Small Wars Journal

Saturday SOF three-fer

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 9:55am

Since we posted yesterday about today's Anzac Day and the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, we might as well break even on karma by posting today about yesterday's 35th anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed rescue attempt in Iran. A quick look here at Today in History.

Speaking of unconventional warfare, there is some markup that is very significant to SOF from the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats & Capabilities in recent HASC press releases. Some highlights and excerpts here with links to the full documents.

To round out today's three-fer, the new issue of Special Warfare Magazine is out.


Move Forward

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 8:14am

In reply to by Sparapet

<blockquote>Net result is once SOF find themselves primaries in Operational and Tactical tasks, they become victims of their own design. When they cross those lines only occasionally or against small "enemies" like a terrorist cell, then they are more than sufficient. But the model doesn't scale. Eventually, and very quickly SOF find themselves heavily reliant on allied or our own conventional forces.</blockquote>

Your listed missions prior to this paragraph illustrate your deeper knowledge of SOF missions. I would only offer that it not only is a matter of scale but also capacity against most threats. SF/SOF is inherently lighter and smaller than required for many threats just to get there.

For instance, C-130 high-altitude or for that matter low altitude airdrop won't work against a Russian or Chinese equivalent S-300 and other radar SAMs and high performance fighter jets. Neither is an AC-130 viable. The same applies to some degree to higher flying, and slower descending by necessity V-22s. Likewise, we constantly hear defenses of the A-10s that never has had to face major radar air defenses. So how then does a larger SF/SOF force <strong>get there</strong> with much capacity against larger threats? They walk or otherwise infiltrate not carrying a lot. And they can't expect OIF/OEF levels of CAS to make up for their inherent lack of lethality.

Even if contact is avoided such as when Outlaw mentioned presumed Ukraine SF sabotaging Russian rail lines---how much C-4 can that team carry? It may temporarily blow a rail that is easily repaired compared to the effects of a 2,000 lb bomb. The days of atomic demolitions were a different matter, but again, why is that even a mission when an aircraft or missile can accomplish the same mission far more efficiently, and now with a conventional, very accurate munition.

And if they expect to train large numbers of friendly insurgents deep in enemy territory, what major arms, ammunition, and other supplies can they provide? They again face limitations of C-130s and C-17s to get it there.

That's why it confounds me that we almost never hear pundits, SF/SOF, or the Army in general pushing the USAF to create a stealthy cargo variant of the LRS-B bomber to penetrate advanced radar air defenses. Airborne, air assault, SF/SOF, and infantry BCTs all would benefit tremendously. That variant could still bomb after air defenses are suppressed to some degree. You don't need 100 full stealth LRS-B against any threat when a high-low mix would suffice with 50 being full stealth and 50 others having a slightly larger signature for airdrop.


Tue, 04/28/2015 - 11:28pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Your critiques hit virtually every element worth critiquing when it comes to the capacity of SOF to provide for the range of needed capabilities for actual contingencies. SOF is and should be a tactical/operational enabler and a strategic capability. When SOF takes on the additional role of tactical (and operational) capability, it becomes outclassed by other systems and organizations pretty fast. Examples might help:

SOF Strategic - Raid to take out a key network node or HVT in an enemy organization; Deep insertion to train guerrillas; integration of civil governance into conventional campaign plans ------ Small footprint + specialized skill = SOF sweet spot.

SOF Tact Enabler - Deep insertion recon for assessment of enemy conventional movement movement; advice and support to tactical and operational maneuver staffs on civil affairs management. ----- Small footprint + specialized skill = SOF sweet spot.

SOF Operational - Prevent enemy occupation of town; Disrupt enemy communications/logistics network; ------ Footprint grows in proportion to enemy complexity/size + varied skill sets across domains = SOF must grow to meet.

SOF Tactical - Disrupt enemy activity in province; destroy enemy battle positions/seize terrain. ----- Footprint grows in proportion to enemy complexity/size + varied skills sets across domain + deep logistical train = SOF must grow and generalize skill sets.

Net result is once SOF find themselves primaries in Operational and Tactical tasks, they become victims of their own design. When they cross those lines only occasionally or against small "enemies" like a terrorist cell, then they are more than sufficient. But the model doesn't scale. Eventually, and very quickly SOF find themselves heavily reliant on allied or our own conventional forces.

As for DOS and partnering with them........two things:

1. DOS's job in these cases is to facilitate a willing nation-sized partner that offers the conventional forces and domestic resources for a campaign...e.g. Columbia and Philippines. Once those are secured, SOF simply slides into its Strategic primary and Tactical/Operational enabler roles. Absent a willing partner, the SOF/DOS dream team is a bunch of dudes with guns in a place they aren't welcome and with insufficient guns to make much of a tactical/operational dent if need be.....see Iraq 2011-Present, Mogadishu, Libya 2011-Present, etc.

