The Need to Create an Unconventional Warfare Advanced Studies and Training Center

The Need to Create an Unconventional Warfare Advanced Studies and Training Center

by John Cochran

Download The Full Article: The Need to Create an Unconventional Warfare Advanced Studies and Training Center

Unconventional Warfare or UW is the most difficult and complex of any form of combat. UW's complexity lends itself to the salient fact that it is not a straight on fight; instead it is a method of warfare that employs psychological warfare, subversion, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and intelligence operations. Its very nature is to attack from the inside of the enemy and through the use of a disenfranchised section of society force the enemy to acquiesce and capitulate. It requires its soldiers to meld into the sociological and physical environment, apparently a farmer or banker one moment and conducting a direct action or kinetic strike the next. UW is not just a slugger's war or a thinking man's war; it requires a mental and physical decathlete whose sole devotion is mastering its complexity. Assurance that the specified soldiers can conduct this successfully requires both continual exercises and a devoted education system which focuses solely on this multifaceted form of warfare. These facts necessitate the creation of an Unconventional Warfare Advanced Studies and Training Center whose sole responsibility is the advanced training and continual education of UW to facilitate the tactical, operational and strategic needs of the US military's only force with UW as its fundamental mission: US Army Special Forces.

Download The Full Article: The Need to Create an Unconventional Warfare Advanced Studies and Training Center

CW2 John D. Cochran is a US Army Special Forces Warrant Officer currently assigned at Naval Postgraduate School pursuing a graduate degree in Defense Analysis. CW2 Cochran has had Command and Staff assignments in Iraq, Europe, Afghanistan and Africa. He holds a BA in Intelligence Studies/SOLIC and a MA in Military Studies/UW from the American Military University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and represent no U.S. Government or Department of Defense positions.

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First, it is good to see a well-written article by another SF warrant officer. Likewise, the intellectual debate of UW in a forum like this is great because there are so many divergent views of what UW means. The Special Forces community convened a UW Definition Working Group held at the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, NC, in April 2009 to develop a consensus of the definition. The final product is the following:

UW: Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.

Second, the article starts off by stating: "UW is the most difficult and complex of any form of combat." Any type of warfare is difficult and complex by nature. As Clausewitz wrote, "Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult." It is the scale and scope of the warfare that makes it difficult and complex, not the operational approach. The most difficult and complex form of warfare today is a coalition of conventional forces operating in difficult terrain against an enemy of irregular forces not bound by international borders (i.e. Afghanistan, Pakistan). The problem is compounded by the struggle to develop a Host Nation professional military and police force as well as a central government that lacks capacity and credibility. World War II also had conventional forces and partisans operating throughout both the European and Pacific theaters of war, and it was very complex.

Last, I concur with CW2 Cochran that advanced educational opportunities in UW would benefit the force. Major General Sacolick acknowledged in his SWCS change of command comments in August 2010 that Special Forces have expertly trained forces, but are lacking in education. While UW should remain a focus for Special Forces, it is also critical to see the bigger picture and strive to be first and foremost "master practitioners of special operations."

Well if I remember correctly the original definition and mission of SF was to "raise and train indigenous forces and to carry out missions beyond the scope of regular troops". What has changed? And shouldn't that be done here?
Posted by Long Tab...We have one. It's called USAJFKSWCS. Sorry that it's not in DC.

Everyone knows the original idea at swcs has evolved into a quasi language culture center, the UW training is where? its the knowledge of former NCOs, the institution is brick and mortar, and the money going into it? its a program thats tried (and failed) to replicate DLI in monterey, where at least the student comes away with useable language skills and an AA degree, not just a few hokey phrases and enough ability to get language pay, the language and culture center at SWCS has wasted money, my 2 cents

Actually, I believe the 5th SFG was the most highly decorated unit for its size in Vietnam, and well earned. Today the SOF community is perhaps the most stingy of commands for formally recognizing valor (shamefully so, IMO).

Have the Rangers taken over JSOC? Yes. Did SF and SEALs get way too into "capture/kill" operations in Iraq and Afghanistan both, and leave their bread and butter operations to the conventional community to sort out for theirselves? Yes. Has this turned considerably in the past 2-3 years? Also yes.

But none of that has much to do with the author's point that UW is important and needs more focus than it is currently getting. The realities of today's missions and today's optempo promise little change in the near term in that regard. But once the tide does turn, my vote is to rededicate USAJFKSWCS to the mission, and to incorporate more non-violent tactics into the program, along with greater interagency participation as well.

