“The Human Domain is the totality of the physical, cultural, and social environments that influence human behavior to the extent that success of any military operation or campaign depends on the application of unique capabilities that are designed to fight and win population-centric conflicts.”
Population-centric conflict is about people, about ever evolving, investment intensive, highly complex networks of personal relationships, meaning, on the most fundamental of levels this warfare is about establishing and maintaining shared purpose and obligations between individuals over protracted periods of time. The purpose of this article is to propose a partial solution to the three interwoven limitations confronting SOF when conducting this type of Human Domain warfare at the level of the Operator. The first is the ‘Last-mile’ effect, whereby the investment required when building and maintaining a core infrastructure, though prohibitive, is infinitesimal compared to the investment required to establishing and maintaining connections between that core and the ever expanding number of individuals out beyond the Edge or Last Mile. The second leads from the first and is the requirement for the Operator to employ highly innovative and cost-effective strategies, drawing upon all Seven Elements of National Power simultaneously, as they conduct the work of establishing and maintaining the near infinite number of relationships necessary to effective Network vs. Network Warfare. Third is the constant struggle to recruit and develop in sufficient numbers those rare individuals capable of full-spectrum Human Domain thinking, a struggle only made more difficult by the requirement to retain the life-long commitment and contributions of those few who go through the rigorous process and become an Operator but go on to find success elsewhere.
“The environment continues to evolve as a result of strategic trends, including demographic shifts, globalization and financial crises, technological change, and resource scarcity.”
As urbanization and population densities increase globally, as financial and economic decline progress in the West, as power shifts from West to East and as warfare shifts from holding geographic terrain to holding Human Terrain, USSOCOM finds itself in a place where it must evolve far beyond traditional roles and capabilities. The full scope and scale of the evolution of SOF is far beyond this paper, however central to most changes is the need to engage in Network vs Network Warfare, the success of which is highly dependent on an extensive base of personal relationships at the level of the individual SOF Operator. However, traditional government, military and SOF investment, asset development and return on investment models are inadequate to the task of putting in place the necessary networks of relationships to meet the enemy where they are now already well entrenched in the Human Terrain. What is required is a new conceptual framework allowing for a network of networks approach whereby SOCOM may realize the greatest multiple gain from existing and emerging local assets and individuals with only minimal direct investment in manpower and capital expenditure. Of course this will also require a new breed of SOF Operator, one trained and skilled at investing minimally available resources to the development and maintenance of personal relationships and to long-term, self-sustaining and expanding networking. Fortunately there is a well developed framework for this type of investing consisting of more than sixty years of proven practice that is readily adaptable to address the specific limitations inherent in Net on Net Conflict and which would provide for rapid fielding of the next generation SOF Operator, one that is a master of the Human Domain.
In the three articles previously published with Small Wars Journal I put forward the concepts which will be discussed in this paper with respect to the importance of adding the mind and body of practice of the Venture Capital Investor to the SOF Operator and in particular the Special Forces Warrant Officer Corps. This paper will discuss these ideas in greater detail as they specifically relate to the Special Forces Operating Concept and in particular the Network vs. Network concept put forward by ADM McRaven et al. Emphasis in this paper will be on how adoption and adaptation of the Angel and Seed investor model (VC empowerment of the Entrepreneur and innovation) will directly address some of the inherent limitations to this type of warfare, namely funding, manning, training and fielding of the full-scale human domain SOF Operator and on establishing highly effective, enduring and self funding and expanding Networks.
Network vs. Network Warfare
“The goal of the SOF Operating Concept is to enable enhanced, low cost, innovative, and small/discrete footprint solutions to complex national security requirements, fulfilling a key imperative of US national military strategy.”
The greatest threat to SOCOM’s investment in Net vs. Net Warfare is the fact the Network of Networks which are the Core (those committed to the rule of law and support of the modern world) will never possess sufficient resources to address the near limitless capacity emerging from the Last Mile (those who do not currently benefit from, who push back against or who wish to co-opt and control the globalized world). This critical resource shortage is only made more acute by the fact SOCOM must concurrently pursue three separate lines of Net on Net Warfare, which are each distinct one from the other but which are also interwoven in our globalized world.
- The first is Sustainment – defensive network warfare: Dedicated to engaging existing and emerging Core resources to limit, and where possible, prevent attacks from the Last Mile into the Core.
- The second is Capacity Building – offensive network warfare: Dedicated to integrating Near-Last Mile resources (e.g., ally or partner nation forces and capacity) with those of the Core with the purpose of further expanding the infrastructure, reach and resources of the Core into the Last Mile.
