I’m enjoying an ice-cold beer overlooking the sunset over the Red Sea in Aqaba, Jordan. I’ve just rounded off the final day of SOFEX 2022, and wow, what an event!
The bi-annual Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference (SOFEX) is an event many people dream of attending, and for a good reason!
From networking with figureheads of international security to getting hands-on with the latest modern warfare weapons and technology, this is at the forefront of the global defence industry.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend SOFEX many times over the years, but 2022 was arguably one of the best events yet. Today, I will share ten epic highlights of the show.
A Birds Eye View Into UAVs
“Y’all remember those Tyco crash dummies as a kid?” the Jordan-based drone operator from the U.S. Department of Defence said excitedly before popping off all components of a Raven RQ-11A in one swift move, “kinda cool, right?”
Damn right it was! The sergeant had just given me one of the most straightforward, in-depth, and fascinating insights into UAV drones I’d ever experienced.
From handling the exceptionally lightweight RQ-11A in my hands to getting a rundown on how the extremely compact and portable power and navigation system, one thing was for sure after our fascinating five-minute chat: I wanted one!
Of course, these U.S. Raven drones weren’t for sale. Despite a regular stream of people eager to ask if they were.
Bunkers On Wheels, The Armored Toyota Industry
If you’ve worked in high-risk destinations, you’ll undoubtedly owe much to one car brand: The Mighty Toyota.
From Eastern Ukraine to the Middle East, this Japanese workhorse has saved my ass in more ways than one.
However, sitting inside one in the comforts of an air-conditioned conference was a welcome change from what I’m used to!
At SOFEX, a huge range of exhibitors involved in the custom-armoured Toyota industry were present. Exploring these discreetly-armoured beasts was a lot of fun.
Like any analyst, I tried to find flaws in the armor design, but my attempts were futile. These are bunkers on wheels, from gunports to armoured rooms inside the trunk.
Sci-Fi Style Killer Drones & Their Achilles Heel In One Room
The sleek black exterior of this lethal-looking, unmanned beast of the sky drew me in as soon as I saw it.
These were some of the latest unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) designed by the Jordan Design and Development Bureau (JODDB).
From variants that could accurately drop mortar rounds on the heads of the enemy to others fitted with everything from a P90 submachine gun and a missile launcher, these jet-black beasts were not something I’d like hovering above me on the battlefield.
Ironically, in the same room was an array of Jordanian anti-drone technology. Primarily for the anti-drone defence of airports and strategic sites and the protection of VIPs
There was a lot of keen interest from participants, particularly in the vehicular anti-drone system called Sky Storm.
The Sky Storm comes with an air-conditioned office and an enormous monitoring system comprising a range of sub-systems covering various radars, night vision surveillance cameras and a drone jamming system.
Exploring The Majestic C-130
From the Vietnam War to the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan, the C-130 has demonstrated its dual ability to be a trusted transport aircraft and a merciless gunship.
The pride of Lockheed Martin first took flight in 1964 and has been a trusted airborne sidekick of global militaries for decades since.
Exploring the interior of a C-130 outside of a military or special operations capacity is exceptionally rare. But this is SOFEX!
I had goosebumps when SOFEX announced a Jordanian Royal Air Force C-130 would be present.
It’s been a long time since I was inside one of these beasts, and I was looking forward to a trip down memory lane.
Under the watchful eye of the JRAF, visitors were allowed to climb aboard and explore the various fascinating aspects of this majestic aircraft. Including the spacecraft-like cockpit!
The inside of a C-130 has to be seen to be believed. This beast has a 42,000 pounds (19,090 kilograms) payload and can carry everything from up to 90 combat troops to an M142 HIMARS system.
And speaking of which…
Hands-On With The M142 HIMARS
As the war rages in Ukraine, a particular weapon has been grabbing increasing attention: the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
According to Defense News, the U.S. has gifted a total of 20 HIMARS to Ukraine to aid in their fight against Russian forces.
So to see this weapon on display at SOFEX 2022 was fitting timing. Like their drone-flying colleagues, the U.S. troops stationed at the weapons system were incredibly insightful and friendly.
“In 2016, Lockheed Martin announced that the HIMARS had reached 1 million operational hours with U.S. forces, achieving a 99% operational readiness rate.”– M142 HIMARS, Wikipedia.
Another creation of Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS was developed for the U.S. Military towards the end of the 1990s.
This one-pod artillery system was designed to be mounted to standard U.S. Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) trucks.