Far too many SF Officers fancy themselves as "DA" dudes on todays battlefield. IMHO, we have far too many SF branched folks who are enamored with Bronze Stars and have lost sight of what the branch was conceptually designed to be.

God bless the Infantry officer, but, again, IMHO, we have FAR too many former Infantry Officers in SF to make a difference.

So, I predict, many officers in the SF Branch will continue to gravitate towards DA missions in hopes of glory, while simultaneousness personifying past all that is wrong (non-SFA/UW) with our current generation, as they lament the ultimate demise of a wonderful dream many still live.

"Just Saying"

Grant - I agree. My point is that instead of wringing hands over complexity or continually talking about the depths of the complexity we should try and simplify, wherever and whenever, as much as possible. To me, its almost like we can overwhelm ourselves by continuing to highlight complexity, as opposed to simplifying as much as possible (of course without overly simplyfing, which can cause other issues).


As you fully realize, the force is busy doing what the force is doing. In many ways they are mature beyond their years, but there has not been much time to train in and develop a full range of SOF skills. So long as we only modify our training for the short-term, and not our selection, we should do fine and all of this will balance out.

UW does have a certain mystique about it though. Kind of like Bigfoot. Everyone's heard of it, but not too many people have actually seen one, and most who say they have are mistaken.

But there is indeed tremendous value in selecting for people with an aptitude for UW, and in training them in UW as well. Studying COIN is a poor way to come to an understanding on Insurgency; but studying UW does that very well. The Q-Course used to be more like law school. In law school they would tell us "we're not going to teach you what's on the Bar exam, we're going to teach you how to think like a lawyer." That leaves a guy having to cram like crazy to pass that damn test though, and I still remember vividly my first few court hearings and jury trials. But lawyers just get embarrassed when they screw up, soldiers get killed (yeah I know, if only it were the other way around...), so I understand why the Q-course has become more practially geared to the mission the guys are being put into. We owe them that.

The key will be how we adjust our training once the mission evolves again.

Well if I remember correctly the original definition and mission of SF was to "raise and train indigenous forces and to carry out missions beyond the scope of regular troops". What has changed? And shouldn't that be done here?
Posted by Long Tab...We have one. It's called USAJFKSWCS. Sorry that it's not in DC.

Bob, while I agree COIN and UW are not flip sides of the same coin as some have proposed, those who understand UW (the political and psychological fight and clandestine organizations) should at least be advisors to conventional commanders. There are several so called conventional force commanders that understood the nature of the fight (at least in Iraq) and adapted, while SF was focused on head hunting and nightly raids. One can make arguments that at the time it was an appropriate employment of SF, but I think we could have made a bigger contribution in our more traditional role as advisors (assuming the force is mature enough to that now). If the force is now too young to serve as credible advisors in complex environments, how the heck are they going to do UW? Maybe we need to stop growing the force and start maturing it again? The young guys joining the ranks are truly talented and dedicated, and two to three young guys like that on each ODA is powerful, but when the majority of your ODA is somewhat green that limits your ability to be a credible advisor to anything other than small strike forces.

Lee, I think Grant did a fair job explaining why UW is complex. Remember complex in very simple terms means numerous systems and individual events all interacting and constantly adapting, and complicated means a lot of moving parts. Our bureaucracy (and that of the ISAF, UN, and NATO) due make things more complex than necessary, but even if you remove the bureaucracy (that would be a day to celebrate), you would still have considerable complexity in UW due to constant interaction of physical with the political and the psychological. An ambush is just an ambush in a conventional fight, but in UW an ambush is a message that needs to be managed and projected correctly. A lot more to it as I suspect you well know. My point about it being complex doesn't mean it is an unsurmountable challenge, far from it, it just means we have to constantly adapt to changes in the various systems. Clear objectives would be great start, and as Grant stated if we had clear and limited objectives when this all started we would most likely be a different place by now.


Ok, I figured we were in the same ballpark on the final point, and I suspected that was where you were coming from on your use of UW as well.

To make everything perfectly clear then all we need to get everyone to understand and agree to is that

"Unconventional war is all war that is not 'conventional,' while in U.S. doctrine, 'unconventional warfare' is a very narrow subset of unconventional war, though is most often executed as a supporting operation to conventional war and warfare."

