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Interview with Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

USASOC Year in Review

Do you believe that USASOC is “right-sized” for current and projected operational tempos? If not, why not?

ARSOF employs empowered soldiers and integrated units capable of delivering ARSOF cross-functional teams across the range of modern warfare challenges, and leverages adaptive and innovative institutional capabilities to provide the joint force an enduring competitive edge over our nation’s adversaries. Recently approved growth will help fill critical personnel gaps and will assist us in maintaining a sustainable readiness model, making USASOC formations even more capable of supporting combatant commander directed missions.

USASOC is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the future operating environment.

How do you see the USASOC mission evolving in the future?

USASOC’s enduring mission is to man, train, equip, educate, organize, sustain, and support all Army special operations forces. USASOC 2035 Strategy objectives call for the development of technology, training, and other solutions to address current and future capability gaps. The future operating environment continues to evolve with highly adaptive state and non-state adversaries seeking to challenge the status quo of our national interests. The forms of conflict employed by adversaries in the future are expected to be hybrid in nature, blending conventional, irregular, and informational and cyber capabilities, and will more often challenge the stability of regions through indirect means. ARSOF will continue to play a key role in obtaining early understanding of emerging threats and in deploying a suite of capabilities to deter threats, control escalation of crises, and buy time and space for holistic solutions that call upon all elements of national power.

Will those missions require new capabilities?

We still have a number of initiatives in development that are related to personnel management, doctrine, training, and equipping. We will continue these initiatives as we take the next step to identify and obtain capabilities required by our formations in the future. Some specific capabilities we’re looking at include our next generation of rotary-wing aviation and unmanned aerial systems [UAS], counter-UAS, WMD tracking, mobility, and counter-integrated air defense systems. USASOC Strategy 2035 and the Campaign Plan that operationalizes it are designed to adapt to changing demands over time.

USASOC’s enduring mission is to man, train, equip, educate, organize, sustain, and support all Army special operations forces.

Are you able to identify any recent activities that bring a special sense of pride to your organization?

While there are numerous activities that bring a sense of pride, our indigenous approach capability is one in which our soldiers establish, develop, and advise partner forces. This is a deliberate effort that follows a methodology honed over the years of SOF capacity building in nations around the world. The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, or CTS, is a good example of successful partner forces. The CTS is a force established and developed by Army Special Forces in a capacity-building effort that started in 2003 and extends through today. The effort began with two battalions and grew into three Iraqi special operations brigades, a force generation institution, and a division-level command structure. Over years of engagement, Special Forces trainers established an initiative-based organizational culture in the CTS, driven by a will to win. The effort prepared the CTS to face ISIS and to transform their operating methodology to win against the new threat.

Iraqi CTS training Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo

An Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service soldier practices tactical reloads for the M4 rifle as part of the CTS’ advanced training near Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 8, 2016. The CTS is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force and has proven to be an effective fighting force against ISIS. This training was part of the overall Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve building partner capacity mission to increase the capacity of partnered forces fighting ISIS. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. ALEX MANNE

CTS forces were originally built and trained for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency precision raids. The fight against ISIS required the CTS to transform into a combined arms maneuver force that employs indirect fires and armor in a synchronized manner. They successfully made the transformation and continue to refine their tactics, techniques, and procedures based on lessons they learn from each battle with ISIS.

Today, the CTS consists of about 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and stands as the Iraqi government’s force of choice to lead attacks to retake cities from ISIS. Cities liberated by the CTS include Tikrit, Haditha, Ramadi, Hit, and Fallujah, and CTS played a key role in the recent liberation of Mosul. Partner capacity building takes time. Quality forces that endure and succeed cannot be created quickly. This was one approach in which we saw great successes.

Where are the greatest challenges of operating on a global basis?

Some of the greatest challenges include a constrained future operating environment, characterized by peer, near-peer, and non-state competitors, technologically advanced threats, ubiquitous surveillance, artificial intelligence-enabled battle networks, globally scaled and interconnected information, and the increasing relevance of people and populations in competition and conflict.

Partner capacity building takes time. Quality forces that endure and succeed cannot be created quickly.

Any other takeaway messages you would care to share about ARSOF?

ARSOF elements consistently fill more than 60 percent of all U.S. SOF deployments worldwide, deploying in more than 70 countries on any given day of the year, representing a force of approximately 33,000 and more than half of the nation’s SOF. In an era of uncertainty, ARSOF must continue to provide the nation with a portfolio of complementary capabilities to address future hybrid threats. ARSOF capabilities allow each of our soldiers to make and keep a promise to our nation – to protect the nation without fear, without fail, without equal.

This interview was originally published in the 2018-2019 edition of Special Operations Outlook.

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