2. DOS is overrated in its operational "capabilities". They are diplomats. Their jobs, recruitment, education, and organizational culture are poorly suited for anything beyond diplomacy (e.g. state to state persuasion). They aren't governance experts, they aren't civil society experts, they aren't economics experts (econ cone notwithstanding), they aren't humanitarian experts. The SOF/DOS dream team is something that has been taken out of context (see point 1 above), with a few context-specific successes breeding "solve every problem on the cheap" enthusiasm.

So yes....ARSOF needs to keep kicking @$$ and taking names. State needs to keep on persuading. But neither is a substitute for a Conventional force when the time comes for one. Someone will pony one up, whether its an ally/partner/hostnation/PMC/tribe-o-dudes or, absent one, ourselves.

The more we keep SOF in its lane the more effective it is at what it does well and the less it looks like a conventional force.

Move Forward

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 9:02am

In the ARSOF 22 briefing, “The “New Normal” and Political Warfare in the Operational Continuum” graphic is great but also raises questions. For starters it seems to portray that State and SOF core competencies are the equal of DoD competencies in all theaters and contingencies. Given the relative budgets, force structure size, and threats faced, the graphic may be accurate in say Africa, Central America, and the Philippines, but probably not in Yemen, ISIL and other Middle East, Korea, Europe, and Taiwan contingencies. DoS diplomacy and national sanctions may not impress Putin, an Ayatollah, and Kim Jung Un whereas actual armor on the ground and nearby attack helicopters and stealth aircraft very much would.

That last point is why the graphic errs in not depicting the “past normal” of forward presence as deterrence that should continue to exist in many theaters and be supplemented by rotating ground forces in others. The graphic also covers combined arms maneuver as a Land Domain core competency but not stability operations that are an Army conventional force responsibility.

Also, if Iraq and Afghanistan are any indication, the diplomacy aspect of DoS and ambassadors does not diminsh as a key competency and area of lead provided its activities are securable by a large conventional force which was not the case in Yemen and had no teeth in Iraq after we left. However, State and National Command Authority activities also have the greatest potential to disrupt the DoD and SOF mission if they fail to consider breaking up nations before holding votes and building new security forces.

The other aspect I found fascinating were the recent histories of individual operators. MSG Ritter in particular had impressive wound-ended deployments that nevertheless illustrate SF/SOF limits against many threats. For instance, he was in convoy that found 55 IEDs (“10 the hard way”) with the 56th causing severe damage. That would seem to conflict with the effectiveness of the lightweight tactical ATV and ground mobility vehicle 1.1 (misspelled “vechicle” BTW) shown in the document. However, when coupled with CH-47 transport or airdrop, these vehicles bypass and can go cross country to avoid many IEDs. However, if they arrive and encounter Russian tanks or BMPs, the limitations again reappear as do air defense threats against airdrops.

In MSG Ritter’s second deployment to Afghanistan his team landed in one spot and walked 8 hrs to a couple of compounds surrounded by the enemy. At dawn, a three hour battle ensued and the following was mentioned. “Buildings in the surrounding area were assaulted and cleared, only to be reoccupied when the small force moved to clear a different location. At one point, Master Sgt. Ritter took an element to flank an enemy ambush that had been identified some 300 meters away, only to be engaged by an ambush 50 meters away.” This illustrates the limits of small units surrounded by large enemies even with AC-130 support that frankly would not survive most air defense environments. The Apaches could survive but must be within a reasonable distance to provide support. If the theater is large such as in OIF and OEF, multiple conventional bases must exist for such Apache support which again indicates that small footprints sound great in theory but in practice may not be feasible.

The MEDEVACs required in all battles MSG Ritter fought are another example of a light footprint that in most cases has a larger footprint back-up. He was hit by three 7.62mm rounds but what if his team had suddenly encountered a tank or BMP with more firepower and armor in say the Ukraine? A massive Russian, DPRK, or Chinese artillery or rocket engagement would not bode well for a light SF/SOF unit either.

MSG Ritter's final heroic incident involved more wounds and what appeared to be foreign-flown Mi-17s that put him and his unit in the wrong spot under fire. Again, many dedicated aircraft were involved and a JTAC was with the team to facilitate the CAS. But scarce JTACs and airpower dedicated to A-Teams performing small tactical missions also could be supporting entire companies and battalions as part of operational missions. In "Lions of Kandahar" something like 70+ sorties supported one platoon of A-Teams which is comparable to days of ISIL air support. When sortie numbers are scarce, do you dedicate them primarily to smallish low firepower units or to larger conventional units able to clear multiple buildings and secure larger areas?

