Leveraging Innovation to Improve Battlefield Performance


Special Operations Forces work in demanding, high-risk environments. The soldiers train to succeed in the most complex missions; they are prepared to provide expert support for national objectives; and must be capable of handling any situation from counterterrorism to civil affairs operations. [1]

Because of the extremes faced by special operators, they need to be both equipped with the best technology and creative in their responses. “In particular … creativity is the ability to rapidly change the operational method to something different from what conventional forces can use: the ability to change the game in the middle of the game.” [2]

On the home front, the United States Special Operations Command, which supports the Global Combatant Commands’ operations by providing Special Operations Forces, [3] continuously pursues the latest technological innovations to increase its effectiveness for the warfighter. By furthering developments in satellite communications and weapons systems to advancing components in the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, USSOCOM fosters a culture that embraces and supports innovation in research, development and acquisition programs to meet the demanding needs of the special operator.


Supporting the emphasis on innovation led to a partnership establishing the SOFWERX, an unclassified, open collaboration facility, designed to bring non-traditional partners from industry, academia and the government together to work on USSOCOM’s most challenging problems.

The 10,000 square foot facility serves as an incubator for innovative thinking by creating an interactive venue for “return on collisions” of untapped ideas and partnerships. The future for the SOFWERX concept includes a rapid prototyping/proof of concept facility, which is under development near the original SOFWERX facility.

The advancements conceived and developed during events and work sessions at the SOFWERX facility will benefit USSOCOM by serving to better inform future technical development, engineering decisions and provide a center for future innovation initiatives. Developing non-traditional relationships, when cemented with divergent thought and design thinking, will create a forum for innovation and accelerating technologies to USSOCOM. And, as an off-base facility, it is easier for collaborators to attend meetings, than if they took place at USSOCOM’s headquarters
at MacDill Air Force Base. [4]

Utilizing SOFWERX will help USSOCOM overcome future challenges by continuing to attract the brightest minds and alternative approaches. These continuing relationships will allow USSOCOM to increase its innovation and development speed, flatten information and influence initiatives across the enterprise. USSOCOM released Requests for Information seeking technological capabilities that can see through walls, disable a car, map a room and remotely track a person’s health. [5,6]

Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit

In August 2013, USSOCOM initiated a vision for a next-generation, technologically advanced combat operator suit to better protect Special Operations Force operators conducting high-risk missions. A Joint Acquisition Task Force brought operators, engineers and acquisition professionals together on the same team with a mission to deliver a next-generation combat suit via innovative acquisition processes such as rapid prototyping, collaboration with non-traditional partners and prize challenges. The TALOS roadmap consists of building incremental
exoskeleton prototypes with increased levels of subsystem integration leading to the initial combat suit prototype scheduled for August 2018 delivery.

TALOS was chartered to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of advanced technology to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, peerless tactical capabilities and ultimately
to enhance the strategic effectiveness of the Special Operations Forces operator of the future. When the TALOS concept was introduced via a Request for Information, nine aspects, including advanced armor, power generation, thermal management and embedded medical monitoring were included. [7]

Currently, armor is required to protect approximately 20 percent of the body (including head); however, TALOS anticipates full body protection. [8] This causes numerous challenges, including minimizing the weight of the armor required for whole body protection. [8]

Distinct functional areas comprise the TALOS project. Several of these functional areas utilize SOFWERX to generate innovative solutions to TALOS trials.

The primary functional areas conducting work at the SOFWERX facility are Operator Interface/Visual Augmentation Systems, for which there are test beds and workstations, as well as Survivability, for which there have been several armor design prototyping events. The OI/VAS functional area will lead the Helmet Integration effort for TALOS, some of which will take place at the SOFWERX facility. However, SOFWERX is currently only a venue to progress on components internal to the TALOS helmet.

In terms of internal helmet components, SOFWERX hosted a Fall 2015 Display Pipeline Series, which brought in players from industry, government and academia, to integrate components of the Visual Augmentation System and computing architecture. For example, the helmet needs to provide visual screens with no latency problems. [9] This process will continue going forward.

During these design efforts, Special Operations Forces operators are onsite. The constant inclusion of operator input is imperative to the success of TALOS. Operators are able to provide real time feedback and insights on engineer developments to ensure tactical relevancy.

The TALOS Power/Energy functional areas is not currently evaluating hardware at SOFWERX. Challenges for the TALOS power source include ruggedization and adapting commercial technologies to military requirements. TALOS is also monitoring industry and national laboratory efforts for potential future integration. USSOCOM will continue discussing challenges
and solutions to TALOS at the 2016 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. Each day conference attendees will be able to offer potential solutions to challenges faced in developing TALOS. [10]


Cube Satellites, or nanosatellites, are miniature satellites, only about four inches long and three pounds. [11] The satellites launch into space in clusters or constellations [11] for use by academia, industry and government agencies to conduct high-speed communication, data sensitive scientific exploration and educational research. [12] CubeSat technology development has been public, which encourages engineers, hobbyists and students to engage in design and capability idea development. [13] The technology also uses commercial offthe- shelf electronics, which helps mitigate costs. [14]

Prometheus is a USSOCOM CubeSat constellation developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory [15] to explore the viability of using nanosatellite constellations to meet existing Special Operations Forces mission requirements. Using the Prometheus satellites, special operators will be able to transfer audio, video and data files from man-portable, low profile, remotely located field units to deployable ground stations terminals using over-the-horizon satellite communications.

