TAMPA, Fla. — U.S. Special Operations Command is increasingly using cyber, space and data-based technology to support its missions, gauge equipment readiness and maintain its end strength, according to the organization’s leader.
Gen. Bryan Fenton told attendees of SOF Week, a special operations force-focused event taking place May 8-11 in Florida, that recruiting for positions such as data scientists, data stewards, cyber and space experts, and technologists is nonnegotiable.
“Data — not to be too trite here — data is the oil, the oxygen we all need to have a decisive advantage,” Fenton said Tuesday.
The command is “harnessing data like never before,” Fenton added. As an example, he said that in a recent mission targeting a senior leader of the Islamic State group, special operations teams navigated “near-peer air defense” and integrated cyber defense capabilities.
“Unfamiliar to us in the past, but becoming the norm in the future,” he explained.
Natural language processing, data-driven processing, artificial intelligence and collaborative autonomy — the latter of which teams human operators with robotic technology and data — are giving commanders ways to track vehicle maintenance and the readiness of equipment and personnel, Fenton said. The general himself has a so-called digital dashboard that summarizes much of what is happening across his command for regular checkups.
Furthermore, the command aims to use space and cyber assets to better inform mission planning in the various counterterrorism, integrated deterrence and irregular warfare missions it faces, Fenton said.
In a subsequent presentation, Jim Smith, an acquisition executive with the command, said the organization uses a software-designed approach for electronic gear in nearly all new acquisitions. Part of that is to avoid electronic fratricide, where one piece of equipment’s signal interferes with another, effectively canceling out the utility of both pieces of technology.
One example in which data improves operations, Smith said, is a program meant to provide a mission command system and a common-operating picture for leaders in the field so they receive continuous, real-time updates shared across a formation.
Smith also said there are efforts underway to include special operations-specific space-based payloads on satellites.
Fenton said incorporating such features gives Special Operations command an outsized advantage across its various missions. At SOCOM, he added, leaders are using data to see how their teammates are doing, as well as evaluating how to manage the command’s budget and what types of equipment is required for future missions.
By using “algorithmic approaches” to assess itself, SOCOM can solve a lot of challenges, he said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.