One of the more interesting items to come out of the recent vSOFIC (virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference) in Tampa last week was that the Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) concept for a Hyper Enabled Operator (HEO) is progressing.

The two-year program, built off a failed concept program, is designed to give special operators enhanced cognitive capabilities on the battlefield, said James Smith, an acquisition executive for SOCOM.

“We’re talking about improving your cognitive overmatch at the edge,” Smith said during the vSOFIC gathering in Tampa. “The edge for us, is this small unit, individual operator, operating in a remote, austere environment.”

Five years ago, SOFREP reported that SOCOM was developing the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), a hardened exoskeleton suit for special operators. And while TALOS never proved to be a viable option, there was hope that many of the associated technologies connected with the suit would bear fruit for America’s special operators.   

Colonel Ryan Barnes, director of SOCOM’s Joint Acquisition Task Force, told the virtual audience that the HEO concept program is designed to combine the troop’s communications and data analytics technology into a tactical system. The system will allow special operations small units to gather and analyze battlefield intelligence to help them make decisions faster than ever before.

It is also supposed to speed up the process of operators sending data to and receiving it back from their tactical headquarters. “We are looking to put the internet of things and data analytics on an operator at the edge, so he can make more informed decisions faster,” Barnes said.

SOCOM is integrating new technologies with off-the-shelf programs to give special operators an edge on the battlefields of the future.

“We are looking to put those types of sensors and communication devices on an operator collecting information in the operational environment,” Barnes said. The system would be able to analyze data in near real-time using advanced analytics, which could be relayed back to the operator. That would be a marked improvement over older technology that could sometimes take hours, days or even weeks to analyze data.

Lisa Sanders, director of Science and Technology for Special Operations Forces, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, said the goal is to give operators all of the information they need at their fingertips, similar to how they use cellphones at home. 

“The hyper-enabled operator work that we’re focusing on really is about getting that capability that you assume that you have in your personal life in a tactically relevant environment, and being able to adapt as that environment changes,” she said.

“If I move from a particular partner nation that I am working with or a particular area of the world to another area of the world, I want the same ability that I would have back in the United States at my duty station in my forward location,” Sanders added. 

“It may not be a tactical network; we may be looking to leverage what is available commercially in an area of operations. Why would we want to go to a commercial network? Because maybe that is what the partner that we are working with is on, and we need to be able to communicate effectively with them.”

SOCOM’s plan is to integrate this new system into one of the command’s Special Forces groups and test it out in Green Berets working with partner host nation forces. That would provide the command with a field assessment of how well the system performs and where changes need to be made. 

SOCOM Commander, General Richard Clarke, spoke about the HEO program and how it sprang up from the failed TALOS program. He expressed his confidence that, moving forward, the technology will benefit the command. 

“What I remember most vividly about that effort was really the idea, the idea that our folks that are in harm’s way absolutely deserve the most capable, the most lethal … offensive capabilities that were available,” Clarke said.

“The way that I am approaching this is that at the edge [sic], that our operators, who need it the most, have that near-real-time collection of data and understand, in an ambiguous situation, what is most important to them,” he added.