In that same vein, how do we ensure that our relationships with partners and allies remain strong as Russia and China seek to undermine U.S. strength – not always overtly (i.e., militarily) but through economic or political or social means? How do we keep our partners on board and not swayed by subversive messaging?
These challenges to U.S. strength and the strength of our alliances is not a military problem alone. While we must have a strong national defense, we must also effectively use all diplomatic, economic, and informational elements of national power available to us. It is essential that we empower the State Department to carry out its essential functions, removing some of the burden on the Department of Defense and sending a strong message to any potential adversaries that there are no gaps in U.S. power projection.
Our special operations forces are growing as threats around the world evolve. Our adversaries do not want to get in a high-end conflict with the United States, and for good reason.
Psychological operations have been a component of our special operations forces for a long time. After seeing how social media was weaponized by the Russians during the recent election, does a strong cyber component also need to be a part of SOCOM or within each of its service component commands to defend our forces as well as offensively exploit the cyber domain? Or are our existing cyber commands sufficient to defend the nation?
I have been studying cyber for over a decade now, and if I am certain of one thing, it is that any future conflict will contain an element of cyber. I am pleased that U.S. Cyber Command has moved quickly to ensure the Cyber Mission Force reaches FOC [full operational capability] ahead of schedule, and I look forward to the installation of a new commander and to CYBERCOM’s formal elevation to a unified combatant command, which will benefit both SOCOM as well as the entire Department of Defense. It is also critical we renew our focus on psychological and information operations, which are separate from cyber but also of vital focus as we work together to defend the nation.
For some years now, SOF leadership has studied and discussed SOCOM’s role in the “gray zone” – an area of conflict lying between peace and outright war. Do you think our special operations forces are adequately trained and equipped for this highly dynamic area of operations, and do you see the gray zone continuing to change and expand?
The “gray zone” will be an enduring challenge that our special operations forces are uniquely trained to address. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am committed to supporting programs that help us achieve superiority even in these nontraditional conflicts, particularly those related to training and equipping. Our SOF are the best in the world and are assigned some of the toughest missions out there, and I am continually impressed by our operators’ relentless pursuit of mission accomplishment.
You successfully added language into the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) calling climate change a security threat to the United States. Can you talk a bit about your rationale for that move? How do you feel about the omission of climate change as a security threat in the National Security Strategy (NSS) released in December 2017?
It is a fact that the Earth’s climate is changing. As the effects of those changes start to manifest, it is critical that the Department of Defense be equipped to combat and mitigate them in order to provide for readiness and mission resiliency. The Pentagon’s top military and civilian officials, as well as the intelligence community, have stated publicly that climate change is a direct threat to both national and global security, and with passage of last year’s NDAA, Congress has finally followed suit. I am disappointed that climate change was omitted from both the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, and I led a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress in writing to the president and the secretary of defense expressing our concern with the omission. However, regardless of its direct inclusion in the NSS/NDS, we cannot shift our focus on this critically important threat.
The “gray zone” will be an enduring challenge that our special operations forces are uniquely trained to address. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am committed to supporting programs that help us achieve superiority even in these nontraditional conflicts, particularly those related to training and equipping.
The Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) has taken the majority of the military’s focus since at least Sept. 11, 2001, though a pivot to the Pacific AOR has been discussed for a handful of years now. How much of that pivot has taken shape? How much more needs to happen, and how quickly?
The current administration has not holistically retained the shift in focus towards the Pacific AOR the way the previous administration did. However, our special operations forces have remained focused on and operating in the Pacific region for years to assure allies, deter aggression, and address complex threats. While complex threats continue to arise out of CENTCOM that are worthy of our attention, it is critical we continue to address the very real threats emerging from the Pacific with speed, agility, and flexibility.
The SOCOM budget request for FY 2019 is its largest request ever made – $13.6 billion – but it cuts research and development funding for the second year in a row. While SOCOM has traditionally leveraged and depended upon the procurement budgets of their parent services, do the demands of today and tomorrow require a renewed emphasis on R&D tailored to SOF needs?
As we prepare to confront different types of threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy, it is critical that we continue to invest in research and development as a whole. It is disappointing to see this decrease in R&D, as SOCOM must be able to provide the best innovative capabilities that take advantage of emerging paradigms like artificial intelligence. These investments in innovation would add capabilities to our arsenal to ensure our special operations forces have what they need, and enough of it, to ward off a near-peer challenge. But at the end of the day, we must remember that our service members are our most valuable asset. It is incumbent upon Congress, our national laboratories, the defense industrial base, and the Department of Defense to ensure we provide those service members the tools they need so that they are never sent into a fair fight.
This interview was originally published in the 2018-2019 edition of Special Operations Outlook.