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Interview with Lt. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette, Commanding General, U.S. Army Special Operations Command

Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette assumed command June 8, 2018, of U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). Prior to commanding USASOC, Beaudette was commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Beaudette was commissioned in 1989 as a military intelligence officer. In his first assignment, he served as a battalion assistant S-2, M1A1 crewmember, and armor platoon leader in Germany, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He went on to complete Special Forces training in 1995. His first assignment was to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) where he commanded two Special Forces Detachments, commanded the Group Headquarters Company, and served as the group assistant S-3. He then served as the aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and went on to serve as aide-de-camp to the deputy commanding general of Kosovo Forces. He commanded a Special Forces company at Fort Carson, Colorado, and in Kosovo, as well as served as a battalion executive officer and group operations officer for the 10th SFG (A), both at Fort Carson, and in Iraq. Following a tour on the Joint Staff in the J3 Deputy Directorate for Special Operations, Beaudette commanded 1st Battalion, 10th SFG (A) in Germany and Special Operations Task Force 10 in Afghanistan. He then served as the G3 and chief of staff for the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) prior to commanding the 1st SFG (A) and the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines. Beaudette then served as the executive officer to the commander, United States Special Operations Command. Beaudette served as the deputy commanding general, 1st Armored Division and director of CENTCOM Forward (Jordan). He then served with Joint Special Operations Command as the assistant commanding general. Beaudette’s previous assignment was with 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), where he served as the commanding general. Beaudette is a graduate of the Citadel, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College.

Special Operations Outlook: How does Army Special Operations contribute to sharpening America’s advantage over the changing strategic environment?

Lt. Gen. Francis M. Beaudette: Our nation is in direct competition with near-peer adversaries right now. As the strategic environment and national strategic guidance has shifted, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) have taken a fresh look at our strategy and the demands of the future operating environment.

Our 4,000-plus deployed men and women are positioned on the leading edge of our national interests in over 70 different countries. Although many of our current missions are aimed at countering violent extremist organizations, disrupting threat networks, and building relationships, the effects of our missions all contribute to enhancing American advantage in great power competition. Named operations, such as Operation Inherent Resolve, put us in the NDS [National Defense Strategy]-defined “contact layer” facing off against state proxy forces, on the ground and in cyberspace, and countering Iranian, Russian, and Chinese malign activities and influence. We are able to do so with a small U.S. footprint by investing in and leveraging partner forces.

Bottom line – ARSOF provide our nation proactive, scalable options around the world to erode the influence of our adversaries and, when directed, compete, deter, and win. We do so in stride with our allies and international partners, and especially with our teammates in the joint SOF and interagency community. ARSOF’s role in the National Defense Strategy is clear: We will remain relentless and lethal against terrorism and extremism that threaten our homeland, dominate our adversaries in competition, and win in large-scale combat operation.

U.S. Army Rangers of the 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, conduct multiple night raids at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, April 23 – 26, 2018. The Joint Warfighting Assessment (JWA) helps the Army evaluate emerging concepts, integrate new technologies, and promote interoperability within the Army, with other services, U.S. allies, and other coalition partners. JWA is the only exercise venue assessing 27 concepts and capabilities while aligning with U.S. Army Europe Readiness and other component exercises such as Combined Resolve X and Blue Flag 18 with a focus on a ready, interoperable Joint Force capable of accomplishing the mission and overmatching current and future enemies across the range of military operations

U.S. Army Rangers of the 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, conduct multiple night raids at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, April 23 – 26, 2018. The Joint Warfighting Assessment (JWA) helps the
Army evaluate emerging concepts, integrate new technologies, and promote interoperability within the Army, with other services, U.S. allies, and other coalition partners. JWA is the only exercise venue assessing 27 concepts and capabilities while aligning with U.S. Army Europe Readiness and other component exercises such as Combined Resolve X and Blue Flag 18 with a focus on a ready, interoperable Joint Force capable of accomplishing the mission and overmatching current and future enemies across the range of military operations

How is the National Defense Strategy driving change in the USASOC enterprise?
The National Defense Strategy is driving important changes in our force generation, readiness, modernization, and culture to ensure we are ready and lethal now and in the future. We are aligned to the Army’s 2028 Strategy. We are strengthening alliances and partnerships, refining joint force interoperability, and training in the most challenging environments to be ready to win in competition, contingencies, and when required, in large-scale combat operations. Through U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army, we invest in the best capabilities to maintain our competitive advantage, optimize our formations for efficiency and effectiveness, and care for our people and families.

