What have been the biggest changes in USASOC since your arrival?
In short, the most significant changes I see are in the future operating environment as we draw down in Afghanistan and look to meet threats elsewhere in the world. What we do and have done within USASOC is influenced by how we see the environment changing and seek to understand our role in it. The challenges of the future operating environment will likely be byproducts of an increasingly urbanized world population, with cities that hug coastlines and whose inhabitants enjoy a connectedness that is exponentially increasing. Our adversaries dwell and operate in crowded spaces, fusing their operations with those of criminal organizations in the employment of shared resources and mechanisms through symbiotic relationships. These conditions can negate our technological overmatch, create freedom of action for state and non-state actors, and require different competencies to identify and affect the enemy. These complexities require deep understanding of the human domain and how to prevail in that space, strengths our special warfare elements possess. This year we are celebrating the 25th year of USASOC. We have written a proud history over that period, but part of our responsibility as leaders is to constantly scrutinize the organizations, personnel, and equipment we have been entrusted with to ensure they are optimized from a standpoint of efficiency and effectiveness. It’s what we owe the nation and the American people. When we identify opportunity to make adjustments, we can’t squander that opportunity. Last year, USASOC took a major step forward by introducing ARSOF 2022 as our blueprint for the future. ARSOF 2022 sought to clarify the narrative for Army special operations, provide direction to the force, and establish a process for future force development that leads to better support of joint force commanders in the future environment. It set in motion a number of changes primarily focused on the tactical aspects of our business and exploring the beginnings of SOF operational art. Throughout this past year, USASOC conducted studies and explored concepts to take yet another critical but necessary step to mature the profession. These efforts were focused on the challenging task of reshaping the institutional level and developing new mission command capabilities to address contemporary and future operational requirements.
As we come to the end of the “long wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq, how do you see the roles and missions of USASOC evolving? Does this signal a return to pre-9/11 activities and operational tempos? Or has USASOC’s mission changed to a different/greater focus?
Over the past decade, special operations forces have built a robust capability to target terrorist networks and an unmatched capacity for counterinsurgency operations. At its peak, the level of support to Joint Force Headquarters in the U.S. Central Command area of operations was the largest sustained effort in our history.
Over the past decade, special operations forces have built a robust capability to target terrorist networks and an unmatched capacity for counterinsurgency operations. At its peak, the level of support to Joint Force Headquarters in the U.S. Central Command area of operations was the largest sustained effort in our history. ARSOF soldiers have performed magnificently during two of the nation’s longest wars, while executing a wide range of demanding and high-risk operations in hostile environments. USASOC units have also been actively safeguarding U.S. interests in other key areas around the world, outside of declared theaters of armed conflict, often by focusing on building partner-nation capacity and advising partner forces. These efforts are typically small in presence, long in duration, and strategic in effect as they directly support regional or national objectives. Army special operations forces will remain a relevant and indispensable partner to the joint and interagency team as long as belligerent nations and non-state actors continue to employ nonconventional means against the United States and its allies, and terrorist networks continue their efforts to strike at our homeland and interests abroad.
USASOC just released a public version of ARSOF 2022, the basic roadmap you intend the command to take over the next decade. Can you briefly summarize it for our readers, and what you consider to be its most significant points?
We published ARSOF 2022 in April 2013 and we are currently working on ARSOF 2022, Part II. ARSOF 2022 is a three-phased approach to maturing the Army SOF profession. This trilogy is a process for change. Our first phase was to introduce the vision and clarify the SOF narrative and identify the priorities. This phase was primarily focused on our tactical formations. The current phase, Part II, focuses on the institutional change with the intent to increase efficiency, improve alignment of operational force generation capabilities within the U.S. Army and USSOCOM, and create new operational-level capabilities.
We are looking at what SWCS [John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School] does – what classes and what functions it provides and what it doesn’t provide that needs to be created at USASOC. We are compelled now because of the opportunity the Army has provided us to write and promulgate our own doctrine for special operations. We are now compelled for the first time to have an organization that is actually bringing coherence to the doctrine that has been routinely done at SWCS. Special operations doctrine is a summation of, and tells everyone external to ourselves, how and what we provide, how we warfight, and what we provide to the Army and joint force commanders. That means we have to bring all of our special missions units together – the Ranger Regiment, as well as Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psyops – and meld that together to write one holistic Army SOF doctrine. This is a first, and requires USASOC to have a different role. Part of what ARSOF Part II does is play on the new narrative we have created and special warfare and surgical strike. It allows us to create the organization that is necessary to promulgate the doctrine and fight for the right resources that go with it. We are looking for a balance between conceptually based and operationally driven requirements. The final installment, ARSOF Next, seeks to drill down to the individual. We want to truly understand our culture and answer the questions, “What is our promise to the nation? What makes serving in ARSOF different than service elsewhere? Who are we and what can people expect from us? What can the nation expect from us?” It’s a deep dive into identifying the core, or family values, of ARSOF and what it means to be an ARSOF soldier. During this current phase, we are evaluating ourselves against the priorities we outlined last April. It’s not only important to have the vision, but also to have the governing processes to be able to critique ourselves. Once you can assess progress or a lack of progress, it feeds back into our established processes to make the organization better, and better posture us to represent ourselves to SOCOM, the Army, and key decision-makers.
The final installment, ARSOF Next, seeks to drill down to the individual. We want to truly understand our culture and answer the questions, “What is our promise to the nation? What makes serving in ARSOF different than service elsewhere? Who are we and what can people expect from us? What can the nation expect from us?” It’s a deep dive into identifying the core, or family values, of ARSOF and what it means to be an ARSOF soldier.
Given the current plans by the Department of Defense to reduce the size of the U.S. Army overall, do you see this affecting any of your Army Reserve or Army National Guard components/units in the years ahead?
That is difficult to say, but we are conscious of a clear demand signal for these forces from joint force commanders worldwide. The appetite for the effects that these forces achieve in difficult and demanding environments is insatiable, be they National Guard Special Forces or civil affairs and military information support operations units from the Army Reserve. These units are on the team and their suites of capabilities are indispensable to joint force commanders as USASOC seeks to meet our requirements.
With fiscal year 2013 (FY 13) now past, was USASOC able to finish all the planned growth, expansions, and construction approved as a result of the Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) of the last decade? And what will the effects of the recent 2014 QDR be upon USASOC?
Army SOF is only able to realize a percentage of programmed growth due to the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense]/Army budget reductions. The SOF force structure reductions create obvious impacts on Army SOF recruiting efforts; however, critical enablers remain essential to meeting OPLAN/CONPLAN requirements.
Army SOF is only able to realize a percentage of programmed growth due to the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense]/Army budget reductions. The SOF force structure reductions create obvious impacts on Army SOF recruiting efforts; however, critical enablers remain essential to meeting OPLAN/CONPLAN requirements. Hence, much of the remaining Army SOF growth is focused on enablers that maximize the effects SOF achieves in uncertain and austere environments. The growth of special operations forces complements Army’s efforts to enhance the capabilities of their conventional forces. Regionally aligned forces and the synergies SOF and the RAF have achieved serve as a great example. Over the next decade, Army SOF will remain actively engaged in protecting our homeland and national security interests abroad. Army SOF will be called upon to face a number of threats occurring in multidimensional, hybrid-operating environments. Therefore, strictly from an end-strength perspective, Army SOF remains dependent on Army’s ability to meet the high demand for special operations requirements around the globe.
This article first appeared in The Year in Special Operations: 2014-2015 Edition.