Special Ops Command Confronts Funding Woes, Evolving Missions

By Peter J. Schoomaker

As the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) prepares for the future with a sense of urgency, it is building upon decades of change and improvement.

While we are proud of the capabilities that we have developed and use today, we are determined to be even more capable and more relevant in the future.

This will be accomplished under lean conditions because SOCOM is sharing the challenges of a resource-constrained environment with the other unified commands and military services.

The command has derived certain benefits from these tight budgetary conditions by having to become more efficient and more focused. As a consequence of this and the hard work of many people during the past two decades, our special operations forces of today are more capable than ever.

A "watershed event" for special operations forces was the 1980 failed hostage rescue attempt at Desert One in Iran. Since that mission failure, we have made great strides. Key to enabling our progress were the Goldwater/Nichols legislation of 1986 and the subsequent Nunn/Cohen Amendment that created a new command structure and revamped our special operations forces.

We took full advantage of that legislation and have since built the most capable special operations forces we have ever had. We now routinely conduct exercises that are more challenging than the rescue mission we were unable to perform after months of preparation in 1980.

These improvements aside, declining defense budgets over the years have affected our current and future readiness. We have three primary concerns: retention, deteriorating infrastructure, and base operations support. These issues are, in reality, service responsibilities.

Service shortfalls cause migration of our Major Force Program (MFP)-11 readiness resources and energy. SOCOM has a direct interest in the health and welfare of its parent services.

Retention of a quality force is our primary readiness concern. Here, the challenge is to retain our trained special operators while adjusting to a smaller conventional service manpower base from which we recruit. Our enlisted and commissioned special operators generally are not first-term personnel. Instead, they enter the service, set out in a career field, and then volunteer for special operations duty.

After undergoing rigorous assessment and selection and sophisticated, extensive training, they enter our force where they subsequently gain real world experience. The military downsizing over the years has meant that we draw from a pool of fewer personnel.

We are paying close attention to this issue because people will continue to be our most important resource. When trained, experienced people depart our ranks, they cannot be replaced simply by recruiting others because of the investment lead-time.

Deteriorating infrastructure is a second cause for concern. Following consecutive years of reduced defense spending, we are challenged both in our MFP-11 accounts as well as in the service-common support of infrastructure. We are concerned as temporary facilities become permanent facilities and necessary maintenance is left unaccomplished.

Similarly, base operations support has been under-funded. This generally translates into base support units not stocking or not issuing service-common equipment items. Additionally, we have experienced some migration of MFP-11 dollars to buy repair parts and to conduct direct- and general support maintenance responsibilities of the services-in order to maintain readiness.
We confront these three readiness challenges with an eye on both the present and the future. We are determined to resist the temptation to sacrifice the latter for the former. Instead, we are setting priorities for available funding and seeking efficiencies.

In order never to confuse enthusiasm with capability, we continue to emphasize realistic training-an expensive undertaking. Simultaneously, we are taking some risks now in order to provide our special operators with leading-edge technology in the future to ensure their continued relevance and comparative advantage over potential adversaries.

As we prepare for an uncertain future, we survey an unfolding landscape that is fairly clear in the short term, yet progressively less so in the mid- to long-term. We see four pillars upon which we will build. These pillars are strategic agility, global access, ubiquitous presence, and information dominance.

The first pillar, strategic agility, describes enhancements of our theater special operations commands (SOCs), concurrent with the maintenance of a national mission capability without peer. These enhancements will include SOC growth, embedded Joint Special Operations Air Component Commands (JSOACC), and joint basing.

The resulting strategic agility will free us from dependence on limited strategic airlift and the competition typically associated with the time-phased force and deployment data (TPFDD), especially during contingencies. Our robust yet balanced SOCs will provide significant agility and flexibility to the commanders in chief in their respective areas of responsibility.

The second pillar, global access, describes the fielding of several unique flagships such as the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft and the advanced SEAL delivery system (ASDS). These flagships will round out our full spectrum capability and enable us to deploy rapidly, with increased stealth and cunning, to any point on the globe that the mission requires.

The third pillar, ubiquitous presence, concerns our ongoing role as global scouts. In this area we see a continuing requirement to maintain our cultural awareness and language skills that we develop and refine through such activities as Joint Combined Exercises for Training (JCET), counterdrug missions, and humanitarian assistance.

By maintaining such skills via forward deployment we seek to have language-qualified, culturally aware special operators already on the ground who can provide ground truth when a contingency arises and can serve as key enablers for the appropriate contingency response forces.

The fourth pillar is information dominance. Here we see rapid change and the potential for leap-ahead advances. The mission planning, analysis, rehearsal, and execution (MPARE) system gives our special operators the ability to rehearse missions with way points and threat data inserted, remove the computer boards from the simulators, insert them into the operational platform, and conduct the actual mission.

En route to the objective, we can make adjustments based upon real-time situational inputs from space-based platforms via the interactive defense avionics system/multi-munitions advanced tactical terminal (IDAS/MATT). We are using these systems today.

Beyond the four pillars of our short- and mid-term future, a future concepts working group is looking more than 20 years ahead. In developing these future concepts, members of the group do so unconstrained by budgets and resources.

They are looking beyond material solutions to a plethora of non-material solutions. They also seek to infuse technology into concepts. The group harnesses the capacity of the nation's scientific and intellectual communities and special operators attending schools, both military and civilian. Their work is key to SOCOM's vision, which is to remain the most relevant special operations force in existence.

Today's environment presents numerous challenges as we prepare. Nonetheless, our exceptional people are making the hard choices, becoming even more effective, efficient, and innovative. As we carry out our responsibilities under our national military strategy now and into the future, our "quiet professionals" are doing so with resolve and optimism.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, USA, is the commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Tampa, Florida.

Topics: Special Operations

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