Blog: SOCOM C4 Challenges and Industry Opportunities

July 10, 2012
By Rita Boland
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The command, control, communications and computers (C4) challenges are numerous for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but the organization's effective J-6 has several suggestions about how industry can help. John A. Wilcox, the director of communications systems and chief information officer, SOCOM, laid out these items during a keynote address at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, Florida. He also told the audience what keeps him up at night.

Wilcox says his greatest frustration is the inability for the military to move away from a black-and-white risk policy. Instead, he wants personnel to move toward better risk understanding, mitigation and acceptance. Another major C4 challenge is to ensure the Defense Department resists the temptation to develop information technology solutions. The military is good at adopting, but Wilcox could not think of a single success story that involved the department developing its own information technology. "That's why we have industry," he stated.

Power, weight and the cube continue to be problems, as they have for decades. Wilcox wants to see improvement in alternative and efficient energy systems as well as wants help advancing battery technology. He explained that special operations forces (SOF) don't ask for what can't be delivered and will buy 85 percent solutions that are available, coming back to purchase other needs a few years later. Wilcox's final challenge is to define roles and responsibilities in cyber.

In addition to those issues, several concerns keep the senior executive awake at night. The first is hurricanes. SOCOM is headquartered on the water in Tampa, sitting at what basically amounts to sea level. A major storm could prove disastrous. Second on his list is freedom within the space domain, with particular concern regarding what will occur if any group decides to dominate space. According to Wilcox, the military is looking at high frequency communications again. Today's high-technology systems need a backup in place in case of disabled capabilities.

Another sleep inhibitor is concern that information technology efficiencies will trump effectiveness, which would be detrimental to SOF activities. Wilcox explained that the nation expects SOF to be effective. It would like SOF to be efficient. His final concern is less technical-SOF operators have been at war for 11 years and still are in harm's way.

To help mitigate some of the negatives he outlined, Wilcox has several suggestions for industry. He would "really like" to have a Mobile User Objective System handheld terminal, and he wants industry to treat power/battery efficiency as a key performance parameter. Also, information technology is a team sport and even competitors must find ways to work well together. The next item he brought up is a sore point-industry needs to treat SOF networks as a corporate priority. If there is a breach of SOF data, they must let Wilcox know, whether lawyers like it or not.

His final two suggestions are for industry to understand his business before they try to sell anything and for industry to conduct better expectation management. He does not what people selling what they cannot deliver or promising a solution when what a company really needs is money or other support.

Wilcox also touched on the issue of mobility, saying it's the most exciting current technology. He wants devices SOF operators can use from garrison to end point on secure and unclassified networks.


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