Small Wars Journal

Special Operations Leaders Outline Budget Concerns

Fri, 09/23/2011 - 7:51am

Special Operations Leaders Outline Budget Concerns

By Karen Parrish

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 – Success in special operations missions rests, in part, on critical enabling capabilities the Army, Navy and Air Force provide, the nation’s civilian and military special operations chiefs told Congress today.

Michael D. Lumpkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, discussed future special operations needs in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

“As we enter an era of constrained defense budgets, we must not repeat the mistakes that led to degraded [special operations forces] capabilities throughout the 1970s,” Lumpkin said.

Lumpkin quoted five “SOF truths” drawn from a 1987 report written for the committee: humans are more important than hardware, quality is better than quantity, special operations forces cannot be mass produced, competent special operations forces cannot be created after emergencies occur, and most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

“Our experiences have validated [these] truths,” he said.

It has taken a decade to “grow” special operations capabilities from 33,000 to nearly 58,000 service members, Lumpkin noted, and the need for enabling, regular forces has been commensurate.

“We know that the team approach in [the Department of Defense], the interagency, and with international partners carries the day,” he said.

After the ongoing transfer of security lead in Afghanistan is complete in 2014, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 SOF troops still will be deployed, Lumpkin said.

As DOD conducts a strategy-based spending review to prepare for a range of possible future budget cuts, he said, “The key that we’re really looking at [is] … as the services look at reductions that may impact them, they have a direct impact on us.”

SOF draws its members from the regular forces and so relies on them as a talent pool, Lumpkin said, and special operators also depend on support from regular forces to complete their missions.

“While we do have the need for organic combat support and combat service support, we do rely heavily on the general-purpose forces,” he said. “So we’re looking very closely to see what the budget impacts [will be] on them, which will, in turn, influence and impact us.”

McRaven echoed Lumpkin’s sentiments, saying, “I think within [DOD], they understand the value that SOF brings to the current fight and the future fight. Our real concern … is the impact on the services. As the services have to potentially cut key enablers, that’s going to affect us.”

Socom is one of DOD’s nine unified combatant commands, but with some unique responsibilities, McRaven noted.

Socom trains and equips its forces, but also synchronizes planning for global operations against terrorist networks, coordinating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the geographic combatant commands and appropriate government agencies, the admiral said.

“These authorities have effectively prepared and equipped our force to meet the demands of the last decade, and to be postured appropriately for future challenges,” he added.

Socom provides “rapid, global options to meet a broad set of complex and dynamic challenges,” the admiral said.

SOF has doubled its forces, tripled its budget and met a quadrupled mission demand over the last ten years, he said.

“With an annual budget of $10.5 billion, U.S. SOCOM comprises only 1.6 percent of the Department of Defense-proposed FY12 budget, and put simply, provides a tremendous return on the nation’s investment,” McRaven said.

All special operators are trained to perform both direct and indirect roles, he said.

McRaven defined direct action as “precision, highly kinetic strike force” missions. Indirect operations focused on advising, training and assisting other nations’ forces, he added.

The two approaches are mutually supportive, the admiral said, with the strike capability providing space and time for indirect efforts to work.

McRaven said his two priorities as Socom commander are first, to win the current fight and maintain the health of the force; and second, to expand SOF’s capabilities by working with the combatant commands and interagency and allied special operations partners to establish a global SOF network able to react more rapidly and effectively to enemy action.

“I believe special operations forces have never been more valuable to our nation and to our allies,” he said. “You have my promise that we will continue to fight as long and as hard as you need us to in order to protect this great nation and the principles we hold so dear.”


Dave Maxwell

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 7:30am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,

Please do not get me wrong. I am not advocating going back to the past (though the future of the force is informed by what we have done in the past - good and bad). My point in all this is that one: SOF cannot be only a CT/DA force only; two SOF has not been a only a DA/CT force in the last ten years, and three: the only way SOF will be effective in the future is to properly synchronize and orchestrate the full range of SOF capabilities, both direct and indirect and to avoid the weakness of "jointness equals sameness" and instead ensure we optimize the different capabilities and strengths of all elements of SOF and not try to make all elements of the entire force do everything or focus only on one threat or type of operation (which is I think how the press and pundits paint SOF).

