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Backgrounder with Senior Defense Officials on Special Operations

Presenter: Senior Defense Officials
January 07, 2003

(Backgrounder with Senior Defense Officials on Special Operations)

Staff: All right, thanks for joining us for this continuation, background briefing, is what we this afternoon for you. Most of you know at least our senior defense official, who will be talking to you this afternoon. We also have a senior military official. And those are the two ways you can refer to them in your stories, the attribution for this.

This briefing will go for 29 minutes, since it's one minute after 12:00. We do have to clear out at 12:30.

So with that, I'm going to let both our officials come up here and get this going.

Senior Defense Official: Afternoon, everybody. How are you?

Did you really get five in the last one?

Q:(Off mike.)

Senior Defense Official: Gee, that's pretty good.

Q: Four and a half.

Q: That's what happens when people don't answer questions. (Laughter, cross talk.)

Q: That's not going to happen today, though, is it?

Senior Defense Official: No, because I'm going to start out with two noes. No operational details -- None. Zero. Zip. "Nada" -- about the Special Operations forces, about their missions and activities. We're not talking operations, okay? That's -- we can just get that off the table.

The other is the budget, as you know, is the president's where he's got it. They're shipping it over there in the next few days, in fact today, and they will decide in the next few days on what the final numbers are. So you use numbers and percentages at your own hazard on those.

Let me set some context for you. This is -- this decision about giving the Special Operations Command new responsibilities is of a piece with the broader adjustments that have taken place with respect to the unified commands over the last year or so.

You'll recall we have stood up Northern Command. We have created a new command by merging the old Strat Command and the old Space Command into a new Strategic Command in order to provide the wherewithal for the president to have at his disposal the means to operate on a global scale with strategic capabilities. We made adjustments in Joint Forces Command and its assignments. And then we have worked with the Special Operations Command to adjust it as well. In all four cases, we have been trying to arrange those commands and give them the kinds of responsibilities and authorities that match the needs of the environment we are in and the one we anticipate.

So this is not an odd thing that has taken place, it is of a piece. It is particular with respect to the current war, to be sure; that is to say they have an immediate role to play, and so it has an impact. But it is of a piece with the larger restructuring of the command relationships.

Special Operations Command itself -- just a word on that. There is a unified headquarters, Special Operations Command. There is a Joint Special Operations Command, which is their training and integration command. And then Special Operations Command does have, in each of the theaters out there in the region -- in the regions what is called a TSOC, a Theater Special Operations Command. And it has -- those commands are historically the ones who are involved in much of the planning that takes place within the theater. And they have historically been in the role of supporting the regional combatant commanders. So whether that's CENTCOM or PACOM or EUCOM, Southern Command and so forth, those Theater Special Operations Commands have been in a supporting role to that combatant commander.

The essence of what is being asked here is that in the future, those TSOCs [Theater Special Operations Command], again working back through the unified command at Tampa, through Special Operations Command, could be in a position that they would be supported by the regional combatant commander in a military operation. And that is a significant changes in relationships and gives the Special Operations Commands a bit more flexibility.

What does that mean in practical terms? What it means in practical terms is that the Theater Special Operations Command would have access to Marine units in the region, air units, naval units, Army units and so forth, which would act in response to its direction and control.

In terms of what we've done here -- and I'll give you sort of broad outlines of what we have proposed forward in the budget process and as a result of some of the internal work that has been ongoing since the summer -- we have proposed giving the Special Operations Command an increase in its headquarters staff at Special Operations Command for the purposes of complementing its acquisition capabilities. That is, that command has both an acquisition capability that is related to the acquisition of those material items that are specifically of interest to Special Operations Command and not to other military commands, so they have down there at that command headquarters an acquisition force, but we thought they needed as well an operational planning staff, an expanded operational planning staff in order for the headquarters to be able to do the kind of global planning that is now being expected of it.

We have also managed to add some personnel to the command so that they are able to conduct a wider range of activities simultaneously. I've made mention of the Theater Special Operations Commands. They have been pulsed up a bit as well, in the Pacific Command and in Central Command and elsewhere, again for the purposes of allowing them to be able to do a broader range of planning. And associated with those changes, both at the Tampa headquarters and in the theaters, we've also arranged to provide for the kinds of command and control communications equipment that is needed to be able to plan and execute operations in the kind of time frame and with the level of detail that is necessary in the present day.

