SOFIC NEWS: Special Operations Command Turns Attention to Indo-Pacific
TAMPA, Florida — Special Operations Command is in lockstep with the latest National Defense Strategy that calls China the U.S. military’s most pressing threat, its leader said in a keynote speech May 17.
“In the coming years, China will become the most capable adversary, and they are rapidly modernizing,” Army Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of Special Operations Command, said in his remarks at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, which is organized by the National Defense Industrial Association.
“Capabilities to prevail in the Indo-Pacific are our priorities. Every investment we make will support this strategy,” he told attendees at the conference, the first in-person version of trade show since 2019.
SOCOM is transitioning from two decades of counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and looking at peer and near-peer competitors such as China. And despite Russia attacking Ukraine, Clarke echoed what other leaders have said in recent weeks —and what the National Defense Strategy stated — that the focus must remain on China.
SOCOM is in the process of writing a Special Operations Forces 2040 document that will look at some of the challenges the command will face at the end of the next decade, Clarke said.
“We’ve got to look at the pacing threat [of] China — that they’re going to continue to evolve,” he said. SOCOM will have to develop unique capabilities needed for the Indo-Pacific, he added.
If a technology “is not moving us in a position or capability to assist us with the Chinese fight, then we need to look at it,” he said.
“The Indo-Pacific is a big place and there is a lot of water to cover,” he noted. One of the command’s development priorities will be maritime mobility, both underwater and on the surface, he said. “We’re very good in this space,” he added.
Working with the Navy will give SOCOM opportunities to develop new capabilities, which will give it an advantage in the region, he said.
Another technology priority will be divesting single-use intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms such as small unmanned aerial vehicles, he said. SOCOM will be looking at vehicles that can not only sense but shoot and also fuse the intelligence they gather with other overhead sensors such as space-based systems, he said.
UAVs and space-based intelligence should also fuse with data gathered from the internet to give special operators a more complete picture of its area of operations, he said.
The command also needs tools to help it conduct operations in the information space. The war in Ukraine has emphasized the need to be able to push back against adversaries employing information operations. The Ukraine government has been doing a “masterful” job of showing the world what Russia is doing, but that is easy to see, he said.
However, SOCOM may have to go up against an adversary more adept at info-ops.
“There’s a reluctance sometimes to operate in that space…. As we go forward, we need to look at: what are the authorities we’re going to use? And what capabilities are we going to need as a nation to use in the information environment?” he said.
“I still don’t think we have all the tools that we need,” he added.
One of the tools is “sentiment analysis,” he said. He referred to a “major brand” that every day measures how it is faring in public opinion compared to its competitors.
“Where is our sentiment analysis?” He asked.
The command wants to use artificial intelligence and machine learning so it can sense what populations are feeling, so it can in turn send out targeted messages, he said.