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Howard Altman: Drone rodeo showcases latest technology for SOCom

An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with missiles and laser-guided munitions, flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. [U.S. Air Force]
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with missiles and laser-guided munitions, flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. [U.S. Air Force]
Published Nov. 2, 2017

There won't be any horses, cowboys or clowns at the ThunderDrone Rapid Prototyping Rodeo starting Nov. 1 at the new Sofwerx center on 2nd Avenue in Ybor City.

The rodeo will feature more than 20 different teams of drone innovators participating in more than 30 demonstrations of drone technology in front of officials at U.S. Special Operations Command. The command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, spends billions every year on commando goods and services and the rodeo is a chance for innovators to impress those with the checkbooks.

"It will bring together war-fighters and industry to showcase live demonstrations and presentations of new, novel, and provocative drone capabilities," according to the rodeo announcement.

"Depending on what is presented, these ideas and innovations may result in further work with SOCOM, and it's poss- ible that a number of companies with ideas/innovations could be selected for future development," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lara Bollinger said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

The rodeo is the capstone to the ThunderDrone Tech Expo held in September.

SOCom's need for armed drones is likely to increase. NBC last week reported that in the wake of the death of four members of the 3rd Special Forces Group in Niger, there is an urgency in the White House to persuade Niger to allow armed Reapers in a country where there are 800 U.S. troops, some of them commandos.

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On Wednesday, I'll be the emcee at WEDU's screening of its local documentary The Vietnam War: Voices from the Bay, featuring local Vietnam veterans. The event starts 7:30 p.m. at Tampa Theater and begins with segments clips of The Vietnam War from Ken Burns. The event is free.

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The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in ongoing operations.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 43 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 39 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a name, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.


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