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DSEI Connect

29 Sep 2022

Doing business with Special Operations Forces

Althea Rodrigues
Doing business with Special Operations Forces
“Watching Ukraine is changing the way people are budgeting,” Yoho said. “The aircraft carriers, combat aircraft and tanks that have dominated acquisition budgets over the past 20 years are looking increasingly irrelevant in the era of precision strike and man-portable weapons systems."

GSOF Symposium Europe: Doing business with SOF

In preparation for GSOF Symposium Europe 2022, Hungary’s Special Operations Forces (HUNSOF) laid out its top requirements and acquisition interests in order to focus efforts among the SOF industrial sector on their most relevant capabilities.

As listed in the 2022 Capabilities Catalogue, top of the HUNSOF’s list for the short-medium term are unmanned aviation systems (UAS), including Group 1 UAS, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and Ground Control Software (GCS); and manned aviation systems, including light, medium and heavy rotary wing aircraft and the equipment that enable and support these operations in the SOF operational envelope.

Hungary vehicle“The Capabilities Catalogue is a critical driver of technology prioritization for GSOF Symposium Europe, as it allows companies to manage their resources and channel funding into the right areas of development,” Dr Keenan Yoho, Vice President, Global SOF Foundation, said. “It begins with all our corporate partners listing their particular capabilities and then the host nation ranks the list by order of what they want to see and talk about at the event – sending out a clear message about what technology areas they are interested in.”

For organisations looking to engage with SOF customers, such guidance is critical. With defence budgets rising across Europe, spending on major platform procurement across the continent is expected to exceed $50 billion annually by 2025. Specifically, where to direct these acquisition dollars is being increasingly influenced by SOF, which have played a vital role in recent conflicts and will continue to do so during the age of great power competition. These forces need the best equipment to maintain full operational capabilities, but acquisition processes have been traditionally slow, and new methods of faster procurement are required, to enable more innovation and capability enhancement.

“Watching Ukraine is changing the way people are budgeting,” Yoho said. “The aircraft carriers, combat aircraft and tanks that have dominated acquisition budgets over the past 20 years are looking increasingly irrelevant in the era of precision strike and man-portable weapons systems.

“Today, militaries need to distribute their forces in smaller and more capable formations that are able to interoperate and communicate effectively. That means investing in drones and different types of intelligence capability rather than another combat aircraft – something particularly important for smaller nations whose budget just gets completely absorbed by the big ticket items that are prohibitively expensive to not just to buy, but to field and support.”

Beyond Hungary

Beyond the SOF-specific wish list of the HUNSOF, helicopter lift, expanded UAS portfolios and SOF-specific armoured vehicles are all expected to be priorities for European militaries in the coming years. But it is important to keep the strategic view in the forefront, Yoho warns, when planning for the ‘joint piece’, which is relatively new.

“The first three nations to make the concept of a joint SOF command a reality are Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium,” he explains. “And equipping it to project SOF power effectively will require those nations to develop joint capabilities from the outset, identifying areas of overlapping national interests and leveraging their joint buying power for assets such as strategic lift, ISR and even tactical lift. And from a business standpoint, centralizing contracting: the economics make more sense for companies to do recurring business with fewer, larger entities rather than lots of smaller ones.”

With other European nations likely to explore the idea of joining Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium in the future, or create their own joint SOC, joint acquisition will also help enable the interoperability piece of the puzzle.

“That is everything from ‘my plug works in your socket’, to the tactics, techniques and procedures that allow nations to carry out effective joint operations,” Yoho said. “That includes training tactical operators jointly, equipping them with similar gear, and then at the staff level, planning an operation, integrating the intelligence and ISR, strategic and tactical lift, and being able to bring it all together – that’s the serious game play that we need to be thinking about right from the outset.”

Technological innovation

It’s not just the brand new technologies that are catching the eye of SOF acquisition programmes. Alongside cutting-edge sensors, systems and technologies, older technologies that have undergone form factor and function improvements are increasingly important. This is particularly the case for intelligence technologies such as satellite communications.

“Look at troposcatter, which is a very old technology that bounces RF off the troposphere: in the 1970-80s, the antenna was the size of a billboard, now it’s the size of a pelican case,” Yoho said. “It’s also very difficult to jam, and works in the high north where satellite coverage can be spotty – plus it’s much less expensive. So better capability does not always have to mean more budget.”

GSOF NetworkingA major benefit for smaller innovative companies in doing business with SOF is the dynamic way in which they field new equipment. Typically, early adopters of new technology, SOF tend to acquire equipment much more quickly than the general force, and will continue to work with developers to fine-tune systems while it is being fielded. Not only does this provide a valuable feedback-development spiral for developers, it opens the door to smaller companies who are developing highly innovative equipment, but might not have the resources to engage in lengthy acquisition programmes.

While teaming may be the future for projecting SOF capability outside national borders across Europe, it also has an important role to play in the technology development side.

“What we love to see at GSOF is the B2B activity that takes place, where companies that have non-competing capabilities and technologies collaborate and put them together as a package to meet a requirement,” Yoho said. “Teaming is really a thread that can be followed through so much of what GSOF Symposium Europe aims to foster, right from technology development to acquisition and ultimately the way operations are carried out in theatre.

“Why is it so important? Because human rights, democracy and individual liberty are minority world views, and the ability to project the power to protect these rights is not something that a single nation – even with a very large budget – can carry out alone.”

 

Preparing for GSOF Symposium Europe 2023

After a successful event in Budapest, Hungary this October, the organizing team and the Global SOF Foundation look forward to hosting the upcoming edition of the event in Brno, Czech Republic from 24-26 October 2023. To join the SOF community next year, register your interest by visiting the event website today: https://www.gsofeurope.org/register-interest-2023

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Intro Text

“Watching Ukraine is changing the way people are budgeting,” Yoho said. “The aircraft carriers, combat aircraft and tanks that have dominated acquisition budgets over the past 20 years are looking increasingly irrelevant in the era of precision strike and man-portable weapons systems."
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