Because the Prometheus project began prior to SOFWERX, work on the technical challenges (such as minimizing the satellite’s weight and reducing the number of parts) began elsewhere. [12] However, USSOCOM continues to evaluate how the Prometheus project can benefit from SOFWERX’s unique environment.

One trial faced by the team developing Prometheus centered on trying to package communications electronics, antennas and sufficient power into a 1.5U (10cm x 10 cm x 15 cm) package. Working within the size constraints as well as projected development and fielding budgets is an innovation challenge. Exposing multiple developers to the Prometheus technology in the SOFWERX collaboration environment could help USSOCOM tackle the communication challenges and develop additional capabilities for the satellites.

Los Alamos National Security, in support of its USSOCOM mission, launched the eight-nanosatellite Prometheus constellation into orbit in 2013. [16] After launch, the satellites successfully communicated with controllers on the ground. [17] Prometheus is one of a handful of initiatives geared toward improving space capability responsiveness, communications and situational awareness for the warfighter.

Prometheus will assist in providing SOCOM the information needed to assess and evaluate the approach, technology, operational utility, costs and concept of operations for implementing the CubeSat system.


1. 2015 USSOCOM Posture Statement: Hearings before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. (2015, March 18). (Statement of General Joseph L. Votel, U.S. Army Commander, United States Special Operations Command). Retrieved from http://www.socom.mil/Documents/2015%20USSOCOM%20Posture%20Statement.pdf (accessed February 11, 2016).

2. Spaluk, Robert G. (2010, December). Innovate or Die: Innovation and Technology for Special Operations. Joint Special Operations University. Retrieved from http://jsou.socom.mil/JSOU%20Publications/JSOU10-7spulakInnovate_final.pdf (accessed February 11, 2016).

3. United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Retrieved from http://www.socom.mil/default.aspx (accessed February 11, 2016).

4. Altman, Howard. (2015, November 4). SOCOM’s ‘hackathon’ opens process of creating high-tech commando gear. The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.tbo.com/list/military-news/hackathon-opensprocess-of-creating-hi-tech-commando-gear-20151104/ (accessed February 11, 2016).

5. TE 15-3 Technical Experimentation Urban/Unconventional Warfare (2015, March 2). FedBizOpps.gov. Retrieved from https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=-form&id=855bf3ada22f7e5a7061eedceafdc739&tab=core&_cview=0 (accessed February 11, 2016).

6. Kamm, Grayson. (2015, March 30). SOCOM wants real video games and superhero tech. 10News. Retrieved from http://www.wtsp.com/story/tech/2015/03/30/socom-wantsreal-video-game-and-superherotech/70658262/ (accessed February 11, 2016).

7. Hoarn, Steven. (2013, May 18). SOCOM seeks TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit). Defense Media Network. Retrieved from http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/socom-seeks-talos-tactical-assault-light-operator-suit/ (accessed February 11, 2016).

8. Vergun, David. (2015, January 28). Unprecedented technology poses challenges for special ops. United States Army. Retrieved from http://www.army.mil/article/141816/Unprecedented_technology_poses_challenges_for_special_ops/ (accessed February 11, 2016).

9. Magnuson, Stew. (2015, May). Power Remains Key Challenge for Building SOCOM’s Iron Man Suit. National Defense Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2015/may/pages/powerremainskeychallengeforbuildingsocomsironmansuit.aspx (accessed February 11, 2016).

10. Special Operations Forces Industry Convention Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.sofic.org/agenda/Documents/Agenda_2-5-16.pdf (accessed February 11, 2016).

11. CubeSats Overview. NASA website. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cubesats/overview(accessed February 11, 2016).

12. CubeSat to Demonstrate Miniature Laser Communications in Orbit. (2015, October 9). NASA Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/cubesat-to-demonstrate-miniature-laser-communications-in-orbit (accessed February 11, 2016).

13. Cabalier, D. and Pang, A. (2009). The Growth of Citizen Science: How Amateurs are contributing to Research. The New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from http://www.nyas.org/Publications/Detail.aspx?cid=5222b62e-4a1b-4fb2-bf6ea38e263dee49 (accessed February 11, 2016).

14. Space Systems Laboratory. About CubeSat. Retrieved from http://ssl.engineering.uky.edu/missions/orbital/about-cubesat/ (accessed February 11, 2016).

15. Mattox, E. (2014). Special Operations Takes Flight to the High Ground. The Space Review. Retrieved from http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2491/1 (accessed February 11, 2016).

16. Innovative Micro & Small Space Vehicles (SV). (2014, August 4). Los Alamos National Laboratory. Retrieved from https://www.lanl.gov/projects/feynman-center/_assets/pdf/RFI-ASP-8-1-14.pdf (accessed February 11, 2016).

17. Tripp, Justin Leonard. (2015, July). Satellites and System Design. Retrieved from http://permalink.lanl.gov/object/tr?what=info:lanl-repo/lareport/LA-UR-15-25952 (accessed February 11, 2016).