By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 – Success in special operations missions rests, in part, on critical enabling capabilities the Army, Navy and Air Force provide, the nation’s civilian and military special operations chiefs told Congress today.
Michael D. Lumpkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, discussed future special operations needs in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
“As we enter an era of constrained defense budgets, we must not repeat the mistakes that led to degraded [special operations forces] capabilities throughout the 1970s,” Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin quoted five “SOF truths” drawn from a 1987 report written for the committee: humans are more important than hardware, quality is better than quantity, special operations forces cannot be mass produced, competent special operations forces cannot be created after emergencies occur, and most special operations require non-SOF assistance.
“Our experiences have validated [these] truths,” he said.
It has taken a decade to “grow” special operations capabilities from 33,000 to nearly 58,000 service members, Lumpkin noted, and the need for enabling, regular forces has been commensurate.
“We know that the team approach in [the Department of Defense], the interagency, and with international partners carries the day,” he said.
After the ongoing transfer of security lead in Afghanistan is complete in 2014, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 SOF troops still will be deployed, Lumpkin said.
As DOD conducts a strategy-based spending review to prepare for a range of possible future budget cuts, he said, “The key that we’re really looking at [is] … as the services look at reductions that may impact them, they have a direct impact on us.”
SOF draws its members from the regular forces and so relies on them as a talent pool, Lumpkin said, and special operators also depend on support from regular forces to complete their missions.
“While we do have the need for organic combat support and combat service support, we do rely heavily on the general-purpose forces,” he said. “So we’re looking very closely to see what the budget impacts [will be] on them, which will, in turn, influence and impact us.”
McRaven echoed Lumpkin’s sentiments, saying, “I think within [DOD], they understand the value that SOF brings to the current fight and the future fight. Our real concern … is the impact on the services. As the services have to potentially cut key enablers, that’s going to affect us.”
Socom is one of DOD’s nine unified combatant commands, but with some unique responsibilities, McRaven noted.
Socom trains and equips its forces, but also synchronizes planning for global operations against terrorist networks, coordinating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the geographic combatant commands and appropriate government agencies, the admiral said.
“These authorities have effectively prepared and equipped our force to meet the demands of the last decade, and to be postured appropriately for future challenges,” he added.
Socom provides “rapid, global options to meet a broad set of complex and dynamic challenges,” the admiral said.
SOF has doubled its forces, tripled its budget and met a quadrupled mission demand over the last ten years, he said.
“With an annual budget of $10.5 billion, U.S. SOCOM comprises only 1.6 percent of the Department of Defense-proposed FY12 budget, and put simply, provides a tremendous return on the nation’s investment,” McRaven said.
All special operators are trained to perform both direct and indirect roles, he said.
McRaven defined direct action as “precision, highly kinetic strike force” missions. Indirect operations focused on advising, training and assisting other nations’ forces, he added.
The two approaches are mutually supportive, the admiral said, with the strike capability providing space and time for indirect efforts to work.
McRaven said his two priorities as Socom commander are first, to win the current fight and maintain the health of the force; and second, to expand SOF’s capabilities by working with the combatant commands and interagency and allied special operations partners to establish a global SOF network able to react more rapidly and effectively to enemy action.
“I believe special operations forces have never been more valuable to our nation and to our allies,” he said. “You have my promise that we will continue to fight as long and as hard as you need us to in order to protect this great nation and the principles we hold so dear.”