Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Budget Uncertainty Could Derail Expansion of US Special Ops Forces


In a May interview with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, SOCOM’s former deputy commander, suggested that SOCOM’s expansion is vulnerable to current budget realities, saying “the force is going to shrink — the general purpose force — therefore, there’s going to be less people to feed the special operations force.”
Kearney also said he worried about the effect on SOCOM if it continues to grow while the services — which provide forces to staff SOCOM — shrink.
“If we go to 72,000,” he asked, “is that sustainable given the service populations?”

Within that 72,000 number how much of the growth is in the big three of SOF: e.g., Special Forces (Green Berets), SEALs, and Rangers? (MARSOC is discussed below.)  I think that there has been no growth in the "operational force" above the numbers of the 2010 QDR (and of course no growth in Special Forces since the 2006 QDR called for growth of 5 additional battalions, the last of which should have become fully mission capable in August of 2013 which illustrates how long it takes to grow the operational force).  I would argue that most of the growth in the 72,000 number is in "enablers" - forces that support SOF but that do not go through any of the SOF training "pipelines" to produce the operational force.  I think we should always be careful when we throw out that 72,000 number.

But LTG Kearney's point is well taken. We are not going to be able to grow the operational force as the services draw down (nor do I think we should grow it).  But those who are "SOF lovers" who think that SOF is a panacea or silver bullet do not, I think, understand the true nature of US SOF in more of bigger is not always better.

Budget Uncertainty Could Derail Expansion of US Special Ops Forces

Nov. 4, 2013 - 07:12PM   |  
    Marine critical skills operations troops train in this undated file photo. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will continue to build a force of 844 operators; it now has more than 700.
    Marine critical skills operations troops train in this undated file photo. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will continue to build a force of 844 operators; it now has more than 700. (Marine Corps)
    US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, center, meets with Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, head of US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, during a July visit to MARSOC's Stone Bay complex in North Carolina. / US Marine Corps
    Ambitious plans to expand the US military’s elite special operations command are in jeopardy as the Pentagon considers whether to freeze force levels amid widespread budget cuts, Defense News has learned.
    As the perceived need has grown for such surgical missions around the world, US Special Operations Command was thought to be immune to the current downsizing sweeping the military. Indeed, plans call for SOCOM to expand from 66,000 personnel today to 72,000 by 2017.
    However, the US Marine Corps has announced it won’t be allowed to add more than 800 special operations jobs, which officials there had sought to round out its ranks, according to Capt. Adrian Ambe, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
    Ambe told Marine Corps Times, a sister publication of Defense News, in October that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s office issued guidance last summer freezing all special operations forces at their current manning levels.
    Officials at SOCOM said they have not heard of any such directive from Hagel’s office, and policy staffers at the Pentagon said no such orders have been issued.
    However, one Pentagon source added that as part of the Future Year Defense Plan for 2015-2019, slowing the planned growth of special operations forces is among the range of options that has been discussed.
    The source stressed, however, that no final decision has been made.
    A defense official who declined to speak for attribution said: “There are a range of options being considered across the Department of Defense as part of our future years defense planning and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). As these are both ongoing activities, it would be premature to comment on the details.”
    A QDR is undertaken every four years to inform the Pentagon’s decisions about military strategy, and serve as a roadmap for its capabilities and force structure.
    Yet faced with the long-term budget cuts known as sequestration, which are eating into all of the services’ personnel accounts, Pentagon and SOCOM officials have stayed largely silent on the impact that those shrinking budgets could have on special operations.
    For MARSOC, the freeze will cap end strength at its present authorized size: 2,742 personnel. A Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, Capt. Tyler Balzer, explained that MARSOC will continue to grow until it reaches that number.
    Ambe said he did not have a figure for MARSOC’s current size.
    Previously, plans called for MARSOC to top out just above 3,600. A year ago, MARSOC rolled out a detailed plan to bulk up its combat service support structure, the enablers who back up critical skills operators by gathering intelligence, for instance, or serving as joint tactical air controllers.
    (Continued at the link below)

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