We have also made arrangements to repair some of the damage that the command and its elements have suffered to date and to provide something of a, if you will, an attrition reserve, anticipating that there are going to be other -- other losses over the course of the next few years, and in the meanwhile that those forces will augment the forces that presently exist. We have also, I think as the secretary said to you in his earlier comments, looked to divest the command of a number of missions that they are now operating and to free up some of those resources then to devote to the planning and the execution of operations. So broadly, those are the kinds of changes that we have proposed structurally.

And so we can -- (to other official) -- unless you want to make an opening comment or correct anything -- we can take some questions and comments.

Q: Repair what damage? Repair what damage? Lots of people lost equipment, things like that?

Senior Defense Official: Exactly. We've lost several helicopters that you're aware of, and some other equipment as well as some people, so this will help us reconstitute those losses.

Q: Give us a ballpark in the numbers here. Is it roughly 4,000? That's the number we've seen. And also a ballpark on the budget increases here.

Senior Defense Official: As I say, there are numbers in the press, and you're free to make use of those numbers. Until I get a firm number on the wall, I'm not going to be --

Q: Well, I'd rather not rely on someone else's reporting. I mean, can you give us -- is roughly 4,000 -- is that a good number to use? And as far as the budget numbers, is it several billion? Is that at all right?

Senior Defense Official: We have pulsed them up over the course of the FYDP [Fiscal Year Defense Plan], and we have done so in the coming year and those percentages are roughly the same for both; and we've added some people.

Q: But, can't you just tell us what you're asking for? And then, we understand budget realities, and at some point, it might have to be rolled back and things traded off. Why can't you give us the upper end of here's what we'd like, and we might not hit that, but --

Senior Defense Official: If I could give them to you, I'd give them to you.

Q: But you can. (Laughter.) I mean, that's the beauty of being a senior military official. (Laughter.)

Q: Can I ask a question of the gentleman with the copious fruit salad -- (laughter) -- who is not to be identified. Sir, it used to be that an assignment to the Special Operations Command was considered a career-ender for a career military officer. I take it that's no longer the situation.

And the second part of the question is, are you getting the type of recruit that you want in the quantity that you want to fulfill this new mission of yours?

Senior Defense Official: You know, that's a great question. First of all, it is not a career-ender anymore. You know, one of the Title 10 authorities that Special Operations Command got when it stood up was the ability for monitorship of its people and its training and the career progression of those people throughout the services. So, we've done that and we've been very successful in keeping the good-talented people and allow them to grow in our command.

Secondly, the quality of the recruits we're getting is excellent. One of our soft truths is that humans are more important than hardware, and we still believe that. We spend a lot of time and energy in ensuring that we get the right people. The quality of the people that are coming into our force right now are tremendous, and I think we've shown that in the --

Q: (Off mike) -- your needs?

Senior Defense Official: We will in some -- it depends upon what area. We've got a lot of variety and different kinds of units and capabilities throughout Special Operations Command. In some areas, it is harder to get folks than others. But we also have a very critical selection and assessment program, and so we will get the right number of people through those assessments. It will also keep us a little bit short of people most of the time.

Q: In what area is it harder to get folks? Can you say?

Senior Defense Official: Well, right now we're -- I think my context was that it's harder to get folks through that selection and assessment process. You know, we gain most of our folks -- like, for instance, in Army Special Operations Command -- from the big service. So as we recruit these people, getting the right number and then getting them through the entire very lengthy, very difficult course will always keep us a little shorter. We also have some shortages in our MH-47 pilots that we're taking some actions to fix.

Q: Has the quality of the recruits increased significantly since September 11th, 2001?

Senior Defense Official: I --

Q: Or the people who are seeking to be recruited?

Senior Defense Official: I would say that -- I probably shouldn't answer that question. I really don't have that kind of a definition on the exact recruits we're getting --

Q: How about a greater percentage of people trying to get into the Special Operations?

Senior Defense Official: Recruiting is very healthy right now. There are a --

Q: Are you seeing it ramp up at all, or is it steady or --

Senior Defense Official: We've got a steady flow of recruits that are coming into all of our -- even the SEALs, the SF guys, the aviators. And so we're in --

Q: But has it increased, decreased, stayed the same, do you think?

Senior Defense Official: I don't know the statistics, quite frankly.

