It was the height of the Gulf War. U.S. Marines were preparing for the ground invasion of Iraqi-controlled Kuwait but they faced a deadly obstacle. The Kuwaiti beach was lined with razor wire and land mines. A hundred yards up, a string of machine guns, backed by artillery, aimed toward the shore. Without intervention, the Marines faced unnecessary casualties.
“We worked 18-hour days for two months,” says Jerry Snyder, “and built a rocket device. Carry it to the edge of the minefield, pull its pin and the rocket flies over the land mines laying down a huge rope of explosives that cuts the wire, shreds the land mines and clears a safe path for the Marines.”
The mission was a success and more significantly to Snyder, no Marines were lost in the assault. “I wanted to make a difference,” he says.
Making a difference is a philosophy that follows Snyder throughout his career. Snyder is founder and president of Advanced Mission Systems, LLC, a company that specializes in technical surveillance and physical, personal, electronic and cyber security. The company, which he began in 2006 on the edge of Charlotte, is the logical outgrowth of a background that seems pulled straight from the latest military thriller.
With a B.S. from Ohio State University in aerospace engineering and a master’s with honors in systems engineering from John Hopkins University, Snyder has more than 25 years’ experience leading the development, delivery and training of systems and advanced technologies for the federal government.
During his 10 years of service as a federal government employee, he led “tiger teams” deploying special equipment to destroy land mines, developed remote sensor systems to assist in reclaiming U.S. training ranges in Panama, and worked with the military in many special operations and clandestine and covert exercises.
In the private sector, Snyder has led the development of special communications for the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and also the development and delivery of counter-IED (improvised explosive device) systems which made a difference by saving a reported 1,500 U.S. Marine lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Snyder began Advanced Mission Systems (AMS) with a number of colleagues from his years in government service and continues to work with people and partners around the globe that fit his most important criteria. “We always look for the best people with the best experience,” he explains. “We have partners in South Africa; we have suppliers from Israel, Russia and Germany; we do training in the U.K. We use the best in the industry and get them to work as a team.”
Engineering, Product Development and Training Ops
In 2009, Snyder transitioned AMS from a consulting business into an engineering and product development company. The new focus gave Snyder the ability to fill a significant need.
“I had friends in Special Forces who couldn’t get equipment they required because it was too expensive,” Snyder explains. “Wherever I went at Fort Bragg, they asked me if I could build this or make that. A lot of special operations needs are small—they cost a couple of hundred or a few thousand dollars. A billion dollar company isn’t interested in that kind of business, but we can help them.
“Typically, the military buys equipment that’s expensive and often antiquated because it takes four to five years to become an accepted piece of equipment. We do it differently. We use commercial components and build custom equipment from them so we can develop a remote camera or a listening or tracking device from what comes out of a typical cell phone. We can use what’s being developed for other industries, like the medical or multimedia industry and integrate it into products. This allows us to turn around a product line quickly. Our development time is normally less than six months.”
AMS’s first product was a global tracking device which allows real-time tracking of people or assets. Its effectiveness and easy to use design make it a favorite among special operations forces but Snyder says the best part is its competitive price. “There’s not one item we sell that isn’t one-fifth the cost of what the military is currently paying for a comparable device,” he says.
In addition to an array of tracking equipment, AMS also offers a wide range of technical surveillance products and services.
As part of a team, AMS recently won a contract to deliver all the technical video surveillance for the Department of Homeland Security. Under the contract called “Tech Ops,” non-Department of Defense government offices can purchase the latest in technical video surveillance equipment.
Snyder explains that there is a “push and pull” when it comes to product development. “Our clients definitely come to us and ask us to design and build something to fit a specific need, but often, we also find something interesting and tell them how it could be of use to them. It’s a continuous back and forth.”
And while AMS’s early business model focused on building equipment they soon realized something that substantially changed their business. “We were delivering equipment but our customers had third parties training them on it. It was so frustrating to get a call from overseas that our device wasn’t working when training issues were to blame. We realized that equipment without training was useless.”
Training is now more than 50 percent of the AMS business. Training on the equipment is part of that percentage but AMS also offers a variety of operational training.