- The third is Find, Fix, Finish – surgical network warfare: Focused on enabling highly targeted, time and resource limited strikes from the Core into the Last Mile with the sole purpose of greatly enhancing both Sustainment and Capacity Building.
Each of these inter-related fields of Net on Net Warfare, though mostly dependent on their own unique network of networks and internetworking, do share much common infrastructure and many common requirements, challenges and limitations.
Central to SOCOM’s success along all three lines of Net vs Net Warfare is mastering and benefitting from an endemic property of networking and that is Emergence, the tendency for independent actors in the Last Mile to organize and reorganize themselves into a near infinite number of new networks with very little, if any, intentional organizational imperative. The nature of these Emergent Networks is they organize themselves to address a limited number of needs (even when not intentionally structured) which determines the nature of, scope and scale, as well as the composition of the network. Though all networks arise with the purpose to provide advantage to its members, most are local only in nature and are intended to provide support for local people in their daily life. However, a wide array of networks emerge which are intentionally structured and organized with the purpose of attaining such size and reach as to benefit from the globalized world, through:
- Integration with Core based networks (governments, businesses, financial or charitable institutions, etc.);
- Through displacement of Core based networks (political parties and movements, innovative new companies or products); or
- Destruction of the Core in order to take control of the assets the Core is based on.
The difficulty of course is there are no distinct lines delineating any of these Last Mile networks one from the other, or differentiated purpose from differentiated purpose, which is due to the fact no single network exists solely independent of others or even for any single purpose. Nor are there distinct lines between the Core and the Last Mile. Each network is only the summed interactions and obligations of its members and at any time any of these networks can reorganize or realign itself, along with others into something which was only moments before a non-threat into a network that is now a nascent or immediate threat. A thorough understanding of Emergence and how to influence and harness such is critical to SOCOM’s success in population-centered conflict. As well as mastering and learning to benefit from Emergence, SOCOM must also successfully address the Threshold Effect, whereby threat networks conduct the far greater volume of their activities and networking well below or just beyond the Investment Line – the line where it is economically feasible for the Core to invest its finite resources.
The Investment Line is not a physical or geographic space as threat networks do not conduct their activities only in the failed, third-world or ideologically supportive nations of the world but directly in the cities and communities of the advanced nations which are themselves actively combating these networks. The reason the Threshold Effect exists is due to the disparity between investment and return on investment requirements of the Core networks and those of the Last Mile, a disparity evidenced by the large sums of Capital, manpower and planning SOCOM and its many domestic and international partners invest in any single mission for marginal gain while the threat network need only invest minimally for maximal gain (1% Return vs 500% Return). The Threshold Effect is further compounded by the fact the Core simply does not have the resources to be in all places at all times and must carefully determine where to invest its assets for real returns, a lengthy and costly process in itself. At the same time, threat networks operating below or beyond the investment line, alone, or in conjunction with other threat or even with non-threat networks, can emerge almost anywhere, anytime for one-off or prolonged operations which only need step above the Investment Line (also conceptualized as the awareness line) long enough to commit a specific attack or action. As well, a natural property of Emergence is its minimal Return on Investment requirements which means a large percentage of the threat network individual investments can meet with failure and still be a success or substantial threat over time, whereas SOCOM must be assured of success before investing any of its own assets.
SOCOM’s efforts to expand the global SOF Network through better integration with partner forces and other government agencies, standing up as its own Global Combatant Command, as well as the re-tasking of resources to better provide Find, Fix, Finish capabilities will reduce the time to target cycle while both compressing the Investment Line and further extending Core capabilities into the Last Mile. However these alone are not capable of fully addressing the ‘Last Mile’ effect, whereby the Core, despite its immense resources, does not possess the manpower or funds to invest in establishing the requisite number of connections between itself and the vast number of individuals living in the Edge necessary to early identify and influence Emergence. The only means available to address the ‘Last-mile’ effect is the establishment of an enduring human infrastructure in the Last Mile, not around the traditional network nodes of the Core such as embassies and military installations but directly out in the many communities of the world where threat networks recruit, train, find support and influence Emergence. This human infrastructure must address the ‘Last-mile’ effect by harnessing the innovative and entrepreneurial capacities of individuals living within the Edge through the employment of minimal Core resources in conjunction with Edge-based and entrepreneur provided resources and productivity. Meaning, those SOF Operators tasked with this Last-mile networking must be capable and comfortable with conducting all Seven Elements of National Power concurrently, in highly innovative ways, with emphasis on employing Economics and Finance with the purpose to both recognize and influence Emergence.