Q: Sir, is the boost in your headquarters staff really going to improve your ability to manage acquisition programs? SOCOM traditionally hasn't managed too many large acquisition programs. The ASDS [Advanced SEAL Delivery System] is probably the best example of a large, ambitious one. How will this increase in staff help you with things like cost overruns that we've seen in --

Senior Defense Official: Well, we intend to do the same things that we're doing now and -- down at Special Operations Command. This boost in staff will give us the ability to plan at the strategic level, so most of the people that we will be growing will be planners and operations-type people for doing strategic planning.

Q: Sir, you mentioned that the -- the senior Defense official mentioned that the command would be in a position where its actions would be supported by the regional commander. That seems to be really significant at the heart of the changes that you're talking about. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

Senior Defense Official: Why don't you --

Senior Defense Official: Well, it is significant. Once again, going back to when we were established, we are a train, organize and equip command. We were a resource provider. Okay. The regional combatant commanders, as you all know, were the guys that were out there to prosecute the missions.

With this change -- although we've always had it in our charter that we've been able to be a supported commander, it's actually been used very seldom. So with this change, we will have built the connectivity, the headquarters planning and the ability to go out and be a supported commander vice a supporting. It is significant.

Q: You're dropping one of what has been a traditional, very labor-intensive requirements, and that is to train other militaries, specialists, around the world. Part of what you do is to gather intelligence when you do that training. Who picks up the ball there? And does the U.S. military lose something by taking the kind of specialists who had been doing that and replacing them with others who may have a slightly different set of qualifications?

Senior Defense Official: I think you're more absolute in your phrasing of it than is the case. They do training around the globe. I don't remember the last count; I mean, it's a lot of places. And so the question is, to the extent that we can focus that activity and put it in those areas where it nets the highest return, both in training of others and the skills for our people, the familiarization with the regions, and such like that, I think that's the first premise.

The second is who can do these things. Each of the services, obviously, trains its own people, so the training role is something they know how to do. And given the extent of the number of places in which we would like to be able to assist friendly countries, their experiencing doing that kind of training is a plus for us as well.

So I don't see it as a net loss in quite the way that you were phrasing it. I think it's probably a net gain from the point of view of both those trained and our trainers.

Q: How much, quantitatively or qualitatively, do you expect the Special Operations Command will be relieved of this responsibility? Will they drop 20 percent of the training or half of it?

Senior Defense Official: And that's a fair question. And I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that we haven't gotten to that number yet. What we've done is we have set a course that over -- in terms of the budget issues, to get in place these things for '04. So we've got the remainder of the -- they are on a cycle for planning, which we will now begin to effect as we go into '04 and on into '05.

And so the question is now you've got to go upstairs literally and start sitting down and scrubbing down that roster of opportunities that they have, because the combatant commands -- this goes back to the supporting argument -- they bring in, on a yearly basis, requests for the Special Operations people to go into their region to help them to train militaries in their area of responsibility. And so we've got to go back and talk to the regional combatant commanders, have them, you know, scrub down their request lists. I mean, so that's a process we'll do over the next six, eight months.

Q: I just wanted to clarify something. When the TSOC is being supported by a regional commander, will the chain of command just go directly back to Tampa in that instance, or would it still go through the regional commander? How would it work?

Senior Defense Official: As the supported commander, it will be mission-specific. And when the order comes out that tells us how we'll execute that mission, we'll either be the supporting or the supported commander. When we are the supported commander, that regional CINC will be in support of us.

Q: Right. So therefore, the chain of command comes directly from Tampa to TSOC?

Senior Defense Official: Right. It could. It could. I mean, that is one option that's available to us. Of course all this is in coordination with the regional combatant commanders in a well refined and coordinated effort.

Q: Sort of a related question. When a combatant commander needs forces now, he goes to Joint Forces Command and says, "I need these forces for these things."

Is your theater -- your TSOC going to do the same thing, or is your TSOC going to work strictly through the combatant commander to get those forces?

Senior Defense Official: The current mechanism that we use to deploy our forces that we have trained, organized and equipped will remain in place; that will not change. This is simply a different kind of operation. This is transformational. This is where we will be the supported CINC. So a regional combatant commander that wants a Special Forces A Team to come in will request them the same way, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he has always requested an A Team. They will then deploy to that country where they'll be under control of the SOC, the TSOC. Okay?

On some specific missions, based on how the order is written, we could be the supported commander, and then we would just take those forces, deploy those forces, or use forces that are already there, depending upon how the mission is designed, to include conventional forces.

Q: Are there guidelines that you all have as to which missions will be the TSOC in the lead and which missions the combatant commander will continue to --

Senior Defense Official: I think all that is still in the planning process. We're still working through those kind of things. And if I gave you some guidelines right now, I think we'd be premature. So we're working through those pieces of it right now.

