The theme of this year’s SOFIC was ‘Winning in a Complex World,’ was a suitable and apt title to reflect the turmoil around the world, the growing terrorist threat and the huge task faced by SOFIC and other armed forces to counter and defeat this threat.
This task was reflected in two sessions, one given by USSOCOM Commander General Joseph Votel supported by his acquisition chief Mr. James F. Guerts. Their remarks were later reinforced by a Round Table discussion featuring comments from USSOCOM’s Special Operations Command Panel which covered the threats facing the world region by region from Alaska thru Africa to Korea. The message was simple, it’s a complex war involving many nationalities and creeds which will take many years to fight and which will require world-wide cooperation and the best equipment money can buy. This was reflected in the speech by Mr. Guerts outlining his huge and varying equipment requirements which thankfully now are receiving the increased procurement dollars. In addition to making these procurements fair play has to take place which has resulted in 757% of the procurements being competed with 29% going to SMEs and 10% to Veteran Owned businesses. Mr Guerts reinforced the importance of the specialist technology companies exhibiting at SOFIC and praised them and the 2000 Prime Contractors involved in the process.
Mr Guerts saw a resurgence in R&D and thus new products and stressed that Big Data Analytics Tools remained a top priority for cracking the various Social Media postings happening all over the world.
Five Priorities were identified in the fight against terror. These are:
- Ensuring that USSOCOM employs the right people.
- Helping nations win. Partnering nations to prevent conflict.
- Continue to build relationships. Strengthen networks. There are already 0 existing partnerships.
- Prepare for the future
- Preserve freedom for the families and their children
The use of Social Media propaganda was shown in an article in Defense News outlining an attack on US Forces after it was a alleged that the US was aiding IS against Iran.Defense News said that Iran-backed rumors the US is supplying the Islamic State group not only led to shots being fired at a US helicopter, but they are so stubborn the commander of Iran’s Quds Force believes them, a senior special operations official said Tuesday.That Iranian commander, Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, has fully bought into the narrative, the official said. Soleimani, a powerful figure, was deployed by Tehran to help Iraqis coordinate the fight against the Islamic State group.”I can tell you the Quds force commander believes we are re-supplying Daesh — truly believes it,” Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer, deputy commander for Special Operations Command Central, told reporters. Daesh is another name for the Islamic State group.Beyond one persistent rumor, the issue reflects the US’ difficulty producing messaging that counters the narrative and ideology of the Islamic State group, which has proven adept proliferating its message via social media and attracting foreign fighters.”We have a continuous problem in effectively countering the narrative and consistently struggle in the [information operations] realm,” Crytzer said, speaking at the Special Operations Industry Conference on Tuesday. “We need to find solutions that allow us to more effectively contest for the [information operations] battlespaceCrytzer lamented that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have used smartphones and Twitter to respond quickly to events and advance its agenda. For instance, the Islamic State could turn the death of a bomb maker in an accidental explosion into a US attack — “an automatic [propaganda] opportunity for them, and we have nothing to counter it,” he said.To add insult to injury, a group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate embarrassed US Central Command (CENTCOM) when it briefly hacked its Twitter account in January.In his remarks Tuesday, Crytzer explained that Special Operations Command Central learned through intelligence reports that the motivation for the shots were fired at a US helicopter was the rumor the US was supplying ISIS.Crytzer called the narrative, “easily believed by many, it’s not just the poor and uneducated.” “When narratives like that go unchecked, it sets the conditions for bad things to happen like that,” he said.
The story may be undermining the trust between Iraqi allies and their special operations advisers. In at least once instance, advisers were asked by Iraqi troops, “Why are you doing that,” Crytzer said.In October, the US Defense Department acknowledged that a bundle carrying small arms meant for Kurdish forces went astray. Though an Islamic State video shows its forces handling the bundle, the Pentagon maintained it was destroyed from the US but planned to investigate.The Iranian news agency Fars carried a report in February that Iraqi popular forces in Al-Anbar shot down a US helicopter carrying weapons for the Islamic State group. The report, mostly sourced to members of the Iranian parliament, cited various examples of Western aid to the Islamic State and claimed Iraqi forces shot down two British planes carrying weapons to the Islamic State group.US Central Command is starting to mount an effort to respond, led by Rear Adm. James Malloy, CENTCOM’s deputy director of operations. Its purpose is “to improve how proactive and effective they are … bring proactive and with how quick they can be to counter narratives,” Crytzer said.
“This is a very powerful ideology, this is not going to be easy, and there are true believers, and we’ve got to get into the fight to counter the message for those who have not been influenced,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Thus far, efforts to counter the rumors were coordinated between the Defense Department and State Department. In general, the US tends to operate at a slower pace.
