As an executive at military radio firm Thales Communications, Gil Limonchik had heard plenty from soldiers about the difficulties they faced. With loud explosions and noisy equipment on the battlefield, soldiers were having trouble both communicating and protecting their hearing.
“Governments invest a lot of money in tactical radio communications, but accessories are always an afterthought,” said Limonchik, a Special Forces veteran himself.
Nearly seven years ago, he established Rockville-based Silynx Communications, backed by Burbank, Calif.-based Shamrock Holdings.
The idea behind the company was to develop headsets that would protect soldiers’ ears while improving their ability to hear ambient noise around them and the instructions of other soldiers.
The gear has found fans. Silynx, which now has about 60 employees, has sold its headsets to the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Navy SEALs and the FBI’s SWAT team, among others. The privately held company declined to disclose its revenue.
Limonchik compares buying Silynx’s headsets to buying nice speakers for a fancy Bose radio system.
If you bought a $2,000 Bose system for your house, you wouldn’t want cheap speakers, he said. “In the tactical communications world, you need very high-end accessories.”
If that strategy sounds familiar, Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant, said commercially-available tech products have increasingly influenced military purchases.
“Almost all of the relevant military technology is leveraged off commercial technology,” he said. “In that marketplace, accessories and apps are what it’s all about.”
Silynx designed the headsets to be “radio-agnostic,” meaning they would work with any brand of military radio. Additionally the headsets — which include earbuds — were designed to be hands-free so soldiers wouldn’t have to take their hands off their weapons, Limonchik said.
There is also a version that allows underwater use, as well as a wireless model that can be hidden under clothing.
The company, which manufactures the equipment at facilities in Frederick and St. Petersburg, Fla., operates in a culture of constant prototyping and is in its third generation of headsets. In its Rockville office, it has a lab featuring a dummy with human-like ears used to test the earbuds’ performance in high noise or under water. The company uses a three-dimensional printer to produce new prototypes daily.
“Once we even reach the 40-percent solution, we start providing the users operational prototypes,” Limonchik said.
In recent years, the company has expanded its products to include a control box soldiers wear on their chests, allowing them to use voice prompts to manage other systems they’re carrying, including radios or portable computers. The company has also produced a weapon grip that allows soldiers to control a weapon’s flashlight and laser-aiming device— as well as their headsets — without taking their hands off the trigger.
As general defense spending shrinks, Silynx is partnering with other defense companies to push Congress for continued funding and recently visited representatives on Capitol Hill.