"The committee also notes that most state-sponsors of unconventional warfare, such as Russia and Iran, have doctrinally linked conventional warfare, economic warfare, cyber warfare, information operations, intelligence operations, and other activities seamlessly in an effort to undermine U.S. national security objectives and the objectives of U.S. allies alike."…

Thus, the first thing that we must do, I suggest, is to determine what:

a. Are the U.S./allied national security objectives that

b. Russia, Iran, et al, -- via their political warfare, etc., efforts -- seek to undermine.

Herein, I propose that the U.S./allied national security objectives -- that Russia, Iran, etc., seek to undermine -- are:

a. Our efforts to gain greater power, influence and control in their countries and/or their regions of the world; this, via, for example,

b. The active and on-going promotion of our way of life, our way of governance and our corresponding values, attitudes and beliefs.

This, I believe, is what Russia, Iran, etc., seek to (in words other than "undermine") halt, contain and roll-back.

In this regard, those in control in Russia, Iran, etc., today -- -- much as we had to during the Cold War -- must find ways to appeal to their "natural allies;" which are, in these circumstances, the more-conservative elements of their own and other important populations. (To wit: Those LEAST LIKELY to allow -- and/or embrace -- such fundamental state and societal change as one's opponent desires.)

This, while Russia, Iran, etc., also -- much as we did during the Cold War -- must keep a watchful eye on their "natural enemies," to wit: the more-progressive and/or more-liberal minded elements of their and/or other important populations. (To wit: Those MOST LIKELY to consider, and/or embrace, such fundamental state and societal change.)

Thus, having properly "set the stage" (I hope) for this aspect of our contemporary political warfare efforts, then might we say that our job today, much as was the Soviet's job during the Cold War, is to:

a. Overcome one's opponents' "undermine/halt/contain/rollback" efforts. And/or, in spite of these such efforts,

b. Gain greater power, influence and control in their countries and/or their regions of the world anyway; this, via, for example,

c. The active, continued (but now updated, expanded and enhanced?) promotion of one's way of life, one's way of governance and one's corresponding values, attitudes and beliefs?

(Folks here are likely to argue that Russia, Iran, etc., today -- much like the U.S. and its allies -- also seek to gain, via various ways and various means, greater power, influence and control in their and/or other regions of the world. This such observation, however, does not deal with the issue at hand -- and which the committee above seems to have carefully spelled out and specifically addressed -- which is the issue of Russia, Iran, etc., and their efforts "to undermine U.S. national security objectives and the objectives of U.S. allies alike." Thus, it is this issue, alone, that I have, accordingly, sought to discuss re: our political warfare/counter-political warfare efforts.)

Now: For a (very controversial it appears) suggestion:

Should we say that:

a. The very reason why we now have to go through such an political warfare/counter-political warfare effort -- as is described above; this a full 25 years after the Cold War and with no real rival "great power" and no real rival "great ideology" since then

b. Is that our way of life, our way of governance, etc., has not achieved either the "universal appeal" or "great positive galvanizing effect" that we hoped for (and, yes, fatefully relied upon)?

Tough question.

But, I believe, the answer to this question "answers the mail" as to why -- with no great power and no great ideology rival for the past quarter century -- we now, at this late date post-the Cold War, are forced to saddle up "political warfare/counter-political warfare" once again.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 11:11am

Some important excerpts from the HASC subcommittee mark-up below. Of course this is only the mark-up and there is no telling what will make it into the final NDAA but there are some important directives in this (especially SECTION 10XX below):


Direct the Secretary of Defense to provide a strategy to counter unconventional warfare threats being posed by Russia, Iran, and others;

Provide the Secretary of Defense with authority to establish a pilot program to counter adversarial propaganda efforts, like those undertaken by Russia, al Qaeda, and ISIL;

Fully resource and authorize U.S. Special Operations Command programs and activities;

Extend for two years a family support pilot program for Special Operations Forces and their families;

Fully resource the U.S. Special Operations Command Preservation of the Force and Families program;

Make permanent the authorization for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Special Operations Headquarters, placing an enduring emphasis on this partnership comprised of more than 26 countries;

Section 10XX—Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Unconventional Warfare

This section would required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the President and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors. This section would require the Secretary of Defense to submit the strategy to the congressional defense committees within 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act. The committee is concerned about the growing unconventional warfare capabilities and threats being posed most notably and recently by the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The committee notes that unconventional warfare is defined most accurately as those 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, or guerrilla force in a denied area. The committee also notes that most state-sponsors of unconventional warfare, such as Russia and Iran, have doctrinally linked conventional warfare, economic warfare, cyber warfare, information operations, intelligence operations, and other activities seamlessly in an effort to undermine U.S. national security objectives and the objectives of U.S. allies alike. END QUOTE

And the most important one that should be able to lead to a reduction in DOD, Joint and Service staffs (we can dream in our naiveté) :

QUOTE Streamline reporting requirements placed on DoD by eliminating or modifying a number of mandated annual reports. END QUOTE