There. Crystal. :-)




Fair points with regard to the more technical definition of UW. However I wrote my short post within a broader understanding in the US Army of Unconventional Warfare. For example, in FM 3-24, John Nagl (author of the manual's introduction)says this:

"Thus, counterinsurgents often have to 'come from behind' when fighting an insurgency. Another common feature is that forces conducting COIN operations usually begin poorly. Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency. They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small, unconventional ones."

Also, the author of this piece acknowledges that at least historically, Counterinsurgency has come to be a part of UW; although admittedly his piece is a call to re-green the SF so to speak in UW.

But enough of that, I agree with your last paragraph, and it is excellently stated.



This is the problem with terms of art that also have lay meanings; it leads to confusion.

COIN has virtually no relation to UW. UW is what one does to incite insurgency against some government that one desires to put pressure on, or perhaps even change. COIN is what that government does in turn to address their growing insurgency as the UW effort begins to have effect. So, UW is a form of "Special Warfare," or in modern terms it is a form of "Irregular warfare." But not all "Special" or "Irregular" warfare is "Unconventional Warfare."

(Just as a "Screen" is very different from a "Guard" mission; though both are Cavalry missions).

But this is why we have Branches so that we can develop pockets of specific expertise on certain missions, even though in fact many other branches could conduct these specialized missions should the need arise. So to support your main point though, I too worry about who will do the missions we used to rely upon a robust Field Artillery, Armor/Cav and Mechanized Infantry community to be trained, organized and equipped to accomplish? Everyone is so mired in pseudo-COIN and CT that no one is really doing the things they need to be doing to be experts in their respective fields (to include SOF). We're pretty far off track right now, and that is creating vulnerabilities across the spectrum that all need to be addressed.

On the complexity issue, Lee- I'd say we make things more complex by open-ended and unclear objectives. I speculate that the complexity "problem" will become more the rule and not the exception as our bureaucracy increases and our politicians promise more, while our populace becomes less homogenous. I agree that the world objectively doesn't get more complex (although quantum scientists might disagree- I have read arguments that the universe is indeed becoming more complex in general)- but I also think the way one interacts with others and interpret things makes things de facto more complex (it doesn't matter what "is"- as much as "what you perceive it is".

My theory is that we (SOF) made the "GWOT" (OEF/OIF, etc.) more complex (and thus harder to "win") by failing to establish limited objectives up-front in the early months after 9/11. An example:

- Your battalion is instructed to drive north, hold a bridge, then be prepared to move further north later and take an airport. You get to the bridge and are attacked by suicide bombers in pickup trucks. You are told to destroy any pickup trucks hurdling towards you and bypass as many enemy units in fixed positions as possible and continue towards the airport. You get to the airport, clear and hold it: mission accomplished. Complex? Perhaps- but due to the "bypass" order and limited-in-scope objectives- it tended to be more complicated than complex.

- One of your follow-on missions later is to hold an area (or perpetually clear and re-clear an area), support stability operations/good governance, mentor unconventional police and militia units, and encourage development. You end up redeploying before any of your objectives are reached- and as much as you can determine things have gotten worse in your AO: but you're not really sure why. A year later the same holds true for your replacement.

The key, in my opinion, is that the first example was not as complex because of the way your higher gave you guidance, the way you interpreted it, and the relative short time required for feedback. The guidance was clear, mission limited, and your objectives were short-term bounded in time. The second was very unclear, limitless in mission, and not bounded in time. Because of the way higher framed the mission- it would definitely be harder to define what you were supposed to do in the second example to include what mission success would look like.

In the first example you make some assumptions- move out, and adjust quickly. With the second example- great savvy is required to make valid assumptions, admit them up-front, and then figure out how to validate/invalidate them. I haven't seen much ability in the "great savvy" requirement in ANY forces' staffs- but I'd think we'd at least like it to be present in the force that has as its reason for existence missions more akin to the second example (i.e- SF). Thus my opinion for the need for a higher level education/training opportunity for senior NCOs, warrants, and field grades in the area of UW specifically. Keep CGSC focused mainly on conventional operations andplanning.

When the intellectual position of SOF leadership is limited to "figure out how SOF can be put in charge of the entire GWOT and/or OEF effort" instead of "what would we do differently if we were in charge"- then I submit we don't add anything to the effort at the strategic/operational level.