The pod of the HIMARS is highly adjustable and can either be loaded with the likes of:
- Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS).
- 610mm Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS)
- Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS)
- The GPS-guides Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)
The HIMARS featured heavily in the War on Terror and is now furthering its notorious operational history on the frontline of the War in Ukraine.
Hanging Out In Humvees
Behind the C-130 at the far end of the airfield was a group of vehicles that personified iconic vehicles of modern warfare.
From Humvees and Toyota technicals to an armoured Mercedes Sprinter, this largely ignored range of war vehicles was largely empty due to its position at the edge of the event.
At midday, with the Jordanian desert sun high in the sky, I had the perfect excuse to explore these vehicles and grab some shade.
The heavily-armoured doors of these vehicles were left unlocked for SOFEX visitors to explore. How often do you get the chance to sit in the driver’s seat of a Humvee?
RPG Simulators And Virtual Reality Anti-Tank Missiles Are a Lot of Fun!
SOFEX was jam-packed with various companies competing to provide the best simulation possible regarding missile launchers.
Virtual technology in the military can be traced back to the 1960s. But In recent years, military forces worldwide have heavily incorporated VR technology into their training.
VR has provided a way to train soldiers in exercises that are either too dangerous or too expensive to try in real life.
When it comes to anti-tank missile training, the cost is a major factor. Take the Javelin anti-tank launcher, which costs around $80,000 per missile. So VR is exceptionally cheaper.
One of the most impressive exhibitors at SOFEX 2022 was a German chemical and weapons firm called Dynamit Nobel Defence.
The friendly representatives invited me to try out the Wirkmittel 90. This Multi-Purpose Shoulder Launched Weapon was designed by Dynamit Nobel for the German Bundeswehr.
The video-game-style training simulator allowed me to get a decent grasp of the targeting system in next to no time.
I was able to strike the Soviet-era tank trundling through the German countryside on my first try, and yes, it was a lot of fun!
From Barretts to Miniguns, a World of Firearms
“We’re both Barrett shooters, man!” said one of the representatives of the iconic .50 caliber rifle company, “if you’re passionate about the product, this is the best job in the world!”
If you love guns, then SOFEX has it all. I mean, this isn’t exactly Shot Show, but if you want to see the latest firearms tech on the market, it’s the place to be.
From Beretta to Barrett and Turkish arms to minigun-producing Electric Dillon Aero Garwood Industries, SOFEX features the who’s who of the global arms industry.
As with most of the tech on display, participants are welcome to pick up and handle many weapons.
High Gear Has Introduced Close Combat Training Of The Future
“In military close combat training, you naturally can’t demonstrate or practise lethal force on an opponent,” the Australian rep of High Gear told me, “but not anymore!”
The aim of this force-on-force scenario technology is to allow law enforcement, the military, etc., to safely carry out extreme contact training at realistic levels and speeds.
Looking like some sort of Cyborgs from a sci-fi movie, I watched in awe as an array of lethal close combat techniques were unleashed on the wearer of this High Gear technology.
Despite the immense level of protection offered to the wearer, it hardly inhibited movement at all. This technology of the future allows for truly realistic training for real-life scenarios.
I was informed that some state-level buyers have also utilized advanced combat suits for various roles, such as riot control.
Testing Out The Might Of The Jordanian Weapons Industry
“My friend likes to drive fast. So buckle up!” A Jordanian SOFEX attendee said as we raced through the desert in a Toyota pickup kicking up a cloud of dust behind us and memories of past visits to the Middle East.
We were on our way to one of the most underrated areas of SOFEX, the shooting range! After all, most of the attendees have spent the best parts of their lives on the range, so it’s often neglected.
The ticket to SOFEX includes access to this range and basic shooting training from the Jordanian Special Forces.
Here, you can try out some of the most prized weapons of the Jordan Armament & Weapon Systems (JAWS).
Situated on the edge of Wadi Rum in the heart of the Jordanian desert, the SOFEX shooting area was easily one of the most stunning gun ranges I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend.
See You In 2024, SOFEX!
To sum up, SOFEX 2022 was a mind-blowing foray into the cutting-edge of the global defence industry and was well worth the journey to the Red Sea port of Aqaba, Jordan, to attend.
Previous organizational issues associated with past events had largely been ironed out. The food options were better, the entry was flawless, and the atmosphere was fantastic.
Overall, it was top-notch, from unrivalled networking opportunities and insights into global defence tech to hands-on experiences with some of the classic weapons of modern warfare.
SOFEX, I’ll see you again in 2024!