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McRaven: SOCOM Cannot Backslide After Afghanistan

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

 



TAMPA, Fla. — As the war in Afghanistan winds down, the gains in capability made by Special Operations Command over the past 13 years cannot be lost, said the forces’ commander May 20.
 
“My challenge with my force is that we are at an incredible level. We do not after this war want to go [down] … none of the services do. And certainly we think the American people do not want to see a degradation in our special operations capability,” said Navy Adm. William McRaven.
 
James Geurts, acquisition executive at SOCOM, echoed McRaven’s sentiments: “We’ve got a challenging future ahead of us. We’ve done a great job, but we’ve got to be very careful … [that] we’re looking forward at the challenges we have ahead.”
 
The future of a successful command relies on industry working with operators to provide the latest in technology no matter the mission, the two leaders said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. 
 
The status of special operations in Afghanistan past 2014 is uncertain. The United States’ relationship with the country’s military is good, but a draw down is inevitable, he said.
 
“Our relationship with our Afghan partners is fabulous,” McRaven said. “The Afghans recognize that there are difficult times ahead, and they appreciate the partnership that they have had with the U.S., with the broader coalition. We are not naïve to the challenges in Afghanistan; the Afghans are not naïve with the challenges in Afghanistan. I think as long as we continue to partner, as long as we continue to talk, we are going to collectively move in the right direction.”
 
While final number of special operations forces in Afghanistan post-2014 remains to be determined, SOCOM will work with its Afghan partners as long as it is stationed there, he said.
 
“I don’t know what those final numbers are going to look like. Whatever they look like, if there are SOF forces left there we will continue to partner at the appropriate level with our Afghan partners. Does that mean the tactical level? It may not mean the tactical level,” McRaven said.
 
Wherever SOCOM’s missions are after Afghanistan — service leaders have said the military will overall shift its focus to the Asia-Pacific and Africa regions — SOF must be well equipped with the latest technology, McRaven said.
 
He touted the command’s ability to rapidly acquire cutting edge technology and slice through the red tape that other services often have to face.
 
Already, industry is helping SOCOM field new technologies, such as the tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS), which has been referred to as the “Iron Man suit,” based on the Marvel superhero character of the same name.
 
Special Operations Command, along with academia and industry, are working together to create a protective suit that officials hope will be deployed by 2018. TALOS is envisioned as an independently powered armored suit which could have an exoskeleton. The suit is meant to not only protect soldiers, but to also increase performance.
 
By teaming together, SOCOM is revolutionizing the acquisition process, McRaven said. 
“This is a fundamental shift in how we are doing business and that’s what people expect of U.S. Special Operations Command,” McRaven said.
 
McRaven noted that the command does not field large programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or submarines, which require a different and slower process.
 
“The acquisition process [for SOCOM] has got to be different because there is an expectation that we will put capability in the hands of operators rapidly,” he said.
 
Geurts agreed that the nature of the command affects the way it acquires technology.
 
“Our system isn’t better than the services, it’s just different. It’s aligned to our problem set. We’re not good at 10 year … programs — that’s what the services are good at,” Geurts said. “Our goal is make sure we stay good at what we’re good at and make sure we stay in that sweet spot and not try and do their job.”
 
Procurement funding is slightly up — by about $65 million — for SOCOM in the Defense Department’s proposed  fiscal year 2015 budget, Geurts said. Research-and-development funds also increased by about $140 million, he said.
 
Systems SOCOM may be interested in procuring include small unmanned aerials vehicles, McRaven said. SOCOM is looking to further miniaturize the systems and their associated sensors.
 
Geurts said two problems are currently facing the unmanned systems market: Sensors that have to come with their own remotely piloted aircraft, and proprietary systems. He encouraged the aircraft makers to partner with those specializing in sensor technology to create an advanced and modular UAS.


Photo: Adm. William McRaven Credit: Scott Rekdal / NDIA

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