Embedded and forward engaged, these Operators will focus their efforts on establishing relationships with individuals, businesses and investors in the Last Mile which possess the right potentials and on matching these with Core-based resources and networks in order to expand the reach and access of the Core. However, instead of the traditional top-down (or Core to Last Mile) approach, these Operators will employ a bottom-up (or Last-mile to Core) approach and thereby harness the near limitless resources and innovative capacities of Emergence (the entrepreneurial spirit) to the task of further integrating Last-mile Networks with those of the Core with the purpose to develop enduring, self-sustaining and expanding networks. These Last-mile to Core networking efforts will lower or push back the Investment – Awareness Line providing for early warning in the event a threat network emerges, as well as provide for a counterpoint to existing threat networks or to those attempting to create a threat network or networks in the area.
Venture Capitalist Green Beret
“An understanding of the local culture and society, language, economy, history, politics and leadership, physical and virtual terrain, as well as the enemy is essential.”
Every single aspect of the modern world, of what is now the Core, is a direct result of Emergence, and was once an Emergent Threat to the Core systems-networks that came before. Emergence is critical to the introduction of new products and services that address unmet need as well as to the evolution of existing Core systems-networks, and often to the complete remaking and replacement of inefficient systems-networks. Where Emergence has been harnessed, by those few skilled and experienced in doing so, great expansion has been realized in areas such as political stability and standards of living which are represented by many new connections being made between what was the Last Mile and the Core. Where Emergent trends and networks are not early identified, harnessed or shaped, threat networks arise and destroy immense volumes of wealth and stability when investment is made to counter, or which destroy political stability and wealth in the process of becoming the new or a new Core network. Despite this, the traditional practices and resources of the Core are dedicated to pushing back against Emergence, at protecting and sustaining the status quo and not on harnessing or shaping Emergence to the improvement of the Core itself. However this is changing, the need to early identify, support and convert Emergent Threat Networks to Core Network assets is a growing part of major corporation’s product and market development efforts. To add this mission enhancement capability to the SOF community, the ability to harness and convert potential Threat Network to Core Asset, will require at least some Operators are trained and empowered to think and act as Venture Capitalists.
In the under or undeveloped, uncertain and high Risk very early-stage business environments in which Angel & Seed Venture Capitalists invest, the VC must master two interwoven capacities in order to realize the all essential sustainable and self-expanding wealth creation and growth (Return on Investment – represented as a former Threat Network conversion to Core Asset or Network). The first capacity requires a thorough knowledge and experience in the investor’s space, and that is the ability to quickly see (in real time and often in advance) the trends and movements within the particular industry and those many industries and participants the investor’s investment touches, interacts with and is dependent upon. The successful VC is highly skilled at perpetually pulling an immense number of minute and most often random pieces of information from a vast array of sources, qualifying against experience in order to develop highly sophisticated actionable maps, with the sole purpose to effectively allocate an ever shifting array of internal and external resources. The second is the critical base of the first, and that is the VC is highly adept at building, sustaining and expanding interwoven networks of relationships, from the lowest level office employee all the way up through the entrepreneur and the corporate executive, to academia, government and political figures, regulatory bodies and law enforcement, and to banks, investment banks, investment funds and to very high net-worth individuals. These are not static, unidirectional contacts but rather dynamic relationships where both parties contribute to a mutual interest, supporting one another and where needed gaining and providing access to the many other participants, information and external partners and resources necessary to the success of any single investment or business.
Collectively these two abilities, each requiring immense effort and years of practice to perfect, sustain and improve, provide the VC with the ability to rapidly recognize both talent in the individual and to recognize ideas (as represented by a business or business plan) with the right potentials to become Core enhancing networks. Before any investment can be made, recognition is followed with extensive due diligence and careful analysis leading to a thorough vetting of every aspect of the business (network), from management, to business opportunity, to the marketplace, market, product and business model and strategy, legal and regulatory matters, inside and outside investors, and a lot more. The real power and contribution of the VC is not the Capital investment they eventually place, but their access to markets, partners, vetted and proven managers and talent, vendors and suppliers, funding and other investors, legal and accounting firms, and most importantly their ability to mentor management as they go to market and pursue growth and expansion of their business. For the Angel & Seed Venture Capitalist all of these efforts, collectively and over time, are driven by the imperative to take what was a nascent or potential only Edge or Last-mile network and bring it through the initial vetting, relationship building and business development and growth process necessary to becoming a Core asset.
