Despite Bin Laden Coup, It’s Business As Usual for U.S. Special Operators

By Grace Jean
While the successful commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden is still generating headlines, at this week's Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Fla., nobody was gloating. There were no public displays of victory — no pats on the back, no chest beating, not even an explicit mention of that particular operation. The commandos remained true to their motto as “the quiet professionals.”
The purposeful silence on the topic was partly due to the Pentagon's clamp down on the release of further details. But it was also because special operations forces went into this mission just like any other, officials said.
“That’s what these guys train for, and they do it every day,” James W. Cluck, U.S. Special Operations Command’s acquisition executive and director told National Defense during an interview at SOFIC. He pointed out that on the same night when SEAL Team Six took out the United States’ most notorious target, several other similar operations went down. That historic mission, he said, was simply another day at the office for special operation forces.
U.S. SOCOM's annual gathering with contractors, however, did exhibit an exuberant atmosphere. Industry representatives packed into three ballrooms to hearSOCOM commander Adm. Eric T. Olson talk about the future needs of special operators. Upstairs in the exhibit hall, booth after booth displayed wares ranging from iPhone-enabling networks for the battlefield to 3-D camouflage. There was even a large booth representing the United Arab Emirates' Special Operations Command.
How the Bin Laden coup translates into more dollars for SOCOM remains to be seen. The command asked for nearly $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2012. That amount reflects an increase over what it requested for its 2011 budget, with an additional $140 million in procurement accounts and $150 million in research and development funds.
“When we built that budget over a year ago, we were consciously thinking about making sure we were sustaining investment opportunities in the future,” said Cluck. As officials put together the budget proposal, they warned SOCOM commanders to avoid dipping into future investment pots to pay for current operational needs. Deliberations on the 2013 budget already are under way.
The command likely will enjoy some immunity from future defense budget cuts, but officials will keep an eye on the conventional forces’ funding levels. “We rely on a heck of a lot from the services,” said Cluck. “We have to watch how their budgets unfold to see if there’s any impact on those things we rely on.”
SOCOM is pursuing a recapitalization program of its gunships, mobility and tanker aircraft and rotary-wing platforms. In addition, it is fielding a number of new unmanned aircraft systems. Those efforts account for almost half of SOCOM’s procurement budget. But the command will rely heavily on the Air Force to fund the airframes.  
If there are budget cuts to conventional forces’ acquisition funds, special operations programs could bear some of the pain. SOCOM leaders are meeting with service acquisition executives and Ashton Carter, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, to discuss ways to collaborate more with the conventional forces to incorporate special operations requirements in their programs.

Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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