Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations
- The U.S. faces national security threats in three fundamental forms of warfare: nuclear warfare, conventional warfare, and unconventional warfare.
- The future is characterized by the need to conduct unconventional warfare (UW) and to be able to counter unconventional warfare.
- The U.S. has the greatest surgical strike capability in the world but it needs to prioritize and resource equally our special warfare capabilities.
- The U.S. needs Strategists and Policy makers who have a deep understanding of and value the strategic options of UW and Counter-UW.
- Effective Special Warfare is counter-intuitively characterized by slow and deliberate employment – long duration actions and activities, relationship establishment, development, and sustainment.
- SOF will always have a role in hybrid conflict and conventional warfare.
UW is the military and paramilitary aspect of an insurgency or other armed resistance movement and may often become a protracted politico-military activity. From the U.S. perspective, UW may be the conduct of indirect or proxy warfare against a hostile power for the purpose of achieving U.S. national interests in peacetime; UW may be employed when conventional military involvement is impractical or undesirable; or UW may be a complement to conventional operations in war. The focus of UW is primarily on existing or potential insurgent, secessionist, or other resistance movements. Special operations forces (SOF) provide advice, training, and assistance to existing indigenous resistance organizations. The intent of UW operations is to exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by advising, assisting, and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic or operational objectives.When UW is conducted independently during military operations other than war or war, its primary focus is on political and psychological objectives. A successful effort to organize and mobilize a segment of the civil population may culminate in military action. Strategic UW objectives may include the following:• Undermining the domestic and international legitimacy of the target authority.• Neutralizing the target authority’s power and shifting that power to the resistance organization.• Destroying the confidence and will of the target authority’s leadership.• Isolating the target authority from international diplomatic and material support while obtaining such support for the resistance organization.• Obtaining the support or neutrality of the various segments of the society.
“This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins - war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of combat; by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It requires - in those situations where we must encounter it - a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore, a new and wholly different kind of military training.”
“History teaches us that nations that grow comfortable with the old ways and complacent in the face of new threats, those nations do not long endure. And in the 21st century, we do not have the luxury of deciding which challenges to prepare for and which to ignore. We must overcome the full spectrum of threats – the conventional and unconventional; the nation-state and the terrorists network; the spread of deadly technologies ad the spread of hateful ideologies; 18th century-style piracy and 21st century cyber threats.”