Driving every aspect of the Angel & Seed investor’s analytics, investment decisions and mentoring is the immutable fact the entrepreneur and the investor cannot directly compete with the customer base, relationships, funds and resources of established competitors and that the entrepreneur must develop and employ highly innovative solutions to succeed. This is the real strength and advantage of the Venture Capitalist and the VC mind, an understanding of how to work collaboratively with management, empowering the entrepreneur with minimal resources so that the entrepreneur may develop into a genuine Core asset despite all the challenges inherent to such. If SOCOM hopes to be successful at enabling enhanced, low cost, innovative, and small/discrete footprint solutions to complex national security requirements it must, in addition to its many other efforts, adopt the mind and practices of the masters of this type of investment and where SOF operates the most appropriate model being that of the Angel & Seed VC. As with the corporate world, the only means by which to effectively address the work of increasing the linkages between the Core and the Last-mile is to harness the highly innovative and productive capacities of Emergence and the individual entrepreneur.
SOF for Life: Generation Two
“SOF must also make prudent and effective use of limited assets while preserving our most valuable resource – our individual SOF warriors and their families.”
As SOCOM aggressively adapts itself to meet the 21st Century challenge of population-centric warfare the single most limited asset of all is not the funds to build out and maintain a global infrastructure and foot-print but rather the uniquely skilled, full-scale Human Domain capable SOF Operators required to staff it. In the post Iraq and Afghanistan world, as SOF shifts its emphasis away from kinetic warfare, traditional recruitment, development and promotion models are not sufficient to the task of fielding and sustaining the volume of Operators necessary to conduct population-centric warfare or to realizing the vision and purpose of the Global SOF Network. And though SOCOM will gain broader human capacity through better integration with partner nation and ally SOF forces, these gains alone will fall far short with respect to fielding enough Operators to meet the enemy out beyond and below the Investment Line. This critical shortage of uniquely talented and skilled Operators is the direct result of the confluence of three mutually supporting requirements which must be directly and intentionally addressed before the Global SOF Network can become an effective reality. And though somewhat simplified for brevity, these three requirements are the following: i) Personality & Skills-based Tasking, ii) Retention & Promotion, and iii) Recruitment & Placement. As with the other concepts put forward herein, a thorough detailing is well beyond the scope of this paper, however a brief discussion of each will follow.
Personality & Skills-based Tasking – Unlike the private sector which draws from an immense field of individuals possessing resumes denoting self driven and directed education, skills, relationships and experience, SOF is relegated to drawing only from within, from an increasingly limited pool of vetted Operators whose skills, relationships and experience are almost solely derived from schools and postings within SOF and the broader military alone. Despite this limitation, present and future SOF Operators are required to master an ever wider array of highly technical specialty skills and tradecraft, skills which are best suited to some personality types and talents and not to others, and which in many cases are skill-sets not native to the military or SOF but are well developed and in high demand in the private sector. Addressing the issue of the limited pool as well as ensuring the right volume of unique specialty skills trained and capable SOF Operators will require the personality and native talents of the Operator be taken into account, early identified and the Operator’s career directly based on such. The Operator’s career must be carefully mentored throughout from the very beginning to enhance existing and nascent talent and ambition with specific schools and assignments that progressively develop the Operator into a well honed and broadly skilled, experienced and vetted asset. In the era where SOF must field n number of Operators with A, B, C specialty skills, relationships and experience in and over N current and future timeframes to fill X positions and meet Y needs in Z units at T times, a targeted and highly efficient human resources system must be adopted and put in place.
Retention & Promotion – The nature of any high level organization is that the most talented are far too limited in number and are very much in demand by organizations and agencies and by business and the financial worlds where they can make considerably more money and provide better for their families than in the military and SOF. This means inefficiencies in developing the individual Operator, in carefully matching personality traits, skills and ambition against specific training and needs only further exacerbates the ability to retain the best talent. Many highly talented individuals come to SOF drawn to the purpose and mission and by their intentions to move up through the ranks and make increasing contributions through the appropriate application of their natural abilities and ambitions improved as a result of specific training, assignments and missions. Far too many of these highly talented individuals leave SOF after only contributing a limited number of years, due to the leadership and promotion structure of the Military and to the fact their personal abilities and futures are not being mentored and shaped in such a fashion as to gain the greatest advantage from and for themselves.
With the substantial investments which must be made in each individual, with the length of time required to mature the Operator, and as a result of the far too limited internal only pool of individuals from which SOF has to draw its future Operators, the loss of any single vetted human asset results in a major impact on capabilities. Success of the Global SOF Network will be highly dependent on better matching the best and brightest with the right combinations of schools, assignments and leadership positions necessary to gain their commitment not only over multiple enlistments in SOF but over a lifetime. This lifetime commitment needs be sustained regardless of whether the Operator serves thirty years or three, whether they go on and continue to contribute in one of the many contracting or teaching positions, go on to other agencies or organizations within DOD, DOS or broader government or should they leave the Greater SOF Community completely and find success in the private sector.
