Special Operations Still Under Intense Budget Pressure

By Stew Magnuson

Despite the recent deal in Congress that will stave off sequester cuts for the next two fiscal years, special operations forces will still be under budget pressures, a Defense Department official said Feb. 11.

"The SOF community is going to be busy precisely because we are entering a time of unpredictable threats and uncertain budgets," said Michael D. Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict and acting undersecretary of policy. He spoke at the National Defense industrial Association's Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference in Washington, D.C.

There will be a "fundamental shift in the way we use special operations forces in a post-post 9/11 era," he added.

SOF will move from a perpetual war footing to one of perpetual engagement. That means partnering with nations, trying to solve issues before they become larger problems or using direct or indirect action to keep enemies off balance, he said.

"We in the SOF community have long known that an ounce of prevention amounts to not just a pound of cure, but a ton of cure," he said.

But cuts to general purpose forces ultimately affects SOF capabilities and capacities, he added.

Building capacity with bi-lateral partners requires an all-of-government approach, and budget cuts to other federal agencies can also affect special operators, he said.

He also warned that the U.S. military may lose its technological edge under these cuts.

"The U.S. industrial base produces the best military systems in the world ... But our preeminence in military technology is not a birthright. It must be earned over and over again," he said.

The "iron triangle" of Congress, the Defense Department and industry could once be counted on to meet challenges put forth by adversaries, especially those who had military industrial bases of their own, he said.

"But now geo-political challenges arise far faster than those old timetables that we are used to dealing with," Lumpkin said. The Internet and social media have transformed the local into the global and the tactical into the strategic, he added. That has shaken up traditional power structures and hurt the ability of the usual players to respond, he said.

One can only look at the statements of an "idiosyncratic"  Florida pastor, who set off riots in Pakistan as an example, as well as the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, he said.

Increasing connectivity poses security threats as well as opportunities, he said. "It is entirely possible that SOF units or individuals either online or offline will be called upon to address these threats. They will need technological tools of the highest quality."

When asked to clarify whether special operators will now be getting involved in offensive cyber operations, which is normally the job of Cyber Command, Lumpkin said he was referring to an all-of-government approach. "Sometimes we do things, and they support us routinely, so I look at it as the overall U.S. government response to cyber threats," he reiterated.

There will be a range of opportunities for industry in mobile electricity, foreign language instruction and translation applications, he said.

"The Department of Defense no longer has the funding to absorb all the risk in product or content development," he said. Cooperative research-and-development agreements, industry teaming and other risk-sharing avenues will be taken into consideration "and become a decision point in future competitive selections, he said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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