SOCOM seeks vendors in next step toward developing 'Iron Man' suit
By HOWARD ALTMAN | Tampa Tribune, Fla. (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 28, 2015
TAMPA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Do you have an advanced solution to help U.S. Special Operations Command develop its “Iron Man” body armor of the future?
If so, the command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., wants to hear from you.
SOCOM is seeking up to 12 vendors to display their technology at the upcoming Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) at the Tampa Convention Center next month. It’s the major event on the calendar for companies wanting to do business with the command.
In the latest step forward in its effort to field the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, SOCOM is seeking vendors ready to showcase new technology solutions for several components of the suit. And for the first time, selected vendors will get five minutes each to pitch their ideas at the world’s most important special ops industry confab, co-hosted by SOCOM, a command with $2 billion in annual acquisition spending power.
Think “Shark Tank” meets Tony Stark.
SOCOM is seeking presenters at the conference with solutions to man-portable power supply, biomechanical modeling and simulations, efficient high power actuation, exoskeleton sensing and control strategy, helmet thermal management, visor anti-fogging,laser eye protection and a communication headset.
The TALOS suit concept was created when William McRaven, the now-retired Navy admiral, ran the command. The project is being carried forward by his successor, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, according to Socom.
The TALOS program “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 SOF operator of the future,” Votel told the audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low-intensity Conflict Symposium in January, according to the Pentagon website.
The command has been in essence crowd-sourcing the development of TALOS, reaching out to industry, academia and individuals to help develop components and systems that would go into the suit.
Votel said the program was still on track to meet its deadline.
“Although many significant challenges remain, our goal for a Mark 5 prototype suit by 2018 is on track right now,” he told conference attendees, according to the Pentagon.
SOCOM officials were not available for comment about the upcoming conference. In December, James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s top acquisition official told The Tampa Tribune that the TALOS program has already produced dividends in terms of equipment for commandos and a reduction in the time it takes to bring a concept online.
The TALOS process has already resulted “in about 10 to 12 discoveries,” said Geurts, including a design for a wearable antenna system.
And over the summer, the command ran a test of an unpowered exoskeleton system.
There are also ongoing “industry days,” like one held last year at the University of South Florida, where those with ideas can share them with the command.
“But more than just equipment, we are now looking at a new way of doing business through this kind of combustion-chamber approach,” said Geurts. “We are putting everyone together through continuing dialogue and cooperative research.”
Unlike other major military commands, SOCOM has its own acquisition budget. With about $2 billion per year, that makes SOCOM uniquely positioned, by design, to rapidly field equipment and technology needed by commandos. By bringing together commandos, scientists, engineers and the buyers at Socom, the TALOS program improves on that, said Geurts.
The program, however, is not without its critics. Congress has requested greater oversight, and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn included TALOS, with an estimated budget of $80 million over the next four years, in his annual “Wastebook” of what he deemed unneeded government expenditures.
SOCOM has a different take, saying the technology will help save lives on the battlefield, and is seeking innovations to increase commando survivability, mobility and situational awareness and provide more lightweight power and user comfort.
The SOFIC conference, which runs from May 19 to May 21, sets aside time on the morning and afternoon of May 20 for selected vendors to tout their TALOS wares. There will also be several sessions dedicated to discussions on various aspects of the TALOS program, from introduction to the TALOS Software Development Kit on Wednesday to a TALOS Mobility Systems Think Tank and a TALOS Tactical Challenge on Thursday.
SOCOM wants TALOS presenters to be “highly qualified engineers, scientists, designers, and technicians only, no business developers, sales or marketing, etc.”
Interested parties have until 6 p.m., May 8 to submit a Power Point quad chart of their technology solutions and a resume or curriculum vitae.
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Artist's rendering of what the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit might look like with its desired capabilities.