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Special Ops Civilian Chief Speaks of Future of Community

Airmen participate in exercise.
Special operators engage enemies during a training scenario in Arizona, Jan. 25, 2023. The Air Force’s 24th Special Operations Wing is the U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air-ground integration force. It enables global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Carly Kavish
VIRIN: 230125-F-UB655-0698Y

Special operations forces are carefully, but quickly, adjusting their mission sets to account for the world of strategic competition, said Christopher Maier, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict. 

Maier, who spoke yesterday at the Special Operations Forces Week Conference in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for overseeing and advocating for special operations throughout the Defense Department.  

He also ensures special ops forces have the right capabilities, and that the forces are ready for their missions under the National Defense Strategy.  

As such, Maier is sort of a cross between a policy advisor and a service secretary. When Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks to the service secretaries, Maier is there. 

Maier also advocates for special operations capabilities. "Even as we continue our well-established roles of counterterrorism and crisis response, we are increasingly challenged to show our value in integrated deterrence and campaigning," he said. "My team and I work daily to ensure the value proposition of SOF against strategic competitors is accounted for and incorporated into the department's processes and planning and most importantly in decisions." 

Maier works to ensure special operations capabilities are considered in everything from war games to budget decisions. The "value proposition" of special ops forces needs to be baked into the National Defense Strategy, he said. "It's very important that this community not only understands that for themselves, but also that it is not exclusively this community that is advancing that value proposition," he said.  

Part of the value proposition is special operations forces' extensive and deep relationships with partners and allies around the globe, Maier said. "These generational relationships enable SOF to expose vulnerabilities, identify opportunities and create enduring advantage over our competitors — many of whom have very few, if any, allies and partners," he said. 

Included in this is the fact that special operations forces have access and influence generated by long-term commitments to building partner capacity and improving interoperability. This provides "expanded low-cost options to gain awareness, shape the operating environment, and present adversaries with multiple dilemmas," Maier said. "We provide these options to policy makers across the spectrum of competition, often without needing to risk high profile U.S. military presence or major financial investments." 

A paratrooper stands at rear or aircraft just before jumping out.
Special Forces
A U.S. Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Beret prepares to jump out of a Boeing C-130 transport aircraft during a joint operation with Canadian special forces. The service members were participating in Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center rotation 23-2 in Alaska, March 31, 2023.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Steven E. Lopez
VIRIN: 230331-A-KI441-011Y

Finally, special operators have the multidomain skills and expertise needed to provide leaders with creative, tailorable and asymmetric options that can create dilemmas and alter decision making for adversaries, he said.  

Looking to the future, Maier emphasized people, technologies and organizations. "These three dimensions will be part of a future operating concept that we have been developing jointly with [U.S. Special Operations Command] that will detail our vision for SOF to operate alongside the joint force in the future and guide force design considerations," he said. 

People will always be the lead in any special operations consideration. "In the future, investing in our people is a cornerstone to ensure SOF is ready to take on our nation's toughest challenges because it is not a question of if, but when, the call will come," he said.  

Airmen lower a pallet to a submarine.
Navy SEALs
Navy SEALs participate in a special operations forces interoperability exercise aboard the USS Florida and an Air Force CV-22 Osprey, Feb. 26, 2023. The Florida is an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine.
Photo By: Air Force Tech Sgt. Westin Warburton
VIRIN: 230226-F-WT432-0025Y

"We also continue to prioritize a diverse, capable force by removing barriers to participation in advancement in SOF — an operational imperative — if we are to succeed in an ever more complex geopolitical environment and remain the most lethal SOF enterprise the world has ever known," he continued. 

On the tech side, all leaders must ensure special operators are at the cutting edge of what is possible, Maier said. His office and U.S. Special Operations Command jointly issued capabilities and programming guidance that forms the basis of procurement for the next five years. SOF also must be a leader in integrating data-driven technologies.

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