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High-tech. The special forces push to the imagination

(B2) Every two years, at the beginning of July, SOFINS invites the special forces of the armed forces to meet for three days to discover new products that may be useful for their operations. Among the exhibitors, a few "geo-find-alls" were particularly spotted by professionals. A look back at the 5th edition, which took place on June 29, 30 and July 1, 2021

The SOFINS lounge (Special operation forces innovations network seminar) took up residence on the basis of the 13th RDP of Martignas-sur-Jalle, on the outskirts of Bordeaux, in the south-west of France. Special forces from all over the world met there (42 foreign delegations came this year), in the midst of exhibitors (nearly 250), industrialists, SMEs, operators, etc. It's a " alchemy " Imagined " to be at the forefront of innovation ". One " virtuous circle between technologies, terrain, combat, feedback summarizes Major General Eric Vidaud, Commander of the Special Operations Command (COS). Originally, there is the Cercle de l'Arbalète (the organizer, on behalf of the COS). And a man, Benoît de Saint-Sernin, its president. These innovations then irrigate all armies.

Parachuting exercise, on a demonstration area, during SOFINS (credit: ES/B2)

An (almost) ordinary living room

In the aisles of the show, it's almost like being at the Paris fair in terms of equipment: shoes, audio accessories, drones of all sizes, packed lunches, inflatable boats, drop parachutes, cargo parachutes, tents... Le vert l' outweighs the color of the models' costumes. In the stands, we test, we feel, we discuss. You can slide your head into an NH90 helicopter, have fun controlling a drone. Or try this new removable protection that we are told is very effective. Good-natured atmosphere for very serious things...

SofLab, the circle of innovations

It is in the SofLab that the innovations are sometimes the most original. A priori, never seen. This is the concept of this area, dedicated to start-up. The organizers of the show distinguish three of them at each edition. " The evolution of threats requires the search for new technological solutions to respond to the problems encountered by special forces in the field. In this race for innovation, France has a definite advantage both in terms of creativity and industrial know-how. explains Benoît de Saint-Sernin.

The last born of the FrenchTech »

Baptiste Hanrion and Clément Bordeau are among the winning trio of designers awarded this year. Barely out of engineering school, their product has just won an award in the 'operator equipment' category. They open eyes as big as their case is small... It's a communication device " revolutionary inter-object ! More concretely, a GPS having an intelligent positioning system and a data processing apparatus ". These boxes can be deployed anywhere to maintain communication between members of the same team, without depending on satellites. Interesting for a convoy of vehicles for example, they slip. Talking to visitors to the show, they come from " realize that there are probably more possible applications than we thought, such as for RAID ". Their young company ASVESTIS, created just 15 days ago, already sees a bright future.

Two others start-up identified by SOFINS

Also awarded in the 'operator environment' category: PANGOLIN, specialized in ballistic protection solutions " adapted to all types of theater of operation ", for his Flexible Insert Rifle Armor - Level III and III+ Special Threats Flexible Personal Armor Plates.

Winner in the 'AI, DATA and robotics' category: SERA INGENIERIE, specialized in the construction of special vehicles, and expert in counter-mining and counter-IED, for its modular SOUVIM system.

Let's imagine a special forces mission by 2040

SOFINS is also a show where we invite you to embark on the future, through the SOFTECH experience, a co-production between the Cercle de l'Arbalète and around forty exhibitors. Like in the cinema, a few seats, a screen, it's dark. The screening begins. We are in 2040... The country is facing a new terrorist attack, a cyberattack. The sixth in a week. The Defense Council decides on a special forces operation. The animated film that recounts it is more intellectual and technical than great spectacle. The format used – that of the comic strip – is rather static. The demonstration is no less effective and didactic.

(credit: ES/B2)

An original screenplay

The neophyte is captivated, even disconcerted, by the extent of technological capabilities. A virtual camera makes it possible to code what will be used to reproduce the interior of a building. Which allows the special forces to repeat the mission without limits for training. Later, it is a 'bubble of cohesion' which comes to protect from external estrangements. We deploy invisibility cloaks, diversionary drones, an 'anti-drone Swiss army knife'! One would find almost obsolete the use of artificial intelligence for facial recognition. Because we discover other finds, sentinel cameras, connected clothing to monitor the state of health, Xtrasound headphones, dronized zodiacs, etc. In 20 minutes, there are demonstrations of the possible use of 36 prototypes and new technologies developed by manufacturers and SMEs.

To anticipate hybrid threats

The scenario for this anticipation film was imagined by the COS and the Cercle de l'Arbalète. As explained by Manon Genty, founder and creative director at the Magenta studio which made this film, “ the difficulty came in particular from the absence of images of certain technologies, since some are only at the prototype stage ". This is what led to choosing the cartoon. Twenty people worked for a year to produce the 400 drawings for this science fiction film. Fiction fits well with hybrid threats. " Tomorrow, it is to these threats that we will have to respond “, moreover insisted the General of division Eric Vidaud in his message to the journalists. Back to reality.

Shows of strength

Finally, SOFINS is an opportunity for special forces demonstrations. THE Souge camp lends itself well to it. MEP François-Xavier Bellamy (LR / EPP) circulated among the hundreds of curious people, phone in camera mode to capture the scenes of one of them: an “intervention for terrorist threat”. The reconstruction file like accelerated. Because everything must be completed, from intelligence to intervention and then evacuation in 30 minutes, when, 'in reality', it necessarily takes several days.

(credit: ES/B2)

From the jettison of the A400M...

It all starts with intelligence. Heads in the air, under a blazing sun, everyone is looking in the sky for the six dusts of the commando dropped by the A400M at more than 4000 meters. Launched as a research team, they must identify the enemy, observe its habits. They land, one by one, for a night infiltration. Each weighs 160 to 260 kg in total. 60 kg in the single bag. They have the equipment to be independent for several days. They remain in contact with the PC of the special forces of the 13th RDP. It is up to the group of militiamen in 4X4s to tumble down. The drone goes into action to determine if the militiamen are escorting a leader or hiding a hostage. The RI assault group intervenes. The ballet of two helicopters agitates the heavy air. Ashore, the men capture a terrorist. You can see them better on the giant screen. A man is injured, his medical evacuation is organized. Return of the A400M.

... to aerocording

Aerocording (rope dropped under the helicopter, sliding to the ground) is the alternative practice when the helicopter cannot land, or does not want to land, to be as discreet as possible, several kilometers from the target. Two fighter jets appear to target an approaching vehicle with their laser weapons. The C160 assault transval lands. Vrouumm. Massive and yet nimble. The terrorist is evacuated there. The Tiger helicopter comes over, check that there is no danger. The commando is exfiltrated in clusters, hung on the rope suspended from the helicopter, or recovered in the basket. In the air, we even take the dog! On land, the spectators applaud.

(Emmanuelle Stoesser)

Emmanuelle Stroesser

A journalist for magazines and the press, Emmanuelle specializes in humanitarian issues, development, asylum and migration and human rights.