AMS employees are a large factor in that good relationship. Not surprisingly, about 50 percent of employees are engineers—electrical, software or system engineers—and retired Special Forces and former FBI agent are also on the payroll.
“The company is now how I’ve always wanted it,” Snyder says, “high caliber engineers who can build things like a ‘MacGyver’and senior NCOs with 20 years of operational experience. The NCOs tell the engineers what they need to build and how it should work. The engineers then build it and our operators, the retired Special Forces people, will deliver the equipment and perform the training.”
Security Across the Board
And while the majority of AMS’s current business is with the military or government agencies, they believe that their products easily translate to law enforcement and even commercial and individual use.
“Our equipment and experience has direct application to law enforcement so we want to get the word out to police departments, the DEA and U.S. Marshalls,” says Snyder, “but we want people to know that we also have training and equipment that can protect corporations.
“Companies spend tremendous effort and money on security. They invest in cyber security with firewalls and anti-virus software, and physical security with cameras and door swipes, but a single employee can compromise all of that.
“We were looking into security for a client once and discovered that each afternoon an employee was tweeting from the company parking lot. Mobile tweeting links your tweet with a location so we were able to identify the employee and were able to check out their personal information on Facebook, other websites linked to Facebook, like an online dating page and public records. Within two hours we knew basically everything about them. Given many people use personal information to create passwords, we potentially had access to that company’s computer system—all from a tweet.
“It’s just awareness. Educating your employees on what not to do is as important an investment as other security measures. And AMS can provide training or products to any company whether they are setting up a security system or evaluating the system they have. We can define requirements, recommend procedures or even test the system they already have.
“We have what we call a ‘red team’ that can try to break into your system and identify vulnerabilities. We train on how to protect your device, your local network and your server.”
The company’s push to develop commercial applications for their products and services gets a boost when they launch their newest product at the beginning of next year. The idea for the app, called the Global Travel Assistant, grew from an emerging and disturbing trend.
Snyder tells how it came about: “We started seeing reports of business executives traveling overseas who were being kidnapped and held for small ransoms. Business is more and more global which means corporate overseas travel is on the increase. Everybody’s jumping on a plane without knowing anything about their destination and without resources to assist them once they get there.
“Many AMS employees have traveled thousands, if not millions, of miles over their careers. We figured that with all of our experience and our technological capabilities, there must be a way we can make this travel safer.
“The Global Travel Assistant is a really innovative app that we’re building for the iPhone or iPad. Its foundational function is tracking people as they travel overseas, but we decided to take the knowledge, experience and resources of the company and add that into the app too.
“It can start with getting you safely from the foreign airport to your hotel. We can vet trustworthy transportation companies. We can put information about your driver on your phone so you can walk out of the airport and pull up a photograph of your driver to check it against who’s waiting for you. We can give you their cell phone number so you have an additional way to confirm their identity. We can even provide a plug-in for your phone to verify fingerprints, if that’s what’s needed.
“After you’re in the car, the app will tell you what the safe routes are from Point A to Point B. Danger zones are highlighted on a map. If you start migrating toward those areas, the app can provide you with directions away or give you emergency numbers for law enforcement or the State Department. We can even arrange a local contact in the area who can be of assistance should you need help.
“Real time information, from local databases, can tell you what’s going on in the area and local alerts warn you what to watch out for. We can handle all the security needs of an overseas traveler, from the most basic to the most comprehensive.
“The Global Travel Assistant can also be of tremendous value to a college student studying or traveling overseas or even tourists on vacation. Our goal is to make it affordable for the individual who wants to buy a subscription for a few weeks or an entire summer while they travel, but also to offer extra features and functionality a corporate traveler might want and need.”
Snyder says AMS will continue to expand its products, training and markets as it moves its headquarters into a new, larger building in the Whitehall area of Charlotte at the end of the year. Its satellite office in Fayetteville, N.C., serves their customers at Fort Bragg and Snyder is looking into the possibility of a satellite office in the southwest to assist the U.S. Border Patrol.
His criteria for additional offices, products and training is simple: “We look for a need,” Snyder says. “We want the things we do to make a difference.”