SPECIAL OPERATIONS

SOFIC NEWS: SOCOM to Award More Than $1 Billion to Small Businesses in 2021

5/17/2021
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
U.S. Air Force Special Tactics operators

Defense Dept. photo

Special Operations Command awarded small businesses $1 billion worth of contracts in fiscal year 2020, and it is on track to pass that milestone in 2021, said the command’s deputy director of acquisition May 17.

“We’re on pace to beat that $1 billion number from last year,” said William Innes. “We're really … [driving] hard towards leveraging the innovation of small business.”

SOCOM considers itself to be an “engine of innovation” because of its reputation for getting new technology into the hands of warfighters quickly. That engine “is fed by small business,” Innes said during remarks at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, which is being held virtually due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Special operations forces rely on specialized equipment known as SOF-peculiar products that can be developed by small businesses quickly, he said.

“We're not buying F-35s,” Innes said, referring to the joint strike fighter that the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are pursuing. “A lot of it is smaller kit that we buy, and it really aligns well with” small businesses.

In fiscal year 2020, SOCOM spent $1 billion or so on small business products, which was about 22 percent of the total value of the contracts awarded by the command's acquisition, technology and logistics offices, he said.

“A lot of our funds go to small business,” Innes said. “I really think that's important. ... They're innovative. They're non-traditional. They move fast.”

SOCOM’s small business office — which Innes said aggressively reaches out to new companies — hosts roundtables with non-traditional firms to discuss the command's tech needs. Because of health concerns surrounding COVID-19, many of those have gone virtual which has resulted in increased participation. The command plans to continue to offer virtual platforms to better connect with companies.

The command is also using its partner organization, SOFWERX, to better reach out to small and non-traditional companies, he said.

SOCOM’s relationship with small businesses benefits other Defense Department organizations because often those products are later purchased by the larger armed services, he noted.

Meanwhile, the command is focused on leveraging agile acquisition authorities granted by Congress as it pursues new technology, Innes said.

“Congress provides the acquisition community — not just SOCOM — a wide variety of authorities to get after acquisition,” he said. “At SOCOM, we've led the way for Congress, because they want us to use these authorities. They want us to adapt what they've provided.”

Some of these authorities include other transaction authority agreements, or OTAs, which SOCOM has embraced, he said. Moving forward, it is growing its portfolio of OTAs.

“We lead the way in using … flexible acquisition authorities, and we need industry to be there with us as our partners in acquisition,” he said.

SOCOM has six technology focus areas including: next-generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; next-generation mobility; precision fires and effects; hyper-enabled operators; network and data; and biotechnology and human interface, according to Innes’ slides.

Additionally, it is also pursuing science and technology efforts related to its S&T Integrated Priority List, Innes said. The list includes technologies that are not SOF-peculiar, but would be helpful for operators, such as "tailorable lethality," electronic warfare, human performance optimization and data-enabled equipment, according to his slides.

SOCOM is looking for the “DARPAs of the world” to help it acquire these technologies, Innes said, referring to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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