them. We need to understand and know what is happening in the commercial marketplace, and to ensure that we understand the future competitive landscape. So the answer is definitely ‘both.’ Technology is not just an enabler anymore. It is a shaper of our force, and it’s a shaper of the environment in which our force operates,” she said.

“Both” was also the answer to another common J6 question: Is SOF digitally modernizing or digitally transforming?

Costa explained, “We are both modernizing for the daily operations, the modern capabilities you need today, but then we are digitally transforming, meaning radically rethinking how we are going to use technology, our people, and our processes to fundamentally change our capabilities and our performance.”

She went on to identify four specific priorities driving the SIE strategy: Advance the mobility of a global mission force; Dominate the cyber-ecosystem for special operations; Embed collaboration and instantaneous discovery everywhere; and Cultural imperative: operationalizing innovation.

Closing the briefing with a list of what SOF needs from industry and academia, Costa shifted to a panel of USSOCOM subject matter experts who addressed audience questions.

In one example, Col Joe Pishock, Chief Operating Officer for SOCOM Networks and Services, responded to the question, What can we do to speed up the process of getting tactical cross-domain solutions, [which are] desperately needed in the field?

“We hear this every day from the field,” Pishock replied. “Not only do we need flexible hardware solutions, but we actually need software-defined cross-domain solutions. So, to the question, what’s the process? I’d say iteration, working directly with units on small-scale exercises, finding places to inject technology so that we can iterate and experiment outside of focus laboratories, and so that we can gather the data as to what we really need. Because especially moving into coalition environments, where we’re operating at classification levels less than the traditional SIPR or NIPR classifications, is sort of a brave new space for us. And we don’t even have all the requirements figured out yet about exactly what that will look like.”

“[In] a year, we stood up our own enterprise cross-domain solutions office within the J62, which is the cybersecurity division,” added panelist CW5 Robert Byrd, USSOCOM Chief Enterprise Engineer. “That is something new. We were previously leveraging the U.S. Air Force to take our solutions up to the cross-domain solutions office. Now that we have an initial capability, we look to expedite some of those processes.”

In another example, Mr. Mike Langlois, Chief of the J65 CIO Division, addressed an inquiry regarding how the J6 Team develops policies and promulgates them across the enterprise.

2021 SOFIC SOF Information Environment in the SOFIC Spotlight

Thursday morning’s SOFIC agenda included a combination briefing and panel conducted by Dr. Lisa A. Costa, Director of Communications Systems and Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

“I’m a big believer in the types of strategic partnerships that we can achieve together when working in partnership,” Costa said, opening with a set of foundational slides focused on activities within the J6 and CIO shop to enable a strategic competition advantage for the force.

Presenting an operational vignette called “The Far Ridgeline,” Costa highlighted the significance of the SOF Information Environment (SIE).

“The SIE is really the preeminent capability that allows us to conduct global operations at speed,” she explained. “It is the fourth largest network in DoD and we don’t just deliver to ‘the last mile,’ we deliver to every mile. In fact, we like to say that we deliver from satellite to submarine.”

Costa provided the audience with insight into specific project areas being performed by “Team J6,” including the Agile Dagger DevSecOps platform, resilient communications, and several data areas consolidated under the broader expression of “breaking glass.”

“The question I often get asked is, does the SIE shape the force, or does the force shape the outside? I think if you [had asked that] question 10 years ago, the answer would have been highly skewed toward the force shaping the SIE; the folks who are forward always get priority and we’re going to enable them no matter what. And that’s still true. But there’s no way that our operators in the field can know all of the capacity that exists within incubator startups, industry, academia, and labs. Our SOF professionals are agile learners, but we need to open up that aperture for them. We need to understand and know what is happening in the commercial marketplace, and to ensure that we understand the future competitive landscape. So the answer is definitely ‘both.’ Technology is not just an enabler anymore. It is a shaper of our force, and it’s a shaper of the environment in which our force operates,” she said.

“Both” was also the answer to another common J6 question: Is SOF digitally modernizing or digitally transforming?

Costa explained, “We are both modernizing for the daily operations, the modern capabilities you need today, but then we are digitally transforming, meaning radically rethinking how we are going to use technology, our people, and our processes to fundamentally change our capabilities and our performance.”

She went on to identify four specific priorities driving the SIE strategy: Advance the mobility of a global mission force; Dominate the cyber-ecosystem for special operations; Embed collaboration and instantaneous discovery everywhere; and Cultural imperative: operationalizing innovation.

Closing the briefing with a list of what SOF needs from industry and academia, Costa shifted to a panel of USSOCOM subject matter experts who addressed audience questions.

In one example, Col Joe Pishock, Chief Operating Officer for SOCOM Networks and Services, responded to the question, What can we do to speed up the process of getting tactical cross-domain solutions, [which are] desperately needed in the field?

“We hear this every day from the field,” Pishock replied. “Not only do we need flexible hardware solutions, but we actually need software-defined cross-domain solutions. So, to the question, what’s the process? I’d say iteration, working directly with units on small-scale exercises, finding places to inject technology so that we can iterate and experiment outside of focus laboratories, and so that we can gather the data as to what we really need. Because especially moving into coalition environments, where we’re operating at classification levels less than the traditional SIPR or NIPR classifications, is sort of a brave new space for us. And we don’t even have all the requirements figured out yet about exactly what that will look like.”