Bill M.

Sat, 09/24/2011 - 11:29pm

SF never was the sole SOF organization that conducted indirect operations. Most SOF organizations are currently involved in building partner capacity, but it is a fact that none are as well trained as SF to do it. None the less, smart people adapt to their situations. Just like the conventional infantry officers who were isolated in the Philippines from the Army after the Japanese invaded were savvy enough to link up with the Filipinos in the resistance movement and wage guerrilla warfare without the benefit of advanced UW training. While SF remains the premier force for counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare and related unconventonal operations, it is misleading to believe they own that mission set at the exclusion of others. To the best of my knowledge no one is underemployed looking for work.

Actually I have seen the quote Dave refers to previously, so I suspect it is accurately betrayed. "All special operators are trained to perform both direct and indirect roles, he said" and then further defines direct as kinetic strikes and indirect as advising, assistng and training other nations' forces. Since he was a TSOC commander he knows that not all SOF are trained to conduct direct action (kinetic operations), so I think he met in broad terms most SOF across all the services are trained to conduct DA and do so. On the indirect side, whether trained or not all SOF elements to varying degrees do train, advise and assist partner nation forces globally. In Afghanistan I think most of that the advise effort conducted by DA focused SOF is focused on combined operations, which in my book isn't indirect, but rather a force multiplier approach for direct action. SF is doing combined operations AND supporting the indirect approach. I agree with Dave that the difference is substantial.

But beyond whether we agree or disagree with that particular statement, most of us have immense respect for him, and more importantly the rice bowls of the past that defined who we (SOF) were are becoming more porous out of necessity. What that means for the force in the future is still to be determined, but I don't think trying to return to the past will bode well for any organization looking to protect its interests. I think all SOF organizations need to focus more on finding ways to integrate into the new SOF paradigm and shape it. How can we contribute most effectively and add more value?

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 09/25/2011 - 8:24am

In reply to by crawley


I think it is a natural evolution of SOF missions exploiting current modern technology. Again, historical precedence is rife with examples of SOF C2 located hundreds (more) miles from the target.


Sun, 09/25/2011 - 8:17am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave - to clarify, the types of fires missions to which I was referring to are not laser targeting, but C2 elements located hundreds (or more) miles from the target using UAVs to direct fires. Is this an inherently SOF mission?

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 09/24/2011 - 8:29pm

In reply to by crawley

To answer a couple of your points. First, the employment of operational and strategic fires has always been a part of SOF doctirine( really SF and Ranger as there was not really any SEAL doctrine and MARSOC is too new). Just trace back the 31 series of field manuals back to the 1950's and you can find evidence of that. And look to history from the OSS in WWII to the support to the Korean Partisans and then of course Arclights called in by teams from MACV-SOG in Vietnam as well as other SOF elements using Air Force and Naval and Mairine Air and Naval Gunfire Support there as well. SOF has always trained and planned for use of operational and strategic fires. During the 1980's and 1990's SOF was heaviily involved in laser target identification which was clearly focused on employing operational fires.

I think MARSOC is too new to be calling it a DA centric force. Since it's inception just a few short years ago (2006?) they have worked to try to conduct all the major SOF Title 10 missions to include UW a well as a heavy emphasis on FID. I do not think MARSOC has been a DA Centric force.

Although VSO has been recently popularized to say that SF has been focused on DA missions through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is just not borne out by facts. Variations of VSO have been executed or attempted to be executed (just without the support) since 2002 and SF worked hard in both theaters despite push back from conventional TF commanders to focus on training and employment of indigenous forces (though admittedly SF was not capable and should not be asked to build entire Armies from the ground up) and employing them especially in accordance with the SF FID/COIN doctrine of remote area operations which I have written about a number of times here on SWJ. SF had to demobilize its approximately 5000 man militia back in 2005 by direction of the theater commander.

And per my first post I called into question the part left out about the interrelationship of the direct and indirect because while ADM Olson said the direct action effort will buy time and space for the indirect action effort to work he was not quoted as saying the reverse: effective indirect efforts can facilitate effective direct action as well. It is not an either or proposition; not direct versus indirect just as it is not a CT versus COIN construct.