Just think if SOCCENT had had a savvy, long-term plan when we went in to Afghanistan in 2001. A plan that addressed what we wanted to do there in the long-term, how that was tied to national security/national interests, what force package was required, assumptions and a plan to validate them, and clear and limited intermediate objectives that were easily understood as to how they were tied to national interests. Everyone I've talked to who were involved with the early months in OEF admit there was nothing much beyond 6 months and "overthrow the Taliban". After less than a year they were told to focus on Iraq. Maybe there was a reason we didn't have anything more: nothing other than CGSC/conventional ops planning to guide us?

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army

The above comments are the author's own and do not constitute the position of USASOC, the US Army, or DoD.

Maybe, just maybe because the army has been doing a form of UW--counterinsurgency--for the past nine years we need a center for conventional warfare too.


What continues to amaze me is the desire to label everything "advanced" ("high speed" is understanding fundamentals and executing them very well) or "complex" (labelling a fundamentally sound insurgent attack as "complex"...whats the difference between an effective attack and a complex attack?). A base of knowledge with a sound understanding of fundamentals and principles - a demystification of UW - would be better served. Its just warfare. Thinking, deceit and cheating should be expected, anticipated and encouraged as well.

Robert C. Jones:

SF types aren't the only ones who have over romanticised the last months of WWII.

Is there really a "normal" US DOD application of UW? (Outside of Russell Volkmann's Philippine experience...)

Per General Mulholland's stated top priority and, as you mentioned earlier, an inderstanding of UW is a must. However, too many decision makers don't believe there is a "must." Getting to that "must" is being strangled by legacy burdened buracracy. Again too much division of labor (stovepiping) when it comes to training and education. And couldn't much of this be done as required professional development conducted inside the units? Breaking away from TRADOC would be an excellent start.

DOD to lead a well executed non-violent UW campaign? Novel concept. I agree the options for non-violent insurgencies should not be discounted, and in many cases, non-violent options will be preferred. However, I don't ever see DOD being tasked with doing non-violent UW. Unless of course we are going to rebrand FID and COIN.

UW dumped in the 3X. Why is there even a "3X" anyway, and if there is a real requirement for one, why should it exist at FBNC and Tampa? (Theater only perhaps...?) The super secret cool guy foodfight over the UW skillset(s) in the "3X" has been very instructive.

Personally I think Grant and The Enabler made several good comments. I'll add a little fire support to both. In regards to the anti-intellectual movement in SF, that has pretty been my perception since I joined the ranks over 30 years ago. The officers and NCOs who could think strategically and tie the tactical to higher ends, and think beyond the six week training calendar were few and far apart.

With few exceptions most of my heroes in SF have been good MSGs (team sergeants) and on rare occassion a SGM or CSM that still retained his ability to focus on mentoring field craft and planning instead of focusing on the ridiculous. Sadly, today the senior NCOs are leading the charge of anti-intellectualism in the SF ranks. We all know the system self perpetuates, and if we're ever going to get back to the point where SF NCOs are backbone once again of UW, then we need to revisit how we developed them a few years ago, and what behaviors are rewarded. The officers are just as bad, but that has always been the case. Their priorities are still me, my rater, and then me again mentality, and the mission is a distant third or fourth priority. The unstated goal is to get a good OER in a KD position. SF Warrants are started to get sucked into the same management system of block checks and constantly moving, which completely undermines the reason the SF Warrant Officer was conceived in the first place. We have much bigger issues than simply the lack of higher learning.

If you put the UW school of higher learning at SWC I also suspect it will remain a center of lower learning focused on the tactical. Sadly the so called keepers of the UW flame are keepers of the dogma who claim their experts at UW because they have the 7 phases memorized. I have seen more intellectual rigor practiced by Boy Scouts planning a scouting trip. With the exception of Operation White Star most of our historic UW operations have been little more than supporting guerrilla warfare at the tactical level. This has merit, especially if you're conventionally minded and looking for ways to employ the force to support the conventional war, but UW can and should be its own form of warfare that is focused on political and psychological at the strategic level, perhaps with the ultimate goal of a regime change, and laying the political ground work ahead of time through the organization of shadow government structures. We're not there yet, because we can't get past the ODA. The ODA can be fixed quite easily, fixing the organizations higher than the ODA so they can enable the ODA to be successful is far from being a reality, so instead they focus on what they know and micromanage the ODAs.

I'm all for higher education, but there are more important things that must be fixed before we can effectively unleash our talents.


