Whether it is the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps, there has been a great deal of consternation at industry conferences about the impending budget cuts.
Not so for Special Operations Command. Leaders speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict meeting sounded upbeat about their funding prospects ahead of the anticipated Feb. 13 release of the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.
Supplemental budgets helped SOF buy “a lot of stuff” over the past decade, said Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict. As those temporary accounts shrink, special operations forces will have to find funding in the baseline budget, he said Feb. 7.
“That’s not going to be easy, but I am here to tell you today that we’re going to make that happen in the Department of Defense for the special operations community,” Sheehan said. “We’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Unlike the Army and Marine Corps, which are facing troop reductions, SOCOM will continue to grow, officials at the conference said. The forces number about 66,000 personnel now, and the goal to reach 70,000 will not change. As the Marine Corps overall numbers shrink, for example, Marine Corps Special Operations Forces will be adding 821 troops, mostly intelligence, communications and other specialists needed to support the 2,500 troops already in the units, said Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, MARSOC commander.
There will be budget battles, as there always have been, Sheehan said. But he has seen a strong commitment from “the highest levels of this administration” for SOF, he said.
Adm. William H. McRaven, Special Operations Command commander, said, “The future of special operations forces looks very bright.” It is a cost-effective force spread out in 75 different countries on any given day, he said. Its funding only comes to about 1.6 percent of the Defense Department budget, he said. But he wanted to stress that SOCOM is dependent on the other services and other agencies for support such as intelligence and logistics.
“You can’t pick up a paper without seeing some reference to special operations, and I am very proud of that fact,” McRaven said.
McRaven said he was intimately involved in crafting the new Defense Department strategy along with White House, Defense Department and service officials. Never before had he seen such strong support for SOF “now and in the future,” he said.
Special Operations Command has doubled the number of personnel since 9/11 and its budget has soared from $3.5 billion to $10.5 billion, he noted.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Trask, director of force structure, requirements, resources and strategic assessments at SOCOM, said all this does not mean special operations forces did not undergo scrutiny in order to wring savings out of the command’s budget. Every program has undergone the “wire brush” treatment to scrub it of inefficiencies, he said.
Officials speaking at the conference were under strict orders to not reveal details about the upcoming budget proposal. Nevertheless, they gave some clues about a couple big-ticket hardware programs.
When asked about the fleet of C130-J transportation aircraft, SOCOM officers were effusive and optimistic. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, SOCOM vice commander, said Air Force Special Operations Command “came out of this in good stead on the recapitalization of the C-130s.” It has yet to be decided if older aircraft will be updated with modern equipment, he added. An Air Force official said the recap program would continue into the 2020s.
As far as the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 — a light, armed combat vehicle that has been conceived as something that special operators can deploy ready to fight into a “hot” landing zone from a airlift platform such as the MH-47 helicopter — officials were less forthcoming.
“We have a requirement ... and there is not that much question of that requirement,” Hiethold only said. “There wasn’t a thing in our portfolio, by the way, that didn’t get scrutiny.”