Special Operations Leaders Aim for Greater Mobility, Lethality to Meet Peer Challenges
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — With the changing global security environment and directions from the new National Defense Strategy, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) components are working to reshape their future acquisition and force structure plans to meet the challenges of peer competitors who could impede the projection of conventional military power.
That will require increases in mobility, particularly with less-observable platforms, greater lethality for smaller units and ways to use emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to allow faster analysis of sensor data and decision making, leaders of the four special operations forces (SOF) service components said March 1 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict forum.
Rear Adm. Timothy Szymanski, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC), which includes the Navy SEALs and Special Boat units, noted his command’s role as the primary provider of maritime mobility for SOF and said NSWC has been making progress in its surface vessels and undersea platforms, which he called “more hideable, more survivable.”
Air Force Maj. Gen. James Slife, chief of staff of SOCOM, said the priorities of SOCOM commander, Air Force Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, included increased lethality and “maritime mobility systems.”
Szymanski would not provide details on any new mobility capabilities during his presentation, but told Seapower later that NSWC was working to increase the lethality, range and speed of its mobility platforms and expanding the use of unmanned systems, including subsurface systems.
He also cited as one of his priorities “getting back to our Navy roots” and ensuring that Naval Special Warfare is more interoperable with its parent service and that its unmanned sensors were able to network with the Navy.
Szymanski said with the recently approved two-year budget plan that provides a substantial increase in defense funding, NSWC “might be able to put more [SEAL] platoons out there,” which would “give us more capacity as well as enhancing our C2 [command and control] capability.”
Maj. Gen. Carl Mundy III, commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations (MARSOC), the youngest of the SOF components, said it had focused during its first 12 years on creating a credible SOF capability “and dealing with the present operating environment.” Now, it has turned to balancing that focus with planning to adapt to the future operating conditions, which he said would involve regional competition and increased instability.
Mundy also saw future adversaries with capabilities what could “hinder the application of traditional military force,” which could increase the need for the smaller units that SOF employs.
To prepare for that future, Mundy said his command is developing a program called MARSOC 2030, which is nearly ready for release. He could not say if the plan would include an increase in his forces until MARSOC “put together a more detailed road map.”
Among his material requirements for the future, Mundy called for “an increase in organic precision strike to push it down to the smallest teams we put out.” That would include “ground-launched precision strike,” he said.
Asked if MARSOC planned to increase its operations with the conventional Marine operational forces, after spending virtually all of its first 12 years operating independently on SOCOM missions, he said one of his priorities was “integrating with the” conventional Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, explicitly with the deploying Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs), in order for MARSOC to be interoperable with them.
Although he did not see his Marine Raiders fighting within the MEUs, he envisioned them as the tip of the spear, preparing the way for the more powerful conventional Marine units.All of the SOF component commanders stressed the need to do more to sustain their operators, who have been enduring intensive operational tempos during the 16 years of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism campaigns. They all proposed doing more to help remove the stigma of asking for help dealing with the psychological stress of repeated combat, helping the wounded warriors recover and supporting their families.