The center could and should do both, my point is that it is actually countering UW efforts that is the more persistent and relevant mission. Much of the Cold War efforts on the fringes were a mix of the US and Soviets both conducting UW and countering the other guy's UW efforts. Big difference that between states normal tools of deterrence work; but now with the emergence of empowered non-state actors we need to take the countering mission much more seriously. For my money the entire GWOT plan should be a global counter-UW operation. All the neuvaux CT and COIN guys need to appreciate that the debate is not COIN vs CT, but rather how we balance both of those missions under a much larger counter UW approach that holistically addresses the larger problem.

But if you don't understand UW first, you can't appreciate what is required to counter it either. We've just dropped too much of the UW mission into the 3X, who then think that only supersecret, super cool guys have a need to know; and also that anytime a UW skill set is used that that somehow converts the mission to UW.

But more than another Master's degree program, we really need more emphasis and training. Education is JSOU's mission. Training is SWCS mission. I know they love to mud wrestle on that, but we don't need more fancy paper, we need more hands on skills and experience.

My final $.02 on UW is that we are way too focused on violent, combat UW. Studies show that non-violent tactics are far more effective insurgency than violent tactic insurgencies are; and as to what type of UW is most likely to get a green light for execution, a smart non-violent plan is the way to go. Not saying to drop the necessary violent tactic aspects, but rather to expand our horizons to embrace the non-violent as well, which will vastly expand the relevance, and thereby the emphasis, on the mission.

Ok $.02 more. SF has over romanticised 4-5 months of operations in the summer of 44 in France, and it has given us a soda straw perspective on UW. Time to drop the straw and move forward. Banks and the guys had big brass ones, but that is just one situation, and not the normal one.

My has this "worm" continue to turn over the years. The SF UW agrument is now approaching its 60th year, Bill M and I (along with a significant host of thers) have been particpating in that "discussion" for at least 30+ of those years.

Just for refererence here is the approved doctrinal definition of UW:

"Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area."

As mentioned here in previous posts, this reads like "We Don't Want to Do This" (Thomas PM Barnett used the same to describe DoD'S antipathy to OOTW).

In defense of Mr. Cochran, the fact that he is even attending NPS speaks well of him. He is also a "victim" of our current architectures, and he knows it, thus his article. Bravo!

A couple things from his article:

1. Policy maker/operational leadership platitudes. He used a number of them to base his thesis on and to rationalize his thoughts. Good. However, while it is nice to have SECDEF/COMUSSOCOM mention for public consumption the uniqueness UW to SF, leadership actions do not match those words. Even at the point of proponency - USASOC - UW is STILL not a popular term (some have second-handedly stated "Iyuuuuwww W" has become the unofficial defacto doctrinal term). Yes, LTG Mullholland will emphatically state his top priority is to re-energize UW, and I believe him. However, he has a significant row to hoe to insure he gets everyone on board. Too many decision makers many cannot get past current architectures. Additionally, and I believe ther will be plenty of agreement on this one; there is no way, no way at all, that the current architecture will allow a mere O-3 to operate independently in an UW environment as described in the article quotes from SECDEF and COMUSSOCOM.

2. Training and Education via USAJFKSWC. Mr. Cochran did not make a specific reference to moving UW training and education out of there. In fact he specifically mentions (on page three) that SWC needs to be the place for this new UW education process to happen. PROBLEM TRADOC. USAJFKSWC must divorce itself completely from TRADOC in order get past the institutional resistance to change. Training and educating for UW will not fit the TRADOC training model. Additionally, too many legacy individuals who carry the wrong frame of mind for change wind up moving into GS positions at DOTD (allegedly for continuity sake) upon exiting the service. This allows the institution to be lazy and carry forward obsolete or inappropriate frames of reference.

Bill M:

Given our current architectures, I would agree with you that UW should be led by another organization. At a basic organizational level we do not have the capability to be entrusted to execute a policy decision involving SF centric UW. Example: SF'S inability/resistance to, or out right refusal to, properly prepare for UW'S clandestine requirements (having appropriate clearances...) is one very good reason why I agree.

Regarding thinking I don't want dissenting thoughts, I want alternative thinking. And make no mistake significant alternative thoughts are needed. However, I would leave dissent to policy discussions.

Robert C Jones:

Agree regarding what AQ et al is doing in its efforts.


