Primary Arms

SOFIC 2009

Admittedly, great fascination and glamour surrounds the special operations community. Players are known as operators, and SOF has become media celebrities. In many circles, the SOF community draws more support, admiration and envy than sports figures, politicians and movie stars – deservedly so. However, this has not always been the case, and few know that SOF, as it is today, exists because of the work and vision of former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, then a Republican Senator from Main, and Senator Sam Nunn a Democrat from Georgia.

The concept of a special operations force, a fifth branch per say, composed of select members drawn from the joint services, has been around since WWII. It was a notion that was dismissed as foolish and lacked DOD support from the get-go. In fact, it was outright resisted, and the SOF phobia reached its peak during 1980 with the dismal failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, during the Jimmy Carter Administration.

SOF would have to wait until 1986 when William Cohen and Sam Nunn amended the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reform Act, through some forward thinking legislation now known as Nunn-Cohen, essentially driving a dagger through the heart of the opposition.

Nunn-Cohen achieved a number of critical objectives. First, it created a U.S. Special Operations Command or USSOCOM, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Secondly, it created a Secretary level position at the DOD, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (a.k.a ASD SOLIC&IC). Finally, and probably the most important step, under Nunn-Cohen, SOCOM got its wallet under Title 10 of U.S. Code. Title 10 funding for SOCOM assured the SOF community that they could have their own budget line in the U.S. fiscal budget.

Now, with its own budget, management and infrastructure, SOF was in position to make its own decisions, select its own equipment, weapons and technology. This independence paved the way for industry partners to develop and market technologies that are specific to the SOF community.

SOFIC which stands for Special Operations Force Industry Conference is the equivalent to SHOT for the sporting industry, and it was my pleasure to cover the conference for Sniperworx. However, before I get into the happenings, I want to apologize for the lack of pictures. Photography at this conference is prohibited; it is a rule that is enforced with the assistance of the Tampa Police Depart.

While at this year’s conference, I had the opportunity to meet up with some familiar faces and friends and I had the pleasure to chat with “operators,” officers and enlisted. I’d like to tell you right now that all of them looked like regular guys and gals. They did not look like they live at L.A. Fitness or were part of the cast for 300. However, they are bright, articulate and very interesting folks. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed spending some quality time with them. Having said that, I will now share my master plan to mitigate the fact that I could not take pictures – with exception of one, the images that you will see in this report are all scanned images or images made available from select suppliers of relevant products and technologies. Having said that, allow me to get started.

SOF Watercraft

SOF as many of you already know is composed of joint services, multi-disciplinary personnel, each having specific roles and missions within the special operations charter. The conference was reflective of that diversity and there was everything from rappelling gear to high-speed boats. Truth be told, many of the items exhibited would have turned Q’s face – the spy gadget master in the Bond movies – green with envy. All were very high-tech and very cool.

In the weapons category, I visited with Ashbury International Group, Remington Arms, FNH USA LLC, Knight’s Armament, Heckler & Koch and Glock. In the gear category, I visited with Eagle Industries, ITW military products, Petzl, T.A.G., Kestrel, Hardigg/Pelican, Mustang Survival, ADS Tactical, Benchmade, Ontario Knife Company, Extrema Ratio, SOG, and several others. The high-tech exhibits included, thermal imaging technology offerings, everything from advanced weapon sights to very elaborate surveillance equipment, secure communications equipment, simulation software and a host of command and control enhancement systems. The transportation exhibits littered the exhibition hall and exhibitors showed off all terrain vehicles, submersible craft, inflatable watercraft and a variety of other SOF specific tools. UAVs are here to stay, as is the electrification of the war fighter – I will explain what that means in just a second.

Weapon Systems

Conspicuously absent was Colt Defense LLC. Readers should not read anything into their absence but it would have been nice to see what Colt is doing with technologies other than direct gas impingement – a subject that seems to have quietly disappeared.

A visit with the Heckler & Koch folks gave me an opportunity to talk about the HK-416, which is currently in use with some of the SO community. We did not get into the number of rifles currently in use but I have to believe that the numbers are relatively small. The FNH USA LLC booth had a number of SCARs, P90s and MK-13 (40mm grenade launcher), but nothing that was new. The SCAR is an outstanding platform, in all respects, a fact that is demonstrated by their success in the SOF community.

The Remington Arms booth was a real treat for me and I had the opportunity to get a close look at the MSRâ„¢ or Modular Sniper Rifle, shown below.

Remington MSR Assembled

Remington has done a truly outstanding job with the MSRâ„¢. The chassis is made from weapons grade aluminum and is configured with a right folding stock. The stock is adjustable for length of pull; the cheek piece can be adjusted for height, as well as fore and aft. The butt plate is adjustable up/down. The action is Trinyteâ„¢ coated providing outstanding corrosion resistance. The receiver is made from a titanium alloy with steel-on-steel lock-up in the barrel extension. The trigger is adjustable from 2.5 to 4.5 lbs. The rifle uses a monolithic rail system that is available with a 20 MOA, 30 MOA and 40 MOA slant. The handguard is removable and free-floats the barrel. The handguard can also be configured with different size rails to accommodate accessories. The barrels are match grade fluted barrels ranging in size from 20 to 27 inches.
Saving the best for last, the rifle is field configurable – read on the fly – for 7.62 NATO, 300 Win Mag or 338 Lapua.

