By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 13, 2007 – The growth of special operations forces poses difficulties for the Defense Department, but nominees for key special operations positions told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that the situation is manageable. Michael Vickers and Navy Vice Adm. Eric Olson testified before the committee as part of their confirmation process. Vickers is nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Olson is nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Special operations forces have emerged as a key ingredient in the global war on terror. The most recent budget proposal calls for an increase of special ops forces across the services. Special operations forces are light and agile, and are often the first forces called upon when a crisis happens, Olson said. Many special operators have the cultural awareness to work with foreign militaries, and Americans expect to have special operations forces "that can silently emerge from darkness with precision and daring to conduct missions that are especially demanding and sensitive," he said.
Special Operations Command has some duties that usually reside with the services - including training, organizing and equipping forces. But the command also has a military mission in employing special operators across the spectrum of traditional and irregular warfare missions.
If confirmed for his position, Vickers would have responsibility for the oversight of the Defense Department's special operations core warfighting capabilities.
Vickers told the Senate panel that special operations manpower is a combination of recruiting, training and retention. "All three of those are on track in order to accomplish the growth that we have requested and which has been programmed for should the budget be approved," he said.
Special operations forces across the services have made significant changes to training, "and in some of our schoolhouses we have doubled and almost tripled our output of special operations forces over the last couple of years," Vickers said. He thanked the Senate for their efforts to retain experienced special operations NCOs and officers. "We are growing the force rapidly without paying too high a price in terms of making the force more youthful or less mature in its experience level by retaining these long-serving members of our force," he said. "So all that is on track, sir. I'm very optimistic that we will meet our growth goals."
Olson agreed. He said that while the community is growing rapidly - about 13,000 over the next five years - the command can absorb the increase.
Special operations forces operations tempo and deployment is on par with that of Army and Marine Corps conventional forces, Olson said.
Equipment is important to special operations, and the command is working to modernize the special operations air fleet. The Air Force provides the platforms, and Special Operations Command invests money to modify the aircraft to accomplish a special ops mission.
"We have an immediate requirement for 37 modernized aircraft," Vickers said. "In working with the Air Force, we have in our budget request enough funds to accommodate 20 of those across the future-year development plan and to deliver 12 within that plan. Ideally, there would be more rapid growth, but that is a satisfactory growth rate for us."
Olson would like more input in personnel practices of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Special Operations Command. The admiral would be responsible for combat readiness of the force, but "does not have full authority to manage how that force is promoted, how they are schooled, how they are paid."
This causes a disparity across the force with the different service components in terms of pay scales or promotion rates. "The language of the law says that the commander is responsible for monitoring the management of special operations personnel, but he has limited authority to actually execute management of personnel," Olson said.
The admiral said if confirmed he would not want to replace the services, but he would like "a way by which United States Special Operations Command could better influence the management of Special Operations personnel to achieve greater equity across the force."