Why would having a "counter" UW center be needed? I think UW being unique (especially if we step past the above mentioned doctrinal statement) why couldn't that center meet the needs for both? The education, training and preparation for the unconventional must be equally unique. I believe there is just far too much division of labor when it comes to things related to UW.

UW has been and will continue to be a viable mission. It's execution needs to evolve with technologies and cultures. If I read the entire article correctly and not just the above post, the author is not recommending a new location. I believe this article provokes introspective discussion regarding SF and SWC; reflecting on its origins, current utilization, and forward relevancy amongst the total force. One needs to look no further than specialized "centers" under the current schoolhouse format to witness the void in education for evolving UW. Advanced curriculum is abundant and accessible for DA, and the same cannot be said for UW. UW is truly the hallmark of SF, or is it not? The education process regarding UW needs to be continuous and reinforced throughout one's career, and not by periodic insertion. I believe that can only be accomplished by educational and operational synergy. I agree with the author that a "center" with multi-faceted curriculum devoted to UW would fortify a flexible and relevant capability.

I think SF (and the Army in general), would be greatly served by an advanced degree program centered at USAJFKSWCS (at Fort Bragg) that provided three things:

1) a place for SF officers (to include warrants) and senior NCOs (and SOF officers, select conventional officers and OGA types) to get some advanced theory and application towards UW and the rest of our mission set at a level higher than the mainly tactical level we get in the Q Course and other standard fare out of SWC. Staff officer and plans kinds of practical exercises, strategic and operational theory and application readings, and conferences/seminars that focused on prescient subjects would be great stuff and arguably things we don't get at CGSC and other advanced degree programs.

2) Offer a chance for discourse much like many of the Q Course classes- but at a field-grade/senior NCO-warrant level. This would mainly be something gained in small-group sessions, but could also be expanded to include on-line activities, conferences, seminars one could audit, and a discussion board site like the CAC blog site (one could argue that sites like SOCNET, Professional, SWJ, and others- among other things help to fill a void that our community desperately needs: a place to exchange ideas and debate/discuss.

3) encourage SF to establish a central place where ideas are championed, paradigms questioned, and get us to think more operationally/strategically. I don't know how many times I've heard conventional guys remark that- although we are lightning on the ground at the tactical level- they wish we thought a little more long-term and broader- i.e.: strategic. I'll never forget attending a briefing wherein a conventional officer asked about future plans for a host nation force being shepherded by a SOF element and getting the answer: "we only plan 6 weeks out." How embarrassing!!

I've heard SF officers remark internally that they wished there wasn't as much group-think as there was in SF. On the back of these comments: "I haven't read a book in a year and I'm proud of that" and "if the Army wanted me to have a degree they'd send me to get one"- I submit that there possibly exists a little too much anti-intellectualism and a 'cult of the tactical' within SF.

Since many SF spend time at Bragg at some point in their career, this could be a night thing combined with a PCS school experience for some as well as on-line, TDY, and seminar/conference type opportunities for credit. This could be in addition to and/or in place of CGSC, NPS, etc. If one looks at the pre-WWII experience of our later top leaders- most had many more years in the classroom than we do now. Many- if not most- corps commanders in one study had 10 years+ time in the classroom prior to WWII- and the majority did not see combat in WWI. The bottom line to me is that, although I think combat and field experience is invaluable- I think we discount the classroom too much today.

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army

The above comments are the author's own and do not represent the position of USASOC, the US Army, or DoD.

Slapout, what exactly do you think an advanced degree in UW means? posted by BillM

To me it is the weaponization of anything, anybody or anyplace for both the offense and the defense. A degree in UW would allow you to develop, plan and execute such missions.

I'd be all for it "IF" I could believe the entire program wouldn't get hijacked by the SF Branch. The SF Branch has a bad habit of considering themselves to be "out of the box" thinkers, then, in the same breathe falling right back into the old trap of thinking they are the only ones who can handle the task, thus, closing the lid on the aforementioned box.

The Army has an incredible amount of talented individuals waiting in the wings but the current system for promotion and selection for specific positions, handicaps us from ever gaining from their unique insight and truly innovative thinking.

Lest I be called bitter, I am just offering a little insight based on what Ive seen time and time again over multiple deployments into both Iraq and Afghanistan... no need to shoot the messenger.

We are losing this war because we are allowing many individuals in key positions to think more highly of themselves than they are the mission.

