CLEARWATER BEACH — United States Special Operations Command envisions the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) as a futuristic way to protect troops on the battlefield. But not only is TALOS one of Socom commander Adm. William McRaven’s top priorities, local economic officials see it as a good chance for Tampa-area defense contractors to weather an uncertain economic climate.
TALOS is “a new and novel approach, what the admiral says is his No. 1 (science and technology) priority right now,” Karin Fones, program support specialist at Socom’s Technical Industrial Liaison Office, told a lunchtime gathering of local and national defense contractors. “When you think about TALOS, you think Iron Man. Guys in suits flying through the air. Ideally in 20 years, yeah, we really hope we are there. But the first generation is gonna be duct tape, some wire, a couple of car batteries and a guy named Bob going, ‘yeah, it might work.’ ”
Fones was making a joke, but her message, delivered to the Florida Defense & Technology Showcase, an annual event organized by Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee, was serious.
Socom, which has more than $1.5 billion to spend every year on procurement, is in the beginning phases of developing this suit and the command is looking toward industry and academia to figure out a way to make it happen. Saying that current body armor has the same weak spots as the suits worn in the middle ages, Fones put out the call for those in the room to get on board the TALOS train early,
“Where are we losing operators?” she asked, pointing to her underarms and flanks. “The same spots. It’s been 1,500 years and we haven’t figure it out yet. That’s what we want to challenge you to do, Help us extend their lives, increase their mission effectiveness and not cost us the Gross National Product of Brazil.”
The TALOS project is a “new acquisition model,” said Fones. “We want you guys to talk to each other and come to us with partnerships, team integrations and different relationships you haven’t done before.”
No money has yet been appropriated for TALOS, but Socom has invested about $30 million of science and technology funds in the underlying technologies, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ligia Cohen, a Socom spokeswoman.
These are difficult times for defense contractors. Military spending was trimmed by about a half-trillion dollars over the next decade. And a similar reduction is in the offing under the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. On top of that is a threatened government shutdown next week.
“So many different areas are undergoing cutbacks and are being scaled down,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “And here is an area where the admiral is saying we need a solution and we are willing to pay for it. That it’s got to be developed by the contractor community and will require new levels of collaboration and innovation. So this is clearly a brand new opportunity for defense contracting industry to provide a response to Socom and win a big piece of business.”