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From 28 – 30 March 2023, the sixth edition of SOFINS will be held in Martignas-sur-Jalle in Gironde, the training ground and base of the 13th RDP (13e Régiment de Dragons Parachutistes. Every two years, SOFINS provides a rendezvous for three days to the whole world of Special Forces to discover the latest products on the market.

The SOFINS exhibition celebrates its tenth birthday. SOFINS stands for: “Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminary”.
Credit: SOFINS

Defence exhibitions such as Eurosatory in France have long been the only opportunities to discover new equipment. However, these significant events no longer satisfy the heads of the Special Forces (SF) looking for specific products in a more confidential setting. The French Special Operations Command (COS) therefore decided to organise a show in France purely dedicated to SF. General Gomard provided the necessary impetus for the organisation of the first event. The show originated in 2010, when the European Defence Economic Network (EDEN) cluster and the SF came up with the idea of creating a crossroads between the industrial world and those working in the field, by bringing together all relevant SF elements at the same event; SF and commando units became members of the cluster created in 2008. EDEN is a cluster of defence, security and safety SMEs, founded in 2008 in the Lyon region, which brings together 130 companies representing 9,000 employees. Since the second event, it has been organised by Le Cercle de l’Arbalète. Unique in Europe, this biennial event represents the meeting place for high-tech industry, bringing together SF and special units. There are two comparable events in the world. Jordan created the biennial Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference (SOFEX) in 1999 under King Abdullah II’s patronage held in Aqaba. In 2022, more than 400 delegations representing 100 countries came to see more than 300 exhibitors. The other similar event is held in the United States, at the SOFIC (Special Operations Forces Industry Conference) in Tampa, Florida, which brings together the ecosystem linked to the United States Special Operations Command (SOCCOM). The command has created the SOFWERX system, which aims to facilitate exchanges between soldiers and researchers.

Visitors can conduct test firings on the shooting ranges of the Souge Camp.
Credit: SOFINS

The Seminar

For three days, experts, SF operators and large industrial groups meet in the Souge military camp, which is transformed into a place for meetings and technical demonstrations. SOFINS is organised around three main areas: an exhibition and business meeting space for manufacturers; a product testing and demonstration area (SF, drones, vehicles); and conferences that present future challenges in terms of equipment and also display R&D programmes. Visitors can also observe dynamic equipment tests in conditions that allow innovative manufacturers to demonstrate the added value of their equipment. Aquatic demonstrations are regularly organised in the relatively close Arcachon basin.

Visitors can also try out armaments at the camp’s firing range. At each SOFINS event, the SF operators conduct several demonstrations such as the infiltration of a reconnaissance unit by a high-altitude jump, insertion of units on the ground, release and exfiltration of hostages, neutralisation, and capture of terrorists.


Since 2015, the Cercle de L’Arbalète has organised a space within SOFINS reserved for selected start-ups called SOFLAB. During the first two days of the show, these start-ups have the privilege of speaking in a close setting in front of SF members to present their products, for a whole morning. In previous shows, the Pangolin company has been rewarded by offering high-performance, flexible, and lightweight ballistic protection solutions adapted in particular to level III and III+ special threats. Asvestis was rewarded thanks to its HTNB information-sharing solution, which provides communication and geolocation solutions to secure vehicle and operator communications. Additionally, Sera Ingenierie was rewarded for its expertise in the demining and counter-IED fields.

Many foreign Special Forces delegations frequent the exhibition. Credit: French Air and Space Force

Industrial Cooperation

Commandos are often the first units chosen to test new equipment under arduous and challenging conditions. In addition to adopting the German HK416 assault rifle, the replacement for the legendary FAMAS (five years before conventional forces adopted it), they have also pioneered the use of small tactical drones, such as the Skylark from Israel’s Elbit Systems. The optronic sensors of the future NH-90 helicopter, intended for SF units, will also be extended to conventional units’ helicopters. Innovation rests primarily with the commandos themselves. Thus, the CPA 10 (commando Parachutiste de l’Air no 10), based in Orleans, has developed a drone called Corvus, capable of taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then flying like an aeroplane. With a range of 10 km, the equipment is easily repairable in the theatre of operations: the wings, designed from a kind of polystyrene, can be reproduced by 3D printing, thus drastically limiting maintenance costs.

The SF units also cooperate closely with the defence industry as seen with an R&D unit specific to the COS, the CIEPCOS (Joint Commission for Practical Studies on Special Operations), which selects and finances around 60 projects annually by mixed military-industrial teams. In 2017, a sniper came up with the idea of improving Safran’s JIM Compact infrared binoculars, already among the best on the market, by equipping them with a computer that corrects the aim according to the movement of the target. “On a target running at 8 km/h at 400 m distance, we reach a 90% probability of hitting the target,” according to the COS officer behind the idea. After 18 months of work and tests with Safran, the equipment should enter service with the SF in the coming weeks. Thales is no exception – in cooperation with the SF, the company developed a multifunctioning robotic vehicle named BRAIN. This vehicle is a central unit that commandos can equip, as desired, with wheels to make it a land robot, rotors for a drone, floats for maritime missions, or an articulated arm. “Equipment changes are done in a few seconds, without tools”, explains Vincent Marionnet, in charge of innovation for the ISR activity (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) at Thales.