“With us, we’re being truthful, we’re trying to be deliberate so that there aren’t missteps,” Crytzer said.
On the panel, Crytzer and other regional officials from Special Operations Command appealed to the industry crowd to produce a technological solution that would help.
Army Brig Gen. John Deedrick, Special Operations Command Korea, said the Defense Department and other US agencies could be using big data analytics to monitor Internet chat room or social media traffic to preempt problems.
“We are just starting to fully realize how much can be scoped from that, and how we can get ahead of the narrative or at least see a trend line starting to develop,” Deedrick said.
In the wars of recent years, US Special Operations Command saw the results of a dizzying investment in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) rushed into the field, leaving the command — in today’s leaner times — to make sense of its inventory and focus.
To that end, the command has created an ISR roadmap, aimed at reinforcing its collection, transmission and exploitation abilities, though transmission has proved one of the thorniest problems. Sensors have evolved to capture richer information, like high-definition video, outstripping the capacity of Defense Department data pipes to send the data.
Mr Guerts then outlined key technologies needed to win the war:
- UAV swarms and advanced UAV payloads such as EW and SIGINT. All weather UAVs vital to better operations. Additional low cost UAV solutions.
- Introducing Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). Operating suits have been in use since 2013 but the Talos will provide the connectivity, power and protection required; the first suit is expected by the end of August 2018.
- Logistics – better collection and dissemination of data and solutions is required. Key to this is the establishment of Joint Logistics Data.
- New relationships with academia and industry required to develop new products on time and to spec.
- Impose a better response to threats. Defeating the IED is a key part of this strategy.
- New software strategy with more open software.
- New operating models with common standards
- Building a new and world-wide network.
- Countering narcotics and gang threats
- 3-D modelling of scenarios
Defense News reported that the leadership of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) said the force and its acquisitions — facing a multitude of hotspots and threats from around the globe — must be more flexible than ever, fueling an increase in research an development funding. SOCOM’s total R&D budget rose from a low of $368 million in 2014 to $538 million in the 2016 budget request — a development USSOCOM acquisition executive Bill “Hondo” Geurts called “a huge win for us” as the command looks past Mideast-specific technologies for gear for global operations.
While the operational tempo for conventional forces has slowed, SOCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel said his forces are “operating in possibly the most complex strategic environment in recent history.”
To underline all of the above Defense News also reported that US special operations forces are using forward-deployed rapid DNA scanners on a limited basis to confirm targets. Troops have used DNA from improvised bomb components to capture “some very bad people,” according to an official with US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
SOCOM is evaluating the devices for wider fielding. If successful, they have the potential to cut the time used to process DNA evidence from weeks to 90 minutes and replace fingerprint analysis downrange, according to Michael Fitz, SOCOM’s program manager for sensitive site exploitation.
“It’s a groundbreaking, game-breaking technology,” Fitz said at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference on Wednesday. “In the past, a guy would have to put [a DNA sample] in an envelope and send it back to the states and wait a few weeks to find out who he had. By then he’s had 12 other missions and forgotten who that guy was.”
During SOCOM’s evaluation of the equipment, DNA found on components of an improvised explosive device led to captures. The devices, which are expensive to use, are being saved for “the juicy missions,” Fitz said.
“We’ve got these rapid DNA devices deployed downrange, actually collecting DNA samples from guys our guys encounter, and I can tell you we’ve already had some operational successes,” he said.
“The driver in this scenario is we’re fighting insurgencies,” he said. “Identifying the enemy is half the game.”
The program is evaluating two devices, one made by Waltham, Massachusetts-based NetBio, and the other by IntegenX, of Pleasanton, California. Whether to launch a formal acquisition program will be decided by the end of the year.SOCOM is guiding industry toward a future device that is smaller and tougher so elite troops can use them in on-the-spot analyses with little training.Conclusion
SOFIC showed how the concentration of the best minds, soldiers, equipment and of course a bit of luck can defeat the enemy. However the complexity of the task involved, the geography, space and distance involved the differing languages and casts coupled to the deadly propaganda perpetrated by social media, cyber warfare and the use of violence by IS to intimidate their enemies and soldiers alike, means this is going to be a long drawn out conflict which will last for years.
In an interesting conversation with two former soldiers, one British, one American, their common theme on fighting the enemy was that most of them were usually high on heroin or other drugs giving them no understanding of fear and thus they fought to the end. The American described one incident in Iraq where a building was attacked by artillery and rockets, the man inside fought on until in extremis it was flattened by an armoured bulldozer. When the dust cleared the man was still alive but critically injured, that’s what our boys face day after day!
The war will sadly still be on when BATTLESPACE returns to SOFIC next year.