Socom Officials Work on Plan for Global Network
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., June 3, 2013 About 100 people are hard at work at the U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters here on a new plan that will operationalize the way the command provides manpower and capability in support of the new defense strategic guidance.
As demand for special operations forces reduces in Afghanistan, U.S. Special Operations Command hopes to engage more broadly across the globe while building a global special operations network. Here, an Afghan boy interacts with a coalition special operations forces member in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Aug. 30, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class James Ginther
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The plan, due to the Joint Staff in late August, is part of the Special Operations Command 2020 vision Navy Adm. William H. McRaven introduced shortly after taking the helm as Socom commander in 2011.
The building of a global network of special operations forces, as well as U.S. government partners and partner nations, is a major component of Socom 2020, McRaven explained during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month.
McRaven’s Socom 2020 vision calls for a globally networked force of special operations forces, interagency representatives, allies and partners, with aligned structures processes and authorities to enable its operations. Globally networked forces, he said, will provide geographic combatant commanders and chiefs of mission with an unprecedented unity of effort and an enhance ability to respond to regional contingencies and threats to stability.
McRaven noted his own experience working with the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. “It has been interesting to work in a network like that, and we do that very, very well on the direct action side,” he said. “We need to figure out -- and it is part of the Socom plan -- how do we take that network, and be able to extend that out to the theater special operations commands,” down to special operations forward elements and forces assigned to them.
Working toward that vision, the Socom staff is hard at work on what is expected to serve as a blueprint for special operations forces activities around the globe in light of the new guidance, explained Army Col. Stuart Bradin, who is leading the operational planning team.
With a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region as well as the Middle East, the new strategy calls for military operations that more closely mirror those special operations forces have conducted since their inception, Bradin noted.
The strategy advocates smaller-scale operations and activities coordinated with not only with partner nations and militaries, but also with the U.S. interagency community. The focus will be on preventing major conflict before it happens, largely by building partner capacity.
“We are going to go out in small footprints and work with key partners to ensure that small regional issues don’t become major theater operations,” Bradin said. “We can’t afford that in blood or treasure.”
The planning effort underway here is examining what special operations missions should be conducted, and where, in support of the strategy, Bradin said.
For the past 12 years, the intensive demand for special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan left minimal capability to support other parts of the globe. Those engagements, when they occurred, typically were linked to short-term exercises and training events. But with wartime requirements expected to reduce, McRaven said, he hopes to provide better support for all of the theater special operations commanders and the geographic combatant commanders they serve.
Rather than posturing capability to counter specific threats -- a calculation that historically has rarely been accurate -- McRaven wants to posture it with the combatant commanders.
“They are the employers of [special operations forces],” Bradin said. “So he wants to give them enough special operations capability that they have it at their ready disposal and can use it in their geographic [area of responsibility].
The first step in formulating the plan was to bring the theater special operations commanders together in April 2012 to identify their top priorities for support. They reported what top three activities they wanted, at what locations, with what level of manpower and for how long, to achieve what objectives, Bradin said.
As part of the report, the theater special operations commanders ensured their recommendations were coordinated through the respective chiefs of mission and tied into the theater’s country campaign plan.
“At the end of the day, this allowed us to enumerate all our operational requirements, which is huge,” Bradin said.
The geographic combatant commanders validated the requirements two months later, both in writing and during a video teleconference.
The Joint Staff then gave Socom 120 days to turn the requests into a single, unified plan. That sent Bradin and his planning team back to the drawing board to come up with something never before formulated in Socom’s history: a comprehensive, global special operations forces planning document that matches resources to need.
“This will be a huge plan,” Bradin said. “It will synchronize the planning, the deployment and the posture of all these special operations forces in support of the geographic combatant commands. ... It demonstrates how we intend to align forces to those requirements.”
Once implemented, the plan is expected to provide a framework for more comprehensive and more regular special operations forces engagements in more parts of the world, Bradin said.
“A lot of what we have done in the past, because of necessity, has been very episodic,” he said, often too infrequent and short-term for operators to build strong relationships with partners. “So I think that with the plan in effect, you will see smaller groups [of operators] with more persistent engagement in those areas. By aligning the forces, you will see a lot of the same people going to the same places, so the relationships will build over time. And in the [special operations] community, everything we do is about people and trust.”
The plan won’t satisfy everything commanders would like to see in their areas of responsibility, Bradin conceded.
“The reality is [that] we don’t have enough for everything,” he said. If you do the math, we are hitting about 60 percent of what they ask for. But based on the requirements, and what we are able to resource, the plan actually will allow us to do more than we are currently doing.”
Bradin said he expects the plan to change as it undergoes rigorous staffing by the Joint Staff and across the interagency spectrum. It’s designed to accommodate changing events, requirements and priorities, he said, and likely will need to be updated annually once it’s put into effect, he said.
“This has been a bottom-up, requirement-driven process that required making choices and prioritizing everything we have here, and all of that can change,” Bradin said. “So we have to be adaptive to that. Our goal all along has been to build a plan that synchronizes [Socom’s] activities and operationalizes the defense strategic guidance, while allowing the command to adapt to those changes.”