Recruitment & Placement – Meeting many of the demands being placed on SOF in the conduct of increasingly population-centric warfare will not only require more efficient Operator development and retention practices but will also require recruitment of individuals with already highly developed skill-sets and experience from outside the normal channels, to include with respect to some skill-sets from outside the military and government altogether. Success of the Global SOF Network will be dependent on more specifically targeted and efficient recruitment and retention practices, emphasizing the rapid and sustained fielding of skills and experience not native to SOF but which are demanded of full-spectrum Human Domain warfare. And in addition to better integration with the many government agencies, military organizations and non-government agencies and partner and ally SOF forces, all of which collectively participate in Human Domain warfare, SOF must establish close working relationships with the private sector, in particular with business and financial institutions and organizations whose direct involvement is critical to the success of sustainable population-centric conflict.
The real power and strength of an organization is not derived from its current members but from its far larger alumni network and the exponentially larger pool of resources, assets, access, knowledge and experience made accessible through alumni members and their often lifelong dedication. The first generation of SOF for Life is successfully benefitting from the contributions of many SOF alumni through employment with the wide array of companies providing contracted services to SOF, the DoD and other related organizations. The next generation of SOF for Life need focus on recruiting those now essential but non-traditional skills, such as business and finance, on shaping the careers, education and training of those with the aptitude and interest with the purpose of not only benefitting from their service while in uniform but more importantly when these Operators go on and become alumni. Particular emphasis need be providing these highly capable and sought after individuals with opportunities and career development within SOF which do not put them at a disadvantage to their private sector peers such that they may go on from service and find employment with leading businesses and financial institutions and thereby add greatly to the capabilities of the SOF Alumni Network.
“Rapid urbanization is propelling growth across emerging markets and shifting the world’s economic balance toward the east and south. By 2025, it will create a “consumer class” with more than four billion people, up from a billion in 1990. Nearly half will live in the emerging world’s cities…440 largely obscure urban areas that will account for close to 50% of expected global GDP growth between 2010 and 2025…”
As the demographic and economic centers of gravity and power shift from traditional Core nations to the developing world, away from rural to urbanized life, towards population-centric conflict, SOCOM finds that in addition to sustaining traditional requirements, it must also increasingly field full-scale human domain SOF Operators over long periods of time. These Operators must be masters at employing all Seven Elements of National Power concurrently, in employing unconventional methods and thinking in highly innovative ways with the purpose to establish enduring relationships and infrastructure directly in those many communities of the developing world. Central to these efforts is the need to both influence and benefit from the near limitless capacities and resources made available through emerging networks in the Last-mile, from harnessing the creative power of randomness and the immensely powerful property of networks and networking, Emergence. Success in these efforts will be dependent on the adaptation and adoption of a functional model and body of practice and to the fielding of those few SOF Operators skilled at engaging Emergence to increase the reach and capacities of the Core. To this, the new breed of SOF Operator must be a master of early identifying, embracing and shaping Emergence as relates to Emergent Threat Networks (non-core networks) directly at the tactical level and long before such networks go on to require immense investments to counter. This means fielding Operators highly skilled at developing and maintaining vast numbers of relationships and in engaging Venture Capital thinking, practices and resources in the task of integrating emerging Last-mile networks with those of the Core.
 Special Operations, Whitepaper, undated, US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, NC.
 The Joint Operating Environment 2010, United States Joint Forces Command, February 2010
 EM Burlingame, i) Irregular Warfare, Village Stability Operations and the Venture Capital Green Beret, Small Wars Journal, May 2012; ii) Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret, Small Wars Journal, June 2012 and iii) Irregular Warfare: Fielding and Phasing in the Venture Capital Green Beret, Small Wars Journal, September 2012
 Special Operations Forces Operating Concept: Expanding the Global SOF Network, White Paper, September 2012, United States Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base, FL.
 Posture Statement of Admiral William H. McRaven, USN, Commander, US Special Operations Command, before the 112th Congress, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6 March 2012
 Special Operations Forces Operating Concept: Expanding the Global SOF Network, White Paper, September 2012, United States Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base, FL.
 Richard Dobbs, Jaana Remes, and Fabian Shaer, Unlocking the Potential of Emerging-market Cities, McKinsey Quarterly, September 2012