Startups and SF Equipment

In their quest for innovation, SF units can also count on the support of the Cercle de l’Arbalète. The association promotes technology and the innovative spirit of SF and businesses, by liaising with manufacturers. It collects the operational needs of the different SF teams, visiting many defence equipment displays worldwide in order to identify startups offering valuable new technologies. Among the highlights identified to date, Pragma Industries produces a bike with a hydrogen fuel cell that recharges in one minute. Electric bicycles or motorcycles are valuable for infiltration as they can be quickly loaded onto patrol vehicles. SEAir is a specialist in boats equipped with hydrofoils; Navy commandos have tested this semi-rigid unit with tiny, profiled hydrofoils, which allow the ship to skim the water. The result is enhanced comfort and a 30% reduction in fuel consumption. Also on show was the Escape helicopter’s nacelle, designed by a member of the GIGN, which allows the rapid evacuation by a medium-size helicopter (Puma or Caracal) used by commandos. It can also be used to evacuate civilians during rescue missions.

Thematic conferences allow forces to exchange experiences and outline the concepts of tomorrow.
Credit: SOFINS

Previous SOFINS Shows

During the first edition in 2013, 114 companies, primarily small and medium-sized companies, both French and foreign, met with representatives of around 30 commando units from around the world. The second edition of SOFINS was held in April 2015 with more than 4,000 registered participants. Delegates attended from 91 countries, and for the first time, buyers from NATO were also present. The organisers also launched on-site nautical demonstrations in the town of Archacon in front of the Jetée d’Eyrac. That year, large orders were signed during the show. In March 2017, the show received 2,780 visitors and among the roughly 200 companies displaying products, around 30 were startups with innovations in the field of GEOINT. The Delta Suite is a real Geographic Information System (GIS) with a large number of protocols and equipment (encrypted transmission systems, GPS, laser designators, L16, sensors, etc…); it also allows the integration of multiple video streams from drones or any other sensor with its metadata, adopted by the COS units.

Geo4i, a young startup specialising in GEOINT, displayed its innovative solutions aimed at taking advantage of spatial imagery. During the same show, the AA/ROK company presented its concept of combined arms-guided light support munition, the SSA-1108 MIGALe.

View of one of exhibition tents. Credit: Mairie de Martignas-sur-Jalle

In 2019, the show’s organisers saw that SOFINS had already become a success story, based on its brave formula of promoting a selective and confidential event while remaining professional. The 2019 show brought together 256 participating companies with one of the highlights being the participation of a Gazelle of the 4th RHFS, equipped with the M134 Minigun chambered in 7.62 × 51 mm. With a rate of fire of 4,000 rds/min (approximately 66 rds/sec), this weapon can engage infantry and vehicles up to 800 m away. The Alseamar company exhibited its Murene underwater tractor, designed for use by combat divers.

After the COVID pandemic, the 2021 show was held with participants who were either vaccinated or in possession of negative PCR tests; rapid antigen tests were carried out in the car parks if required. The most recent edition brought together 253 exhibitors, about 3,500 visitors and 49 foreign delegations. There were roughly 600 business meetings and equipment tests held in the area. Sillinger displayed the 470 SRD SUB folding boats for the first time. This was a first for the equipment manufacturer from Muret (Haute-Garonne), which will supply 2,000 rounds of .408 Chey Tac and an equal amount in .260 Remington and .300 AAC Blackout. Thanks to its British subsidiary Energetics Technology Ltd (ETL), Unitive has also managed to place a contract with the Ministry of the Armed Forces for several batches of small-calibre ammunition. The SF are always looking for new ammunition, new effects and new suppliers too. The sixth SOFINS event will be held this year at the Souge camp in Gironde, following a year of meetings and intense work by members of the Cercle de l’Arbalète. Finally, SOFLAB will be added to this year’s show, meaning there will be a space reserved for emerging companies selected by the Cercle de l’Arbalète.

Le Cercle de l’Arbalète

Le Cercle de l’Arbalète was officially launched on 25 April 2014 at the Military School in the presence of MG de Saint Quentin, the COS commanding officer at the time. The association is a federation of equipment manufacturers for SF and special units. The association is comparable to GICAT, GIFAS, GICAN and functions as an innovation hub aiming to create a link between the armed forces and the civilian world. It brings together 98 companies, including large and small businesses, research centres and schools wishing to contribute to the equipment and the efficiency of R&D dedicated explicitly to the SF. The Cercle de l’Arbalète runs several R&D workshops annually and organises visits to operational units.

The Outfielder is a 4×4 intervention vehicle specifically dedicated to special forces. Manufacturer Soframe is a member of the Cercle de l’Arbalète. Credit: Soframe

The SOFINS Lottery

This year, a raffle will be held for the benefit of several military support associations. These associations include Terre Fraternité, l’Entraide FUSCO, la Fondation des Œuvres Sociales de l’Air (FOSA) and l’entraide caserne Pasquier for the GIGN. Raffle winners can choose between one of several prizes, which are all quite exceptional. The activities are open to French citizens and the activity will be available after a security check. For fans of the Navy Commandos of Lorient, you could win a tandem jump into the sea, with recovery by an ECUME, followed by a raid and assault on a ship in transit. For aviation fans, there is in-flight control of a plane from the Poitou squadron, or even a very high altitude jump with operational troops. For those interested in the Army SF, you could choose to participate in a hostage release mission, involving operational preparation right up to the action itself with 1st RPIMa, 13th RDP and 4th RHFS personnel. For GIGN fans, a tandem jump from a helicopter with skydivers and a canine team, plus a shooting session at the stand, are all on offer for lottery winners.

Jean Auran