Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Special forces, commandos are Tampa trade show's target market


This is not your typical, run-of-the-mill convention.

Start with the mockup of something called a Viper-E at the Tampa Convention Center. It looks vaguely like a space fighter from Star Wars. A television screen sitting next to it shows the missile blowing apart a series of vehicles in an endless loop.

Not far away, several guys in military fatigues look at a display of miniature cameras that can be easily hidden just about anywhere.

A salesman waves off a reporter. "We really don't give out public information on these devices," he said.

This is the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, an annual gathering of defense contractors vying for the attention — and the dollars — of U.S. special forces. The convention opened Tuesday and continues through Thursday with 336 companies displaying their wares.

The event is held in Tampa because U.S. Special Operations Command, which directs the nation's special forces, has its headquarters at nearby MacDill Air Force Base.

And the convention isn't open to the public.

"We're here to make new connections," said J. Eric Corban, founder of Guided Systems Technology, an Atlanta-area company that makes unmanned helicopters. "We're hoping to meet military units who will see a need for our units."

The conventions comes during tough budgetary times for the military, which is coping with billions of dollars in sequestration cuts. But SOCom is expected to fare better than the military branches as the Pentagon shifts to a strategic vision emphasizing small, capable and maneuverable forces to combat terrorism.

SOCom's commander, Adm. William McRaven, has said he nonetheless expects his command will be affected by cuts regardless of the nation's strategic shift to special forces.

SOCom granted more than $3.3 billion in defense contracts last fiscal year in 15,500 separate contracts even as the U.S. prepared to pull its forces out of Afghanistan by the close of 2014.

"Sometimes we look at declining funds as a challenge," James Cluck, SOCom's acquisition director, said in opening remarks to the convention. "But it's a real opportunity. It's a real opportunity because I think the less money we have, the more innovative we become."

McRaven told the gathering that U.S. special forces need to be agile and ready to deploy quickly anywhere in the world. He said forces must network not just with other U.S. agencies and commands, but also with their foreign counterparts as the world becomes more interconnected.

"There's no such thing as a local problem anymore," McRaven said "If you have a problem in Mali, I guarantee that problem will manifest itself in Europe. … You can't run from these local problems. … The world is linked. Therefore we need to be linked."

Weapons of every type and caliber were on display back at the exhibit hall, giving the convention the feel of a gun show.

But many of the weapons here aren't close to being street legal — handguns with silencers, automatic weapons, platform-mounted guns operated by remote control and missiles galore.

James Overton, founder and president of Virginia-based High Threat Concealment, was hoping to win customers for his company's collection of smart-looking tactical gear to carry guns and ammunition. The gear is designed to be low visibility, worn under a suit coat or jacket.

"You can carry pretty much everything you need to fight your way back to your vehicle," Overton said.

JetLev master flight instructor Mike Traster demonstrates a water-propelled jetpack Tuesday at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa. A military version lets the user remain submerged for up to 40 minutes. See video of the demonstration at Links in Today’s Times on


JetLev master flight instructor Mike Traster demonstrates a water-propelled jetpack Tuesday at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa. A military version lets the user remain submerged for up to 40 minutes. See video of the demonstration at Links in Today’s Times on

Special forces, commandos are Tampa trade show's target market 05/14/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 12:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears


    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  4. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse


    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …

  5. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker


    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.