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In Tampa Heights, SOCom R&D accelerator will keep forces on cutting edge

Days after U.S. special operations forces conducted a successful raid against ISIS leaders in Syria, Tampa's SOCom (U.S. Special Operations Command) at MacDill Air Force Base will introduce a new way to feed its soldiers in the field a steady flow of the most advanced and innovative military equipment.

SOCom officials, economic development and business leaders will unveil plans today to create a research and development accelerator in Tampa Heights. Its goal: to design and expedite advanced technology and military goods for special operations forces.

Those advances range from the current "Iron Man" project to develop the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, body armor to syringes designed to inject life-saving, cotton antibiotic pellets into larger battlefield wounds.

The concept is pure SOCom, finding a lean, mean and quicker way to conjure up military advances for their special ops forces — outside of the massive bureaucracy of Defense Department contracting — by recruiting entrepreneurs, academics and private sector specialists to help make it happen beyond the physical confines of MacDill.

"SOCom is presenting this community with a big opportunity," says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., which is developing a business plan for the accelerator with SOCOM. "What SOCom is doing is creating a new procurement process."

In some cases, a design advance like a new wearable technology for SOCOM may translate to a viable consumer product later. That can help SOCom by bringing down the cost of product development.

Today's announcement coincides with the opening day at the Tampa convention center of the three-day Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), where SOCom Commander Gen. Joseph L. Votel and Acquisition Executive James F. "Hondo" Geurts will discuss their command's challenges and how industry partners can help support these areas.

SOFIC is a premier event for companies wanting to do business with the command. While overall defense budgets remain constrained, funding is on the rise for SOCom, whose expertise is critical against terrorism threats.

The R&D accelerator is good news not only for Tampa Bay's growing defense industry but for the city's Tampa Heights area.

Initially, SOCom's accelerator will operate under the name SOFWORX from the Armature Works building near the end of Tampa's Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River. But space in that building is destined for retail and entertainment purposes, so SOFWORX is expected to relocate nearby in the near future.

A related but independent defense industry project also will be announced today. Greg Celestan, CEO of the Tampa defense contractor and anti-terrorism training firm Celestar, will detail plans to relocate from east Tampa to Tampa Heights, where a new headquarters office will be built.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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