Black helicopters and business how-tos in Tampa at annual special operations conference

The Special Operations Forces Industry Conference is a hybrid military-business event that features serious discussion — and high entertainment.

Updated: May 17, 2022 - 11:24pm

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America's special operations forces are meticulous about forging relationships with partners around the world in order to have them in place in case of emergency, the group's top military commander said.

"You cannot surge trust in a crisis," said Gen. Richard Clarke, who leads the elite and often secretive U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). "That's why our alliances and partnerships are an unmatched advantage ... not only our international partnerships but our interagency partnerships are equally powerful."

Clarke made his comments on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., while addressing the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC).

The conference, run by the National Defense Industrial Association, is a hybrid military-business event that brings together members of industry, government, academia, and international partners, for serious discussion — and high entertainment.

As backdrop to panels on the military acquisition process, or on how to do business with SOCOM, the conference features displays such as rifles, a fast-roping station, or all-terrain vehicles, tucked inside stations inside the Tampa Convention Center. Outside the center, a propeller-driven strike aircraft serves as anchor to a range of outdoor products.

The conference on Wednesday will feature a mock operation where a Black Hawk helicopter joins smaller helicopters, high speed watercraft, scuba divers and more in a "rescue mission" in Tampa Bay. The demonstration will include 175 special operations members from 11 countries, SOCOM said. 

And, while the demonstration is meant to showcase some of the capabilities that are available to SOCOM, Clarke said on Tuesday that his group needs more. Clarke, who leads the Tampa-based command, said that 6,000 men and women from SOCOM are operating overseas, alongside partners in more than 80 countries.

Those personnel particularly need a boost in the realm of information, he said.

"I still don't think we have all the tools that we need to develop and continue to develop at speed [to help] push back inside the information space," Clarke said.

In order to maintain a hold on the "information environment," he said, SOCOM needs a 3-5% budget increase. The current budget, he said, is "flat."

The conference continues through Thursday, and is expected to draw some 14,000 people over the course of four days.