Q: You're being relieved of a FID [Foreign Internal Defense] mission in some respect. Can you give us a sense of how other missions may expand, like the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. You've worked closely with the DOE [Department of Energy] over the last decade, with their NEST [Nuclear Emergency Support Team] teams. Will that mission take on greater priority, now that you're going to be a supported CINC?

Senior Defense Official: The --

Q: Greater emphasis, greater manpower designated --

Senior Defense Official: There is a range of things that the command engages in. What we are trying to do is to separate those things which are sort of core missions for the command, to assure that we are properly manned and equipped, and that we have the kind of command and control apparatus, both with respect to the plans and planning, and the execution side of the house. So in terms of trying to look at things like the training mission or the CSAR [combat search and rescue] mission or other kinds of things, you ask yourself, "Can I free up manpower in order to be able to shift them into those core functions?" That's what's going on here.

Q: Can I follow up on that?

Senior Defense Official: Let me get back here.

Q: The phrase "leaning forward" is very popular around here, and clearly the program that you designed has Special Operations Command leaning forward. How much will the footprint of Special Operations Command overseas grow? And how much manpower or money will be devoted to intelligence gathering, and how will that coordinate with other government agencies charged with doing the same?

Senior Defense Official: Let me take that in a couple parts. One of the questions that is -- has been raised and is still in play has to do with means and methods for, if at all possible, reducing the footprint associated with Special Operations operations.

Now how do you do that is a function of technology. It's a function of equipment that you're able to bring to bear, where your people are at the time an operation is ordered, and so forth. And so to -- in part to meet the desire to reduce that footprint, I think, for the first time, we have set aside some R&D money, S&T [science and technology] money, for the command to begin thinking about ways in which it can use technology for the purposes of increasing its combat effectiveness, lowering its footprint and allowing it to move much more quickly into an operation and out. Okay. So that's one.

With respect to its -- let me call it situational awareness, okay, it is a command which -- I mean, part of the reason for having the TSOCs in the regional commands is for the familiarization that is required by the command and its people in order to be able to take advantage of the technology, the placement and the speed with which they can move. Is there any likelihood that that relationship with the regional command and other countries in the region are going to be changed dramatically for any function as a result of this change in mission? I think the answer to that is no, with the underscoring of "dramatic." I mean, you know, insofar as one has to adjust one's planning, you need more information, it will have an effect on, you know, sort of day-to-day activity, but dramatic changes, I don't believe so. But we'll find out over time, I suspect.


Q: Sir, the Special Operations Command has been in a fairly unique position to work with allied forces maybe more closely than other elements in the conventional forces. Is one of the motivating factors behind making the command level changes that you're making in order to facilitate Special Operations Command's peculiar talent in working with other forces, with other nations and other agencies that are nontraditional for DOD forces? In other words, is your interoperability capability across a given theater increased or improved by doing what you're doing with the TSOC?

Senior Defense Official: I mean, I think the need for it is underscored. I don't think it changes --

Senior Defense Official: I don't think it changes anything dramatically. I think it will just allow us to continue on with that kind of operation that we do.

Q: Talk a bit about the attrition reserve that you'd like to set up, and what are the specific areas you'd like to see more capabilities in?

Senior Defense Official: Well, there is always the gear that is lost, damaged and otherwise destroyed in the context of doing things. As (the senior Defense official) pointed out, we've had a number of helicopters lost and damaged, and so you need to keep those kinds of capabilities up to the levels required. And so there is some anticipation that as this conflict goes on, that kind of possibility continues to exist. But the point I want to underscore is that, in the meanwhile as those assets come on line over the next few years, we'll get a step-up in overall capability.

Q: Since you're asking in the budget for more money to ramp this up, where are you going to make the cuts to pay for it?

Senior Defense Official: What aren't we going to do as a result of doing this?

Q: Right.

Senior Defense Official: In part, it has to do with some of the mission sets we're dropping off, but that's not going to make up all of it. Some of it has to do with resources that have been applied to the budget. Part of it is coming out of the services. I mean, they are the ones who are supplying the people and in some cases, are underwriting some of the equipment. So there is a transfer that takes place there.


Q: Can you clarify SOCOM's relationship to law? Do any of these changes require congressional action?

Senior Defense Official: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q: (Off mike.)

Senior Defense Official: Well, I promised him one, and then you had five, so which? (Laughter). No, go ahead.