Missions which support near-peer competition are uniquely suited to what ARSOF were always designed to do. Our relationships and networks – cultivated over time – generate understanding, create opportunities to influence specific actors, and deter or pressure our adversaries, especially the “competition space” by making war less appealing and more costly. Our persistent contact builds trust and resilience with our partners to resist coercion and embolden them to challenge our adversaries – in short we specialize in “resistance activities.” Additionally, with direction from U.S. Special Operations Command, we established a contingency Special Operations Joint Task Force Headquarters within 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) to create an expeditionary SOF command and control capability in the event of a contingency against a near-peer threat.

Are there any challenges in balancing the complementary capability sets against the current fight as well as future near-peer or peer capabilities? Where do you see the greatest challenges to USASOC over the next two years? The next five years?

We will continue to deploy ARSOF to defend the homeland from threats of terrorists and violent extremist organizations (VEO), while competing with our near-peer adversaries below the level of armed conflict, and maintaining readiness of our forces to fight on tomorrow’s increasingly lethal, multi-domain battlefield. The national demand on ARSOF will continue, and our men and women are up to the challenge. Even so, resources are finite and we must make disciplined and informed decisions on which missions we are fulfilling. Our nation needs ARSOF to be ready and available for contingencies against anyone who challenges us.

A U.S. Army Special Forces Multi-Purpose Canine team provides security for a mortar firing position from an abandoned rooftop in the Middle Euphrates River Valley’s Deir Ezzor province, Syria, Oct. 11, 2018. Coalition Forces were providing indirect fire as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) moved closer to ISIS-held positions in support of Operation Roundup

A U.S. Army Special Forces Multi-Purpose Canine team provides security for a mortar firing position from an abandoned rooftop in the Middle Euphrates River Valley’s Deir Ezzor province, Syria, Oct. 11, 2018. Coalition Forces were providing indirect fire as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) moved closer to ISIS-held positions in support of Operation Roundup

The top priority of USASOC and our components is to recruit, train, man, and retain the most ready and lethal forces. We are committed to achieving a true 1:2 deployment-to-dwell ratio, meaning our men and women are home two days to every one day deployed. Stabilizing this operational tempo provides our men and women predictability and time to generate readiness against our adversaries. ARSOF are participating in every Combined Training Center and most Warfighter Exercises to hone our interoperability with the Army and joint force, and ensure we are certified and validated.

We must increase the rigor and intensity of our training environment and ensure our men and women have the best capabilities and have honed their skill sets to win in the harshest of environments. The future battlefield will demand that ARSOF survive and thrive with indigenous populations in contested and denied areas, farther from and less connected to secure Joint Operations Centers and rapid response forces. We continue to evolve and employ more decentralized tactics, requiring us to empower and trust our most junior soldiers to be lethal, flexible, agile, and creative. In some cases, this may require us to double-down on skill sets that allow us to thrive without technology – our 21st century soldiers must be able to navigate with a compass and map, communicate without cellphones, and satellite radios. Simultaneously, we must leverage industry and technological visionaries to ensure we can rapidly expand and field tools to empower our teams with modern capabilities at the sharpest edge of the force. We must continue to out-innovate our adversaries and strive every day for competitive advantage.

What technologies do you see as having the greatest impact on our special operations forces?

Advances in electronic warfare, cyber-electromagnetic activities, artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomy have forced us to adapt. Our competitors – enabled by significant investments in technology and an aggressive willingness to employ it – have rapidly accelerated their information warfare capabilities on a trajectory that currently outpaces our own. USASOC is driving modernization and innovation to identify and address these capability shortfalls through experimentation and battlefield experience in order to incorporate timely tactical feedback into industrialized solutions across the force. In early May, we participated in Joint Warfighter Assessment to operationalize our experimentation. Capitalizing on emerging technology such as AI, machine learning, and neural networking also requires game-changing concepts for employment, and the authorities, permissions, and legal frameworks that enable us to effectively “weaponize” information against our adversaries. Expeditious approval is necessary to exploit the “golden hour of influence” in a dynamic information environment to more effectively integrate physical and informational combat power and enable effects on the battlefield.

A pair of U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-60M Black Hawks prepare to conduct an aerial refueling exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI) 1-18 in Yuma, Arizona

A pair of U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-60M Black Hawks prepare to conduct an aerial refueling exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI) 1-18 in Yuma, Arizona

Additionally, our soldiers are our greatest asset, and we must continue to invest in empowering their performance and resilience. Our groundbreaking research on neurocognitive health is examining the cumulative impact of operational trauma our soldiers experience during training and deployments and their effect on specific areas of cognition and sensory processing. This growing body of research on human performance and resilience will allow us to better tailor treatment, training, and equipment solutions to ensure the long-term health of our people in service and beyond transition.

This interview originally appears in Special Operations Outlook 2019.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...