Remington MSR

Ashbury International Group’s CEO, Morris Peterson, can be rightfully proud with their ASW338LM. Ashbury’s Asymmetric-Warrior precision sniper system is based on the Saber modular chassis. This is a fully integrated platform with day optic, short range/backup optic, detachable night/thermal electro-optic devices, suppressor, tactical ballistic computer system, and a family of precision ammunition .

Ashbury International ASW338LM

At Knight’s booth, I had an opportunity to chat with Col. Lutz, U.S.M.C. Retired, which is always a pleasure. I looked over the Knight’s PDW, 6x35mm, Personal Defense Weapon. Setting aside terminal ballistics for a moment, KAC has done an incredible job developing the PDW. The weapon is light, compact and maneuverable. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why the armed services have not adopted the platform. In fact, the only reason, that I can see, seems to be that it is not chambered in 5.56 NATO, although terminal ballistics of the 6x35mm are superior.


Optics & Sights

In the legacy optics category, Leupold Stevens, and Schmidt and Bender were represented with a comprehensive line of tactical optics. Leupold has been adding lines to their tactical offerings, such as tactical lighting and knives. Both of these companies have been serving the military and law enforcement communities for years with excellent products and customer service.

I made a fast stop at the Trijicon booth, for a look-see, but my eye caught nothing that was new and unusual. I then moved on to Insight Tech-Gear where I had the opportunity to look over the new MRDS mini red dot sight. The Insight development team really deserves a well done because they corrected what I saw was a massive deficiency with the mini red dots on the market today. The MRDS is encapsulated and waterproof at 66 feet for 2 hours. Insight moved the battery compartment to the top and sealed it, so that the battery is isolated from the weapon rails and the environment. That alone is enough form me to say to our readers, go out and get one.

Field Power System

In the area of portable power systems, I was excited about a joint venture between Jadoo Power, QinetiQ and General Atomics. Then I started thinking about it and now I’m cautiously optimistic, and here’s why.

The fuel cell underdevelopment derives its power from an ammonia borane – commonly called borazane – fuel canister. Here is how this works .

Borazane has a chemical formula of H3NBH3 ; it is a colorless solid, like mothballs, and it can be produced in any shape. The device under development uses a cylindrical fuel cartridge so the borazane is a large tablet – like the old-fashioned laundry soap tablets.

Fuel Cell

Because of its chemical composition and atomic geometry, adding heat will first reduce H3NBH3 to H2NBH2 (giving off two Hydrogen atoms that combine to form H2 or hydrogen gas) then it is further reduced to HNBH (again, giving off two more Hydrogen atoms which combine to form H2 or hydrogen gas). Note that one molecule of H3NBH3 will yield 2H2, this is more than liquid hydrogen can supply; with the added benefit that ammonia borazane is happy as a lark at room temperature and pressure. So, I’m happy right. Not just yet, H2 or hydrogen gas is highly explosive, and my question to the representative at the show was:”… what happens to a soldier carrying the fuel cell on his back if the canister is hit by that magic bb? Does the canister explode?” The answer was “… we don’t think it’ll explode but it will catch on fire…” Opa!
To my friends in the SOF community, if you are presented with the opportunity to carry this little jewel, at 5 lbs versus 24 lbs of batteries, take the batteries -at least until they come up with a way to shield the cell and fuel cartridge so that a round won’t set the sucker off. I can only imagine what a tracer would do!
In all honesty, I think this technology has a great deal of potential, as we electrify the soldier , but as we all know, too well, the devil is in the details and this is a classic example.

Closing Comments

To say that I had a great time at SOFIC 2009 is an understatement. It was a fantastic industry conference and quite a learning experience. The facilities were great and the City of Tampa was a great host.
There are hundreds of things that I have not covered in this article; some I omitted out of convenience, but others will receive dedicated attention in future writings or reviews.

The Special Operations Force will have an increasing roll to play over the coming years. This is true in the pursuit of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), as well as in the numerous low intensity conflicts that we are sure to face. SOFIC and the technologies represented here will give special operations forces the mission specific assets that they need to meet current and future commitments. The industries that have answered the SOF challenge represent the most innovative companies from around the world. These companies, working as partners with the men and women of USSOCOM, and their counterparts throughout the world, will undoubtedly transform warfare in the short term and most assuredly for the long haul. Together, they are living proof that free market economies work and that “walk softly but carry a thermal imaging sight” is how we should be taking it to the bad guys.

To all of you out there doing the deed, stay safe and come home soon!

Used by permission, Copyright 2009 Sal Palma