The point of my series of comments is that the quotes of ADM Olson emphasize the direct and his famous book on "Spec Ops" (which as pointed out is used by the Navy but never by SF SOF ) is a direct action focused theory of special operations to the point where the fundamental SOF missions of FID and UW are not even mentioned in it (and those are the two primary missions of the dominant SOF force- Special Forces). In addition, the other point I am trying to make is that I think it is also the press that focuses on the direct because it is easily quantifiable and is "newsworthy"; indirect operations are time consuming, difficult to report on and hard to explain and quantify and just do not often lend themselves to the sensational reporting that a direct action CT mission does.


Sat, 09/24/2011 - 6:48pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

I'll bite a bit, Dave: Ten years of SOF-intensive war in multiple theaters have blurred the distinction between direct and indirect and what flavor of SOF does what mission. Most of our so-called indirect operations involve training partner nations action. So for example, while some say the indirect lines are decisive for victory over al Qaeda, the reality is - rightly or wrongly - that we are still trying to kill our way to victory with DA.

Additionally, DA-centric forces such as MARSOC and SEALs often find themselves involved in missions such as VSO in Afghanistan, which are more traditionally considered indirect. That, and for at least the first 7-8 years in Afghanistan until VSO emerged, many SF found themselves involved in unilateral DA. To create even more confusion, we've got SOF C2 elements many miles from the fight controlling deliberate kinetic strikes using GPF USN and USAF fires, something I'm pretty sure has never been included in any SOF doctrine. Additionally, there is an unprecedented level of cooperation between different types of SOF (and GPF) who only a few years ago would have never shared information, much less worked together.

I'm not making a judgement call on whether any of these sorts of employment for SOF are good or bad, just that the operational realities have evolved quite a bit from what some might see as traditional SOF roles and responsibilities.


Dave Maxwell

Sat, 09/24/2011 - 5:53pm

No one wants to bite on this so I guess I will just keep talking to myself. Here are some additional comments on ADM McRaven's books and an offline response I received to the above comments:

I received the following comments from a SF Qualification Course classmate and good friend. I think his comments on terminology, definitions and words and jargon are worth remembering. We throw out so much jargon, not just in the context of Special Operations but military operations in general. I also think it is instructive to note the different uses of words within the Joint SOF community and remind ourselves that "jointness" does not equal "sameness" which is why I remain critical of statements that all SOF are trained in the direct and indirect approach.

As an aside, I think it is also interesting to note that during the period that ADM McRaven wrote his book (circa 1993), Unconventional Warfare was considered obsolete by many and no longer relevant (as was COIN to a great extent as well). ADM McCraven captured the dominant thinking in SOF at that time and used his 8 case studies to "prove" his theory of SOF and support the way SOF was thought of at the time. As noted below and I think every combat arms Soldier would agree, those "six SOF principles" are not "SOF unique" but are common sense and apply across the board to combat operations whether your force is inferior or superior in numbers and firepower. Chances are if you adhere to those principles you will conduct a successful operation.

Subject: Fw: FOLLOW-UP COMMENTS (and ADM McRaven's Book) FW: More on ADM McRaven's HASC Testimony Yesterday


You are exactly correct!
Admiral McRaven is a great American, and I am fortunate to have been able to know him...

Your points were the same that were given by 3 SF officers and me when we listened to then CDR McRaven provide his Thesis Briefing to the class ahead of us (McRaven's class), and our class, SO/LIC at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Our opinion was that the material was exactly correct for Ranger, SF, or Special Infantry Direct Action Operations...
However, it was not Unconventional Warfare, or Unconventional Operations (Boyatt-ism).

We concurred that this was Basic Infantry Tactics on special high value targets.

The issue is Lexicon: SEALS use the term Spec Ops... our community is Special Operations, those who have interpreted our literature, do not have the doctrinal knowledge or discipline to understand that there is a difference between sf (special forces in general and writ large) and SF (e.g., Green Berets)... etc..or the other differences...

