SOFEX continues to grow with each edition

Jordan – David Oliver

Founded in 1996 by His Majesty King Abdullah II, Jordan’s biennial Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference (SOFEX) continues to grow with each edition and has acquired paramount ranking amongst the specialized global defence exhibitions and is considered by the international Special Operations and homeland security decision makers as well as the specialized industry as the vital gathering for exchanging views and experiences.

SOFEX 2016 took place at the King Abdullah I Airbase in Amman, Jordan.
SOFEX 2016 took place at the King Abdullah I Airbase in Amman, Jordan. (David Oliver)

SOFEX provides an ideal platform to present new and innovative equipment in order to deliver swift, decisive and effective solutions, that will help decision makers maintain the security and safety in their countries, regions and around the world. SOFEX is a four-day event that is proceeded by a prominent one day conference that includes a series of comprehensive and topical seminars delivered by top military officials from around the world, tackling a wide range of issues pertinent to current counter terrorism and homeland security issues.

Held every two years in Amman – Jordan in conjunction with SOFEX, The Middle East Special Operations Commanders Conference (MESOC) takes place under the patronage of His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan with the support of the Jordanian Joint Special Operations Command. The conference was opened by Prince Faisal Bin Al Hussein, in the presence of the King’s Adviser for Military Affairs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mashal Mohammad Al Zabin, officials and senior military commanders.

SOFEX 2016 opened with an impressive tactical demonstration by Jordan’s Joint Special Operations Command in attended by King Abdullah II.
SOFEX 2016 opened with an impressive tactical demonstration by Jordan’s Joint Special Operations Command in attended by King Abdullah II. (David Oliver)

MESOC 2016 feature special operations forces commanders, offering briefings to some 750 political and military leaders, diplomats, and industry representatives among Arab and international delegations headed by Ministers, Chief of Staffs, followed by opportunities for direct questions and answer sessions between the audience and a panel of discussants, punctuated with regular, informal networking opportunities in between main sessions.

Prominent among the speakers was the newly appointed Commander, U Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), General Raymond Raymond A Thomas III, the Commanding General of the German Special Forces Command KSK, Brigadier General Dag Baehr, and Colonel Andre Panya Harivongs, Chief, Special Operations Development Division, French Special Operations Command. The focus of their presentations was how Special Operations can combat the emerging hybrid threat environment, about which Gen. Thomas said, “Complex fails to describe the current conflicts.” The common theme of all the speakers was to prepare for the unexpected, information is dominance, and communications, co-operation and physical and psychological training has to be shared among the Special Forces community involved in combatting the hybrid threats.

SOFEX takes place biennially at the King Abdullah I Airbase in Amman and this year attracted 384 exhibitors from 37 countries, and 115 military delegations from 58 countries. During SOFEX, Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, discussed bilateral relations, military cooperation and expertise exchange with the defence ministers of Croatia, Pakistan and Sudan, and with the deputy defence ministers of Turkey and Brunei.

The French pavilion at SOFEX 2016.
The French pavilion at SOFEX 2016. (David Oliver)

SOFEX opened with a spectacular tactical demonstration by the Royal Jordanian Air Force and Jordan’s Joint Special Operations Command in attended by King Abdullah II, the Commander of the Jordan Armed Services. The demonstration featured the CASEVAC of a wounded soldier by Jordan’s newly created Quick Reaction Force (QRF) under attack from a mobile ISIS-type group. The QRF has been established to provide a rapid response to contain ISIS forces from infiltrating Jordan’s borders. Although the largest number of exhibitors at SOFEX were from the United States, there was a sizable contingent of European companies attending SOFEX 2016 including 13 from France, eight from Germany, nine from Italy and 15 from the United Kingdom.

In the French sector, in addition to COGES and DCI, Thales was prominent in highlighting its lightweight I-Master radar, and the Searchmaster radar that was recently selected by Qatar to provide a radar for its optionally piloted vehicles aircraft. Thales also features a route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal variant of its Bushmaster, a highly mobile, ballistics, mine and improvised explosive device (IED) blast resistant Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV). Bushmaster has an established family of modular armoured vehicles offering high levels of protected mobility for combat, combat support and combat service support troops across a diverse range of mission profiles including troop movement, command and control, engineer support and ambulance variants.