"The Enabler"

Since the author is currently at NPS, I'm not so sure he agrees with your assessment. NPS is one venue and one venue only to pursue an advanced degree in irregular warfare. If we narrow ourselves down to sendng our folks to "one" school, then in fact we'll rapidly advance ourselves to group think and the associated dogmas that go with it.

Exactly why I advocate a wider apeture to include a wider spectrum of schools and degrees.

NPS does an excellent job and should continue to be supported and even expanded, but we should also send our promising SOF operators (not simply SF and not simply officers, but our best folks) to Harvard, George Mason, John Hopkins and other schools that allow one to pursue a relevant education in the numerous subject areas related to UW.

Slapout, what exactly do you think an advanced degree in UW means?

We have a UW advanced studies center -- it is the Naval Postgraduate School's Department of Defense Analysis. It is a USSOCOM-funded Masters Degree Program specifically to educate SF and other SOF brothers about what it is that we do). The Army's rules do not allow us to properly utilize it, but it is there for the taking. Officers and Warrants can attend -- 4187-style.

I can elaborate if other readers so desire. I'm getting ready to deploy again (imminently) so it might be a while before I can get to it.

Since we are dealing with UW maybe we should look at Unconventional Education as opposed to the standard just give them 14 college degrees and everything will be better approach.

First I agree largely with Anon's post above..

It is long past time for our community to move beyond the idea that UW is most "complex" form of warfare. That argument falls flat on its face when it examined objectively. How is UW more complex than waging a total war, for example WWII? How would conducting UW in Burma be more complex than managing the political and battle fronts in Europe where leaders had to not only garner and maintain support on the home front, but build consensus with key allies, take into consideration numerous political and social factors for each country we were fighting in (that isnt restricted to UW), and of course manage the massive logistics effort required (both military and civilian/industrial) to enable the fight? This list is far from complete, so please explain the metrics you are using to explain complexity and why UW is so much more complex? If the argument is the military cant do UW well for a long list of reasons, then that would be a true statement, but UW is not more complex than conventional war and we lose credibility when we make that argument.

I think an argument could be made that UW is actually one of the easier forms of war at the strategic level. If done correctly (out of sight completely or low visibility), and U.S. military members arent being killed in large numbers, and taxpayers dont see billions of dollars being expended on a foreign venture that may be questionable, then the administration has a lot of wiggle room. In UW (as with conventional warfare) there is the risk that too much education and training in UW results in indoctrination and could result in UW operators who rely too much on historical examples and doctrine instead of adapting to reality on the ground. There is some truth in the old saying, "educated beyond common sense".

Im definitely not opposed to advanced education to teach critical thinking skills and expand ones view of the world. Many of the great insurgent and UW leaders were medical doctors, lawyers, etc., so I agree advanced education is a key enabler, but Im not convinced yet that we need a graduate degree in UW specifically. Degrees in political science, social science, economics, etc. may in the long run turn out to be more helpful. My concern is a myopic focus on UW (although a very broad field) will result in a useless dogma that restricts rather than enables. A successful operator must be gifted with the uncommon gift of common sense more than anything else. A graduate degree in a fools rucksack will not enable him to be a good operator; simply an educated fool.

Success in UW depends on many factors, some that we can control and some that we cant, so what does the operator really need to understand that is beyond common sense? Political and military organization, a practical knowledge in psychological operations, how to conduct clandestine operations, and some technical know how on how to conduct sabotage and subversion along with a few other skills to start with, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY he/she requires maximum flexibility to adapt to the environment by our leadership (not something encouraged by our military, which is why I think the mission needs to be led from outside of the military command and control). While more of the right kind of education will only improve our ability to conduct UW, at this point all the education and cool high tech toys in the world wont make any difference unless we change our command and control structure.

Worth noting, the first SF qualification course was called the psywar course, because common sense led them to understand that PSYOP wasnt something that could be separated from the overall effort, rather everything we did was about influence, so it had to be integrated with PSYOP. We have a terrible tendency to over specialize and certify people in skill sets that should be common skills, and this has led to disintegration of continuity and understanding. Again a lot of our shortfalls need to be fixed in house before we ever hope to provide the world class UW capability our nation needs and that we can provide.

