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Interview with Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

USASOC Year in Review

Our forces provide a suite of invaluable tools to the nation. ARSOF members deliver tactical, operational, and strategic value through what we call our four pillars of capability: an indigenous approach, precision targeting operations, developing understanding and wielding influence, and crisis response.

Developing understanding and wielding influence are essential aspects of the value ARSOF capabilities provide joint force commanders and the nation. The SOF network of personnel, assets, and international partnerships represents the means to obtain early understanding of emerging local, regional, transregional threats, and/or where opportunities exist for advancing U.S. objectives. The SOF network provides capabilities needed to influence outcomes in all campaign phases and especially in conflict short of overt war. Engagement worldwide allows ARSOF to develop long-term partner-nation relationships, and an advanced understanding of complex environments. Operating in culturally and politically complex environments requires ARSOF personnel to be adept at interacting and coordinating with multiple agencies and partners. Institutional training and education programs unique to ARSOF, along with long-term, regionally aligned employment, provide the expertise necessary to understand complex environments and the ability to influence people and circumstances.

The SOF network of personnel, assets, and international partnerships represents the means to obtain early understanding of emerging local, regional, transregional threats, and/or where opportunities exist for advancing U.S. objectives.

Crisis response, provided through CONUS and OCONUS stationed alert forces and persistently deployed and dispersed units, provides national decision makers with agile, tailorable, and rapidly employable ARSOF formations necessary to respond to emergencies unilaterally or in concert with our network of partners. These forces provide options to rescue people under threat, to recover sensitive materials, to provide humanitarian relief, or to address other short notice contingencies. ARSOF crisis response capabilities leverage the SOF network and partner-nation relationships established before crisis occurs. Persistent engagement develops relationships and the advanced understanding needed in times of crisis for ARSOF to effectively employ unilateral capabilities and those created during partner-force development. Through ARSOF crisis response, a small number of operators can rapidly address emergencies in an effort to enable host-nation solutions to local or regional security challenges.

ARSOF has evolved over the last 17 years of conflict. Do you see that evolution continuing into the next decade?

After more than 16 years of war, the operational effectiveness of ARSOF remains high. We have acknowledged that the future operating environment will continue to evolve with highly adaptive state and non-state adversaries seeking to challenge the status quo and our national interests. USASOC has refocused our training priorities to remain ready for the global counter-VEO [violent extremist orginization] mission, while also building and sustaining readiness for peer and near-peer threats, in both armed conflict and the competitive space short of war. Preventing or deterring hybrid conflict short of all-out war is demanding. It requires persistent forward engagement at points of vulnerability around the world. It requires soldiers to understand the political, cultural, and geographic complexities of austere operating environments and the unique challenges faced by our allies and partners. It also requires an advanced understanding of adversaries and how they are evolving in an effort to shift the competitive space to their advantage. In order to meet these requirements and to counter irregular and conventional warfare threats of the future, USASOC will continue to provide the nation with a portfolio of complementary capabilities enabled by institutional and operational agility.

We have acknowledged that the future operating environment will continue to evolve with highly adaptive state and non-state adversaries seeking to challenge the status quo and our national interests.

Can you talk a bit about how USASOC’s capabilities and approaches serve to complement conventional force capabilities?

In 2015, USASOC initiated efforts to improve the way in which conventional forces and SOF elements function together in training and operating environments. These efforts continue and build upon successes achieved in past years and through combined training around the world, including integration at the three Combat Training Centers, at warfighter exercises, and in professional military education, to name a few. In recent years, the U.S. Army has fielded forces for advise and assist missions by assigning elements from within brigade combat teams [BCTs] to fill partner capacity-building requirements, a mission the Army has had for more than 40 years. There is a capability gap when it comes to dedicated forces trained and available to meet geographic combatant command [GCC] partner building capacity demands. The U.S. Army is moving to address this through the establishment of security force assistance brigades [SFAB]. The SFABs will provide dedicated force structure to institutionalize the Army’s commitment to SFA and to meet GCC SFA demands without deconstructing the BCTs or degrading readiness. ARSOF is positioned to enable SFAB success through training efforts like providing SF, CA, and PSYOP cadre to the MATA [Military Advisor Training Academy] course, running the SFA Foreign Weapons Course at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and other collaborative initiatives specifically designed to train conventional U.S. Army personnel.

Rangers winter warfare training JMRC Lt. Gen Kenneth E. Tovo

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment assault an objective at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, Feb. 21, 2018. Rangers spent 72 hours at JMRC as the culmination of winter warfare training with the German military. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC CHRISTOPHER BRECHT

Have the evolving USASOC capabilities been reflected in new supporting platforms?

USASOC is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the future operating environment. Our strategic framework is a time-phased approach and depicts our enduring mission responsibilities that extend across three time horizons, which include: ready the force and position them for the demands of the current operating environment; mature the force and advance ARSOF capabilities to meet mid-term demands; and invest in the future force by developing capabilities to meet challenges of the future operating environment. Regular assessments that include bottom-up feedback and top-down guidance will enable us to continually evaluate where we are and determine where we need to go.

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