Thales promoted armoured vehicles, UAV radars and training systems.
Thales promoted armoured vehicles, UAV radars and training systems. (David Oliver)

Produced by Thales Australia, the Bushmaster has protected and saved lives during numerous incidents including offensive operations, ambushes and roadside bombings involving IED, FSP and RPG attack and comes with a range of field upgradeable protection packages depending on the threat environment. The Bushmaster’s large internal volume within its monocoque body has open architecture that can be easily adapted to meet multi-role requirements even in the field. Externally Bushmaster’s field of view (FOV) have been designed with a modular approach allowing reconfiguration, and simplicity of repair with high levels of interchangeability between variants. The air-transportable Bushmaster proved to be a very capable vehicle when deployed to Afghanistan by the Australian Army. In 2009 the Bushmaster was a possible contender for the French VAB replacement programme under the name of Broussard.

The ECA Group has been designing, developing, supplying and supporting robotic systems worldwide as well as military vehicle training simulators, remotely operated systems and special equipment, to support Special Forces. At SOFEX it displayed the Chameleon, a lightweight unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) designed for inspecting, handling and neutralising explosive devices. In its CBRN configuration, the Chameleon C has been tested by the French Army equipped with an AP4C chemical sensor.

Two years after the acquisition of Infotron, the ECA Group has sold eleven of its man-portable IT 180-5 VTOL mini-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with contracts totalling over €3 million. These orders originate from Europe and the Near and Middle East, including for four to the UAE. In 2016 between 30 to 40 IT 180-5 UAVs will be produced.

Photonis Night Vision, a global manufacturer of electro-optic components used in the detection of ions, electrons and photons, it innovates and engineers quality components for integration into a variety of applications such as night vision optics, digital cameras, mass spectrometry, physics research, space exploration and many others. At SOFEX, its optics were integrated in the CMOS night observation device produced by the US company Rochester Precision Optics, a high definition sight that enables its operator to see in the day (bright sun) as well as low light (night) with high contrast and high resolution.  The CNOD is neither an image intensifier nor a thermal system, it is a digital system that can be deployed three ways. As a hand-held monocular, a clip-on in-line weapon sight, or as a standalone weapon sight. Currently there is no device on the market that can perform all these functions and at its heart is Photonis electro-optic components.  

The ECA Group displayed its Chameleon unmanned ground vehicle and the IT 180-5 unmanned aerial vehicle. (David Oliver)
The ECA Group displayed its Chameleon unmanned ground vehicle and the IT 180-5 unmanned aerial vehicle. (David Oliver)

Zodiac Aerospace promoted its range of military tactical assault ram air gliding parachute systems which are in many Special Forces units worldwide. These included the ARZ G9 high glide high altitude free fall (HALO) and static line (HALO) system has been developed by AERAZUR to provide the Rapid Deployment Forces with a ram air parachute system capable of increasing stand off capabilities with enhanced safety and easier landing. The ARG has been approved by the French Ministry of Defense and adopted by the French Army, Air Force, Navy and exported to other armed forces.

The few European aerospace companies that attended SOFEX was Ecarys GmbH, the military division of Germany’s Stemme AG which won the French Army’s tactical UAV contract for the Sagem Patroller against the Thales Watchkeeper. At SOFEX, the company was promoting is ES15, a single-engine manned multisensor surveillance variant of its high-performance composites aircraft that the Patroller is based. With an endurance of up to 20 hours, and a maximum range of 2,500 km at low consumption cruise, the ES15 can carry a 350 kg payload including an electro-optical gimbal system and an infrared sensor on underwing pods and an airborne laser scanner or synthetic aperture radar in the fuselage. The aircraft’s composite construction gives a very low radar signature and low cross section. With its low noise emissions and operating cost of only €300 per hour, Ecary of confident of a wide market especially in the Middle East.