Small Wars Journal

CNA Report: Special Operations Forces Want to Do More Than Just Counterterrorism

CNA Report: Special Operations Forces Want to Do More Than Just Counterterrorism by Vivienne Machi, National Defense Magazine

Special operations forces and their capabilities could provide a boost in an expanding global competition between the United States and nations such as Russia and China, according to a recent report.

Seeing situations play out, such as China's militarization of the South China Sea or Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, has sparked a "vigorous conversation inside the SOF community" about how they can contribute to those types of national challenges, said Jonathan Schroden, director of the special operations program at CNA, an Arlington, Virginia-based think tank.

"They see that as, one, important to the nation … but they also see this special capability that they have and how that could be useful," he said. "They're frustrated … that SOF has been sort of pigeon-holed into the counterterrorism role, and primarily viewed as a capability to address counterterrorism issues that the nation faces, as opposed to having a broader view that SOF can and should also be playing a role in the nation's efforts to try and counter state actors."

The CNA report, entitled "The Role of Special Operations Forces in Global Competition," which was produced in less than nine months, was motivated by a number of conversations with special operators over several years, he added.

The United States must change its focus from constantly preparing for a future war, to winning conflicts that are taking place in the present, said the paper. "While the United States prepares for future open conflict, adversaries act purposely today to prevent the environment from ever entering that future conflict," the report said.

Although conventional forces have the ability to perform some of those types of missions, "SOF are trained, are equipped and have the authorities to perform the missions," it continued. "The United States should aggressively explore the detailed actions that SOF can execute through a counteractive approach in the regions that matter for global competition taking place today."

There is debate inside of the SOF community now as to whether or not the U.S. military should grow the special operations forces to address this need, or merely spread some of their capabilities and training to the broader forces, Schroden said…

Read on.

Download the Center for Naval Analyses report here.