How to do business with SOCOM; Dozens of microsats blast into orbit; Aerospace and defense exports boomed in 2016; and more.

It’s always worth going to hear James “Hondo” Geurts, the head of acquisition at U.S. Special Operations Command. Instead of the acronym-filled milspeak favored by many acquisition types, Geurts offers his audience clear, engaging explanations of what’s new and what’s next in his job. Which is to provide U.S. special operators with the latest technology — everything from submarines to satellites.

“If you’re thinking about where SOCOM is going, I’d rather play a lot of blackjack than play roulette,” Geurts said this week at the NDIA Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference in the Washington suburbs. “I see a lot of the standard acquisition system being roulette.”

He said he wants to place a lot of bets quickly and move on — because that’s what the operational environment demands.

“Things are changing so fast we don’t have three years to figure out what we want to do to go support an operation. I’m happy if I have three months to go figure out some of these things.”

Geurts is also unusually open to conversation. His presentations include his email address, phone number, LinkedIn, even his Twitter handle as ways to get in touch with him.

He encourages companies to pitch their products to the eight program managers who work for him: “Right now, 99.7 percent of all program authority for our programs sits at that level.”

This is important because it gives small technology companies the ability to get a foot in the door without an expensive business-development shop of retired military officers.

“Don’t come sell me a widget. Come see me about an idea. How [can] we do stuff better? What’s a good way to do business?” Geurts said.

His advice for companies: be open-minded when meeting with his team. Often companies pitch their product for one thing, but SOCOM finds a way to use the technology for something the maker didn’t envision.

For instance, there was a company that came in with commercial technology for taking mobile X-rays. “That was mildly interesting for a medial requirement [but] it was pretty interesting when I could see through the wall … with that piece of equipment,” he said.

Geurts also said he seeks competitions among companies. Between 70 and 75 percent of SOCOM’s business is disbursed through competitive bids, he said.

“We like to compete things…For us, it’s been very powerful,” he said. “The notion that you can’t do competition and be operation-responsive, I don’t think is necessarily a great notion.”

Geurts also said SOCOM leaders have stopped a decline in research-and-development spending, which had dropped in recent years as operations and maintenance dollars crowded out research efforts.

The command has even created a lab in Tampa called SOFWERX where companies can collaborate and prototype.

“Commanders committed to making sure we’ve got the research and development, because for us readiness is not just ready for the current stuff you have, it’s the stuff you have going to be ready for the fight you have in the future,” he said.

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88 New Eyes in the Sky

Planet’s constellation of micro-satellites is about to get a whole lot larger. That’s because 88 new imagery satellites blasted into orbit on Wednesday aboard an Indian rocket, bringing the company’s total to 149. In a few months, those extra microsats will allow the company to refresh its picture library of the globe every single day. (Haven’t heard of Planet? It’s the small San Francisco-based tech firm that bought Google’s Terra Bella satellites earlier this month. And in October, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency signed a $20 million contract for the firm’s imagery, which while lower-resolution than that of larger military and commercial satellites, is still valuable to the Pentagon.) Expect to hear more about these guys down the road.

Aerospace & Defense Exports Boomed in 2016

That’s according to a new report from the Aerospace Industries Association. “In 2016, the U.S. aerospace and defense industry shipped a record $146 billion of exports – an increase of 52 [percent] over the past five years,” AIA said. About 15 percent of those exports were defense related, the rest were civilian aerospace (think Boeing jetliners). Some other highlights: “Aerospace and defense accounted for 10 [percent] of all U.S. exports in goods and is the nation’s second largest gross exporter.” The bulk of the aerospace and defense exports went to Europe. Ream more from the report here.

Army Still Buying IED-Finding Radars

Remember when Robert Gates warned about getting involved in more ground wars? That clearly hasn’t happened and the U.S. military is still buying equipment equipment to protect soldiers from roadside bombs. Just this week, the American arm of Chemring, the U.K. defense supplier, announced that the U.S. Army will buy 10 upgraded ground-penetrating radars for $4.9 million. The U.S. military has been using the company’s equipment to find IEDs in Afghanistan since 2008.

Polaris Changes Its Name

Polaris, a company better known for its snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles than military rides, announced it would change the name of its Polaris Defense business unit to Polaris Government & Defense. (If this seems like a pretty dry note, read on.) Polaris says it’s making the switch to “better reflect the broader customer base that its vehicles, capabilities and technologies serve.” Loyal readers know we’ve debated whether the Trump administration would invest more in security or defense. What you’re seeing in Polaris’ name change is that it wants decisionmakers to view the company as a supplier of more than just military goods. Trump has talked about supporting law enforcement and border security. And Polaris points out that those are just the type of federal, state, and local agencies it’s ready to serve.

Patriot Missile Improvements in the Works

In between the high-profile missile tests by Iran and North Korea, the U.S. Army awarded Raytheon a $202 million Patriot contract. The contract is funded by 13 nations (among them Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar). The Pentagon’s announcement said the contract was for “engineering services” while Raytheon called the work Patriot “enhancements.” But it’s also worth pointing out that Raytheon noted very high up in its announcement that the deal would “sustain more than 500 highly skilled jobs across four U.S. states.” It also offered a quote from an executive who touted the “highly skilled Americans” that would work on the project. In case you’re wondering, that’s directed at you, President Trump.

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