By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., May 22, 2013 – After 12 years of unprecedented demand for special operations forces capability worldwide, the commander of U.S Special Operations Command is shaping his forces for the future based on his “SOF 2020” vision.
Navy Adm. William H. McRaven began an assessment of how to posture special operations forces to meet 21st-century challenges shortly after taking command in August 2011. He formed operational planning teams to focus on four major priorities:
-- Win the current fight in Afghanistan;
-- Strengthen the global special operations forces network;
-- Preserve the force and families; and
-- Resource responsibly.
By necessity, McRaven said, winning the current fight remains at the top of the list, a vital step toward accomplishing the other pillars of the vision.
“Every commander that is in my position realizes that you have to take care of the 25-meter target first. For us, that is Afghanistan,” the admiral told several hundred participants at the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here last week.
“And I think we are making great strides in Afghanistan,” he said, citing the success of a new command structure that aligns various NATO and U.S. special operations forces under a two-star headquarters.
“We are achieving in the SOF world probably the best results we have seen in many, many years in terms of synchronizing the effect on the ground, on the battlefield by pulling together all three of the SOF components,” he said.
But shaping for post-2014, McRaven said, the defense strategic guidance released in January 2012 and the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations championed by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, form the baseline for Socom’s future force and operations.
“Special operations forces are uniquely suited to implement the guidance outlined in these documents,” he told the House and Senate armed services committees earlier this year.
With a pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region and continuing focus on the Middle East and Southwest Asia, the guidance includes a solid role for special operators around the globe, McRaven told the Tampa forum.
“I am very comfortable that … there will still be a place for a force that is small, light, agile, networked, partnered -- the sort of things that are a part of the SOF core competencies,” he said.
But looking to the future of the special operations force, McRaven said, those enamored with “Zero Dark 30” -- the blockbuster movie depicting the SEAL mission that took out Osama bin Laden -- and the myriad bestsellers about high-profile special operations forces activities are likely to be disappointed.
“The fact of the matter is, that [counterterrorism] piece -- that we do better than anybody in the world -- … is a small part of our portfolio,” McRaven said. “The broader part of our portfolio is how we build capability, how we link with our allies and our partners overseas so that we can help them take care of their problems so we don’t have to end up doing [counterterrorism].”
This capacity-building is vital in confronting the long tentacles of trans-regional and often globally networked adversaries, the admiral told the audience.
“There is no such thing as a local problem any more,” McRaven said. “If you have a problem in Mali, it will manifest itself in Europe. And that problem in Europe will manifest itself in the Far East. Then the problem in the Far East will manifest itself in the Middle East. The world is linked, and therefore we need to be linked. We have to build a network to defeat the enemy network.”
McRaven’s SOF 2020 vision calls for a globally networked force of special operations forces, interagency representatives, allies and partners, with aligned structures, processes and authorities to enable its operations.
Globally networked forces, he explained, will provide geographic commanders and chiefs of mission with improved special operations capability as they respond rapidly and persistently to address regional contingencies and threats to stability.
McRaven noted his own experience working with the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. “It has been interesting to work in a network like that, and we do that very, very well on the direct-action side,” he said. Part of the Socom plan, he added, is figuring out how to extend that network out to the theater special operations commands and down to special operations forward elements and forces assigned to them.
But McRaven said his No. 1 mission -- one on which every other initiative depends -- is the preservation of the force and family.
Shortly after assuming command, McRaven received the results of an extensive evaluation of the special operations forces community, directed by Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, the former commander. The findings were sobering, he said.
“It said the SOF force as a whole was frayed,” McRaven said, a state he said continues with no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of operational demands. “I would say, in the last 20 months, the force is fraying at a rate I am not comfortable with at all,” he added.
McRaven recalled his initial SEAL training, provided by Vietnam veterans who, along with their families, weren’t properly cared for after the war. “We are not going to let that happen to this force,” he said. “So we are putting a fair amount of effort, money, manpower [and] time into preserving the force and families.”
Finally, McRaven underscored the importance of responsive resourcing for the special operations forces community and the “strategic employment” of SOF funding.
Socom’s unique acquisition authorities are critical to meeting the demands of the force and its operations, he said. The goal, he added, is to simplify processes and cut through red tape to “move money more quickly to deal with problems from the field and be able to provide that capability as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, McRaven acknowledged budgetary constraints during his congressional testimony and affirmed his commitment to “common-sense steps to cost-cutting and cost avoidance.”
As he implements the SOF 2020 vision and aligns resources to meet it, the admiral emphasized to Congress the value special operations forces deliver to the United States.
“Special operations forces exemplify the ethic of smart power -- fast and flexible, constantly adapting, learning new languages and cultures, dedicated to forming partnerships where we can work together,” he said.