Special ops turn to data, space tech to gain ‘decisive advantage’

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

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