Q: Okay. Going back to the attrition reserve, you talked about Army helicopters. Regarding Air Force helicopters and their Combat Talons [MC-130], they - AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] pretty much been waiting for the CV-22 to be worked out and has no long-range acquisition plans for other aircraft. Is that changing now, or --

Senior Defense Official: Well, once again, back to the attrition reserve, we have also lost some C-130s. And so, we'll be replacing some C-130s and gaining some capability there. And additionally, we are aggressively seeking the V-22, waiting for it to come on once it's gone through and passed its testing; we're anxious to get the CV-22 online.

Senior Defense Official: We've talked about this before, but let me sort of make the point for you. The V-22 finish goes through its flight test program, and sometime in the spring, we are to get an indication of whether or not it is going to be technically proficient, and therefore capable of being brought into the kinds of environments in which these -- which all of the forces will operate. Okay? So, we'll know that comes springtime.

If the answer is yes, that it is, we are prepared at that time, then, to revisit the question of what the sequencing of deliveries for V-22s might be to the Special Operations Forces. On the present plan, they were to have received their allotment, if you will, of V-22s later in the procurement program.

So, as another item to be sort of checked off as we go through the coming year, again, if we find that we can -- that the air frames are what we wanted and they're going to be viable, then the question will be is there some way that we can begin to accelerate use of those aircraft? And secondly, in the same context, we've talked with our -- with the Marine Corps about how far it would be possible to begin meeting Marine pilots, who will be the first set of pilots going through on the V-22; to bring them in to certification for some of the missions that the special operators have to fly. And thirdly, can we get the Special Operations pilots into the training pipeline sooner than we might otherwise? So all of that is sort of in play.

I promised her a question.

Q: You said -- (inaudible).

Q: No -- (inaudible) -- anything.

Senior Defense Official: Well, only -- you can only get one.

Q: And you'll --

STAFF: And we only have time for two --

Q: Everyone will like this. Besides CSAR [combat search and rescue] and training, which you'll be ratcheting back, are there any other missions you're ratcheting back? And then could you list out for us what you see as the core missions and how much the Marine Corps, as opposed to the other services, are going to be picking up some of that slack?

Senior Defense Official: I'll give you two other examples. One is support airlift. I mean, they -- the -- because the aircraft they have are so clever -- or rather the pilots are so clever and the aircraft so capable, they tend to be called upon to fly certain kinds of missions in high wind conditions, so on and so on, so on. A lot of that is good for training, so there's no question that it's useful to them. But given that you can only have an airplane one place at a time, we'd rather have -- some of the counter-drug operations that are currently done are done in the -- by the command, in the context of Southern Command, in training and things of that sort. And so maybe we ought to think about whether that can be a mission taken over by one or another unit in the armed forces.

So there's a handful of them that we're going through. And I wouldn't check them off as done deals. The question is, where do you -- as you go down that list, I mean, what is it that we think we can do?

In terms of the kinds of the core missions, I mean, I think you got sort of three or four, and I'll let my colleague speak to it. But you know, the command has got to be prepared to assist in the early stages of operations and make -- and so forth, conducting particular special missions during the course of an operation, being certain that it is capable of working with local populations for the purposes of humanitarian relief and other kinds of activities.

And then finally, the kind of training that we talked about a while ago is not going away, Charlie. I mean, it's -- John, it's that it's going to be, you know, a more focused kind of thing.

(To colleague.) Is there anything else --

Senior Defense Official: No, I think that's exactly it. And I'm glad you brought that up, because that was the point I wanted to make earlier when he said we'll be getting rid of FID. We won't be getting rid of FID. We'll just be tailoring it to make it -- us more capable of doing it and using those assets to do other things, as required.

Q: If the V-22 proves out in training, A, why is Special Operations Command so eager to have it earlier than it would have gotten it? And B, when would you think it might actually be used on a Special Operations mission? What's the earliest?

Senior Defense Official: I can't answer the latter. The reason for wanting to consider whether to move it up is because the aircraft, if it proves to be what is promised, has a range in payload and speed and operating attributes that make it a very attractive vehicle, but it also needs to have some other gizmos put into it to make it appropriate for the kinds of use that they put it to. So aligning the delivery of aircraft, the delivery of qualified pilots and the delivery of the gizmos is what we have to look at, assuming that the V-22 passes its test.

Q: Right. Right.

Q: But so --

STAFF: And we'll let that one be the last one.