CANSOFCOM leverages innovative talent to gain a competitive advantage over its adversaries

September 20, 2022 - Defence Stories

On September 16-18, thousands of university students participated in an annual event at the University of Waterloo called Hack the North (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website), which provided opportunities for the students to solve various technology-related challenges and win prizes. This year, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) partnered with the Department of National Defence (DND)’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program to offer the following two challenges for the students:

“Hack the North is a great opportunity for us to engage with the next generation of problem solvers who may be able to address defence-related challenges,” said LCdr Shekhar Gothi, Director SOF Requirements – Innovation (DSR X) at CANSOFCOM. “Our two challenges were designed to utilize quantum computing to address operational problem sets.”

Special operations forces are often referred to as the “tip of the spear,” in reference to their advance work ahead of other military forces. This can also refer to their forward thinking in terms of “both learning to innovate and innovating to learn.” In order to best serve the Government of Canada in its operations, and in alignment with departmental objectives outlined in the 2017 defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, CANSOFCOM leverages innovative thinking to anticipate, deliver, and adapt capabilities more quickly than adversaries. Advanced ballistic protection, drone detection, identification and countermeasures, cross-system data sharing, and real-time 3D modelling are just some examples of how CANSOFCOM prepares for the battlefields of the future.

Much of this forward-thinking work is accomplished through relationships with industry, academia, partners within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), other organizations within DND such as ADM (Defence Research and Development Canada) and ADM (Data, Innovation and Analytics), and other government departments such as Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

As part of CANSOFCOM’s Future Operating Environment, the Director of Force Development (DFD) is responsible for coordinating these relationships to address capability gaps within the Command, not least by managing a centralized bottom-up driven, top-down supported “problem bank” that identifies needs across the Command and addresses them through various innovation initiatives.

In addition to the recent Hack the North event, another of DFD’s recent initiatives was working with NATO’s Innovation Hub to convene the Fall 2021 NATO Innovation Challenge, which was a call to innovators within NATO member countries to propose tools for countering cognitive warfare.

“Hack the North is also an opportunity to attract new members to our ‘Virtual Force,’” Gothi said. “This is a civilian component of CANSOFCOM that employs primarily university and college students through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP). We are especially interested in talent in the fields of artificial intelligence/machine learning, big data, robotics, drone technology, cyber, and command and control.” Gothi encourages all students interested in such an opportunity – not just those participating in Hack the North – to visit the FSWEP site.

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