The checklist approach to career development doesnt work (serve two years here, and then do this, three years later do this, etc), but letting people get lots of muddy boots experience plus education where dissenting ideas are encouraged instead of crushed would be a step in the right direction. We dont need all our guys going through the same cookie cutter. We should try to improve our personnel system that allows SF officers and NCOs can develop the appropriate skills and acquire a wide range of unconventional experiences, and allow them to pursue their interests to the extent possible. These career models of ours are killing the force. The fact of the matter is, as MG Boykin pointed out in his book, SF has become way too conventional. We embrace the failed Army professional development models, and promote off the model, not capability. This of course is the military way. We have to develop career paths, certifying courses, and a host of other "check the block" criteria in "hopes" of developing the right person. My counter argument is it doesnt work well for the regular army, and more importantly UW isnt really a conventional military mission, so using this approach wont allow us to develop our people to perform at their maximum capability. Were either unconventional or were not, and right now we tend to lean towards were not.

Im completely confident that the author knows there is a lot more to conducting UW than a world class education. We have a lot of internal organizational issues that need to be fixed, so that those returning to the force with that education can operate unhindered by conventional nonsense. Right now getting the advanced education is like getting the latest and greatest battle tank with no fuel to drive it.

Is this strange or is it strange---

Many in current SF fail to realize that those of us who joined SF in the second half of the 60s had instructors in basic and advanced Army training that were VN combat vets, then in SF training all of the instructors were Laos or VN combat vets and when we were assigned to either Det A or Bad Toelz all our teams had veterans of VN, Loas, or those who had participated in some phase of WWII and who actually did speak a number of different languages and boy did they fully understand UW-especially Det A.

Current SF needs to remember that we used UW in virtually every mission while based in Europe or in the 10th at Devens---from dropping into some odd location in Europe, setting up UW training camps, training IW fighters and then leading them on UW missions against NATO forces and targets-with a high degree of success. We then took that experience to VN and continued to expand and develop what we had previously learned under the reality of combat and then we went back to say Bad Toelz where we continued to use that gained experience in UW/FID missions.

After VN and the attempt by Big Army to downsize SF which in fact did occur the only way for SF to survive was to prove itself in the DA, strat recon world which was the second piece of their bread and butter and that is what protected SF until the re-ramp up for Iraq and Afghanistan--the core problem I see is that in general DA missions carry from more "glory" that the ash and trash of FID and couple that with the lack of institutional knowledge in UW being carried forward and the result is this article.

Some UW institutional knowledge did continue to reside in SF until about the early 80s but then that group retired and or moved on to other things.

There are still some of the old guard still out and involved but we are basically being ignored by the idea "what was learned in VN cannot be applied to the current fight mentality". Many forgot the old statement "it takes a guerrilla to understand a guerrilla".

Instead of arguing to set up UW training in a totally different location why not place a call out to those "old guard types" that are still out there and still preaching UW to the choir who does not want to listen to come back to the Special Warfare Center and pass on their collective knowledge one last time at a Center of UW Excellence-document their experiences against the current SF TTPs and lesson learned---you will be far faster in moving SF back to the core of it's being in a far shorter time.

It is amazing to have been at one time many years ago in the CIDG/SOG world and now years later seeing the VSO program evolve.

Problem is the defense contractor who wins that contract always staffs it with their own!

Ditto on LongTab's comment.

We named it the "Special" Warfare Center as at that time, what we call Irregular warfare was generally bundled under the term "Special Warfare." Today their is much talk about a need to form a new center to match the new name. Proably cheaper to just dust off a couple history books, some old FMs and get back to work.

I do want to draw everyone's attention to Chief Cohran's great description of what UW is and how powerful of an agent for change it can be. Anyone who can read this description and not recognize that this is exactly what AQ is doing is not paying attention. Working much as state actors have historically, AQ is leveraging the tools of globalization to conduct a networked approach to UW that has been in credibly effective. Being a non-state frees them from the expense of defending a homeland, and their illegal, non-state status provides them the ultimate sanctuary from the tools of statecraft. This is the future of UW.

What the west really needs is a greater appreciation for the fact that we do not "Counter-UW" very effectively. We cling to tactical approaches, such as "counterterrorism," which provides a temporary rush of success when a big guy is killed, but in the long run makes the conditions being exploited by the UW actor worse. Or we equally cling of a very confused Iraq experience-based concept of COIN; that really is not COIN at all, but rather is a modern form of Colonial counterguerrilla operations. Suppress the symptoms, sustain illegitimate government, get on with business.

So, for my money, we don't need a "UW Center" but we could sure use a "Counter-UW Center."

We have one. It's called USAJFKSWCS. Sorry that it's not in DC.