So while we all speak the same language, our definitions are not the same... then, when words and comments become jargon... many times meaning and intent is lost in translation....


Dave Maxwell

Fri, 09/23/2011 - 9:54pm

Some people have commented to me off line on this (but surprising no has responded as I would have thought this would have stirred up some controversy). One of the comments I received regarded ADM McRaven's book he published and how that shapes his thinking. One of the comments I received was that his book was one of the best on Unconventional Warfare. So let me provide a few comments on his book:

ADM McRaven's book was about his personal theory of Special Operations (for those unfamiliar - Title: SPEC OPS: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice, 1995)

I mention this because he did not write a book on Unconventional Warfare (at least the kind of Unconventional Warfare taught and practiced by Special Forces). In fact he does not even use the term Unconventional Warfare anywhere in his book to describe any of other doctrinal Special Operations missions.

He redefines Special Operations as this (recognizing that it does not conform to any existing Joint Definition at the time that he wrote this in 1995): "A Special Operation is conducted by forces specially trained, equipped, and supported for a specific target whose destruction, elimination, or rescue (in the case of hostages) is a political or military imperative." (page 2) His basic theory is about how a numerically inferior force can defeat a numerically superior force by relative superiority:

"A simple plan, carefully concealed, repeatedly and realistically rehearsed, and executed with speed surprise and purpose." Relative superiority can be gained by these " Six Principles of Special Operations ": Surprise, Speed, Purpose, Security, Repetition, Simplicity. (page 8-23)

Relative superiority is defined as "a condition that exists when an attacking force, generally smaller, gains a decisive advantage over a larger well-defended enemy." (p.4)

I would say that the above definition of Special Operations very well describes the JSOC mission and illustrates why the raid on Bin Laden was a success – JSOC followed those principles to the letter. But no where in the book does he talk about Unconventional Warfare.

The eight case studies that he uses to demonstrate his theory are illustrative of his thinking:

The German Attack on Eben Emael, 10 May 1940
The Italian Manned Torpedo Attack at Alexandria, 19 December 1941
Operation Chariot: The British Raid on Saint-Nazaire, 27-28 March 1942
Operation Oak: The Rescue of Benito Mussolini, 12 September 1943
Operation Source: Midget Submarine Attack on the Tirpitz, 22 September 1943
The US Ranger Raid on Cabanatuan, 30 January 1945
Operation Kingpin: The US Army Raid on Son Tay, 21 November 1970
Operation Jonathan: The Israeli Raid on Entebbe, 4 July 1976

I mention this because perhaps his comments were exactly in line with his book though I still give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that the reporter did not include all the relevant comments and only focused on his direct action comments. I look forward to reading the entire transcript when it is published.

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 09/23/2011 - 8:10am

But I would like to point out this excerpt from the DoD press release also pasted as the third article below.  Surely the reporter was taking these quotes out of context as ADM McRaven could not have meant that all Special Operators are trained for both direct and indirect roles:

All special operators are trained to perform both direct and indirect roles, he said.

 McRaven defined direct action as "precision, highly kinetic strike force" missions. Indirect operations focused on advising, training and assisting other nations' forces, he added.

 The two approaches are mutually supportive, the admiral said, with the strike capability providing space and time for indirect efforts to work.

I am sure he meant that SOCOM has forces optimized for both the Direct and Indirect roles (but not all forces do both).  Very, very few forces within SOCOM can conduct both direct and indirect operations and even then all the forces within those organizations focus on one or other.  I am reminded of the old adage that "he who defends everything, defends nothing" which could be modified to say "he who trains for everything ends up marginal at best in something and at worst good at nothing!!"  I would also hope the second part of the state regarding the strike capability providing space and time for the indirect efforts to work was left off because I am sure he knows well that effective indirect operations can support direct operations.  I am sure that he meant both side of that mutually supporting relationship and the reporter just left off the second half of the concept.

I also expect that the political opponents will key on the "global SOF network."  

 McRaven said his two priorities as Socom commander are first, to win the current fight and maintain the health of the force; and second, to expand SOF's capabilities by working with the combatant commands and interagency and allied special operations partners to establish a global SOF network able to react more rapidly and effectively to enemy action.