“[In] a year, we stood up our own enterprise cross-domain solutions office within the J62, which is the cybersecurity division,” added panelist CW5 Robert Byrd, USSOCOM Chief Enterprise Engineer. “That is something new. We were previously leveraging the U.S. Air Force to take our solutions up to the cross-domain solutions office. Now that we have an initial capability, we look to expedite some of those processes.”

In another example, Mr. Mike Langlois, Chief of the J65 CIO Division, addressed an inquiry regarding how the J6 Team develops policies and promulgates them across the enterprise.

By Scott Gourley

2021 SOFIC Satya Nadella and Gen. Clarke

Even as the special operations and high-tech universes may be divergent at face value, two of the most powerful people in these communities agree that the commonality is significant. The Covid-19 pandemic alone is proof, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) commander Gen. Richard Clarke and Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella agreed.

“The tail end of this pandemic has brought so many constraints,” Nadella said during a virtual May 20 industry keynote fireside chat with Gen. Clarke. “The adoption of even something like [Microsoft] Teams inside the Armed Forces has been tremendous to see. That’s how the connective tissue is maintained.”

During the next five years, Nadella said that artificial intelligence (AI) will assume an even greater role in processing information. Clarke agreed, saying he and his staff spend a great deal of time and resources thinking about AI’s “tremendous potential.”

Artificial intelligence, Clarke said, can assume some cognitive tasks and thus free special operators to be more effective.

Clarke told Nadella that the special operations community he leads is staffed with very intelligent problem solvers who need the tools to win. These tools, he said, once were provided by the Department of Defense. Not so anymore, he added.

“In many ways, industry is the lead,” Clarke told Nadella. “We bring them in to help solve problems and identify … requirements.”

Additionally, Clarke said, industry is poised to come forward with ideas that the special operations community has not yet envisioned.

Both agreed that such innovation must take place with a firm eye toward security.

“Technology is so pervasive. So is the priority around both information security and cybersecurity,” Nadella said. “I think we do need to start with an architectural approach which is zero trust.”

Nadella elaborated that zero trust would mean assuming a breach in security from a project’s onset. Microsoft processes some eight trillion signals a day, he said, adding that managing the operational security of those processes for its users is essential.

“We both have talented people,” Clarke told Nadella. “With our SOF enterprise … and you with the rest of industry exploring new opportunities and challenges, we can’t wait to see what’s possible in the future.”

By Nick Adde

2021 SOFIC SOF Seeks Innovation with Non-Traditional Partners

As the Chief Data Officer and Director of SOF AI for USSOCOM, Mr. Thomas Kenney was the perfect choice to lead Thursday afternoon’s keynote presentation entitled “SOCOM AI: Breaking the Paradigms.” And one of those key paradigms involved relationships between USSOCOM and non-traditional industry partners.

Referencing his own background as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Executive Officer of several cloud-based software companies, Kenney characterized his presentation and SOFIC venue as “a great opportunity for us at SOCOM to connect with industry partners—partners that we’ve worked with before and partners that we hope to work with in the future.”

“SOCOM is a great partner for non-traditional companies, companies who have great ideas, who are very agile, very nimble, and who are coming up with some of the greatest technologies we’ll see in the next decade,” he added. “And how we embrace those companies, partner with them, and help them succeed along with us is an amazing opportunity for SOCOM as we move forward into the coming years.”

Kenney’s presentation interwove four key themes: How USSOCOM actually engages with non-traditional companies; How the command uses new authorities and new ways of partnering to get after acquisition challenges; Agility in delivering capability that matches agility in development; and Removing roadblocks from working with USSOCOM.

He said that USSOCOM needs to learn with industry “in an agile way, where we are learning a little bit, iterating a little bit, testing a little bit, with some of the best warfighters in the world, to give you capabilities to work with us so that we can much more quickly adopt innovation across the landscape.”

Kenney pointed to “five tiers” in the relationship between data, artificial intelligence, and USSOCOM, ranging from a warfighter focus to an AI strategy that builds on a data strategy. In the latter case, he acknowledged the unique SOF challenge of really delivering data and AI-enabled capability to the tactical edge.

“Our mission is very broad,” he observed. “We have a lot of things that are going on today and we understand that one solution doesn’t fit all. We are going to need multiple solutions.”

He raised a number of critical elements surrounding cybersecurity in these solutions, noting, “One of the questions we have to ask is how we are ensuring the security of the system and not just the security of the data that’s going in, but potentially the security of the data that may be created; derivative data from algorithms, for example, and where that data may eventually go.”

Kenney noted that the USSOCOM approach to these challenges involves “three buckets”—education, outreach, and application.

Reiterating his call for non-traditional approaches and partners, he said, “As you come to SOCOM to partner and get introduced to our community, you’ll find that our senior leaders understand artificial intelligence and they understand the importance of data. You’ve got a very open-minded audience that understands this value, understands some of these underlying techniques of supervised learning, and unsupervised learning and how we do video and image processing with AI algorithms. They’re being educated to understand this because of how important this is to SOCOM in the long term.”

To conclude, Kenney highlighted several opportunities and venues to begin that partnership: “We are ready to partner with you and we’re ready to bring some of this innovation and some of these technologies to our warfighters.”

By Scott Gourley