Socom must combat narrative of groups including Islamic State, general says

May 19, 2015

Howard Altman | Tampa Tribune
Inside the cavernous grand ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center, special operations commanders like Army Brig. Gen. Kurt Crytzer told defense industry leaders what they need from those who have flocked to Tampa for the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
Crytzer, deputy commanding general of Special Operations Command Central, which is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base and oversees commando operations in the U.S. Central Command region, talked about the need for technology that can detect improvised explosive devices in roadways, vehicles, houses and where they are made. He also talked about the need to combat the narrative of groups like Islamic State, which has convinced some Iraqis that it is being resupplied by the U.S., causing helicopters to be shot at and commandos in Iraq to be questioned by Iraqi security forces.
Meanwhile, after the conference wrapped up, about two miles north of the convention center, in a 3,000-square-foot loft in the old Tampa Armature works, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command’s multi-billion acquisition department was showing off Socom’s latest high-tech innovation effort, called SofWorX, designed to more quickly get goods and services like the ones requested by the commanders into the hands of those on the battlefield.
“We are looking for innovative ways to get the warfighters the tools they need,” said Jim “Hondo” Geurts during a tour of the loft space where the command is partnering up with the Doolittle Institute to drive innovation to Tampa Heights.
The tour, which showcased where the command will hold some of its “Thunderdome” events, where the command will bring in industry, academia and inventors to help address Socom’s needs, comes after the first day of the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), the biggest event of the year for defense contractors looking to do business with Socom, which has between $6 billion and $7 billion to spend a year on special operations-specific goods and services.
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Sitting on a panel of officers who lead the commands in charge of the actions of commandos in the field, Crytzer said that “groups like Daesh (Islamic State) have powerful ideology and we constantly have a problem in effectively countering their narrative. We consistently struggle in the IO (Informations Operations) realm and we need solutions to contest the ideological battlespace.”
There is a narrative floating around Iraq that the U.S. is resupplying the group, also known as Islamic State.
“That sets the conditions for bad things to happen,” he said. “Shots were being fired at helicopters and SOF advisors were being asked at several training sites ‘how come you are supporting Daesh?’”
Our adversaries “are constantly one step ahead of us in the IO realm and how can we use technologies to counter the message of Daesh, militia groups and others more effectively?” he asked the industry leaders who filled the ballroom.
Crytzer said the information about the helicopters being shot came from intelligence reports.
After the panel concluded, Crytzer said that it’s all part of an unchecked narrative that he said can “have a decidedly adverse affect on our guys. If they believe the narrative that we are supplying Daesh, ultimately, they could take kinetic action against our guys.”
That narrative is so strong that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who heads that nation’s Qods Force, roughly akin to U.S. commandos, “believes that we are supplying Daesh,” Crytzer said.
Earlier in the day, Army Gen. Joseph Votel delivered his first speech to the conference as Socom commander.
He talked about how there has been “an incredible eruption” of foreign fighters flowing into the Middle East to help Islamic State and its affiliates, how there is a growing relation between violent extremists and transnational criminal groups, how cyber threats are increasing and how a “resurgent Russia is employing intimidating techniques against its neighbors through the use of special operations forces, information operations and cyber capabilities” to “drive a wedge between our key allies and partners in Eastern Europe and they are extremely effective.”
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In introducing his vision for SofWorX and the Thunderdome events, Dave Scott, a retired Air Force major general who spent his career in special operations, helped brainstorm the concept. Scott, part owner of the Bad Monkey bar in Ybor City and an advocate for the neighborhood’s redevelopment, talked about the excitement of bringing new energy and new ideas to help solve solutions.
During the tour of the loft, Geurts displayed a rifle suppressor that was made from a 3-D printer, just one example of the possibilities that the effort has to offer.
The space already offers a wide range of inputs, he said.
There is space for the command’s highly touted Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, being developed to provide high-tech protection for commandos in the field. And across the room, members of Soccom’s strategic plans and policy directorate have a space, helping to create a synergy. Several high schools have visited and took part in a TALOS design project.
SofWorX is partnering with the Doolittle Institute, which, working with the Air Force Research Lab, is serving as a liaison between the space and the military.
Eventually, there will be a fabrication laboratory built nearby, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that will add to the speed in which products can be created, said Todd Hanning, an Air Force Special Operations Command veteran and senior collaborations principle for the Doolittle Institute.
Mark Swanson, an Army veteran, high tech guru and chairman of the Tampa Bay WaVE, is putting together a business plan for the Thunderdome concept for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. He says the goals include getting the things commandos need faster and helping the Tampa region bridge the gap between the billions spent by Socom and the $15 million that goes to local defense-related businesses.
There was one more announcement Tuesday night.
Greg Celestan, CEO of the Celestar Corp., a Tampa defense contractor, officially announced he was moving his company from its present location to a new building to be built near the Armature Works, part of an effort to make the area a high-tech, research and development mecca. where Socom, the Doolittle Institute, government, contractors, educational institutions and others can create and keep start-up businesses in the region.
The SOFIC conference continues Wednesday with a panel of component commanders in the morning and a series of five-minute demonstrations from inventors and others who have ideas for the TALOS system.