Archive for the ‘Special Forces News’ Category

SOCOM: The Year in Review

April 5, 2012
A U.S. Navy SEAL team member with Special Operations Task Force-South provides security overwatch via rooftop for fellow coalition service members and Afghan commandos with the Afghan National Army’s 3rd Commando Kandak, during a village clearing operation May 6, 2011, in Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Missions such as these are conducted on a regular basis to hinder Taliban influence throughout the province and increase security for the general populace. DoD photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook

As the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) prepared for its 25th anniversary in April 2012, it and its four service components were among the few elements of the military not facing major downsizing and funding cuts. Indeed, as combat operations in Southwest Asia continued to draw down, the impact special operators have had there and elsewhere around the world since 9/11 led the Department of Defense (DoD) to expand their size and capabilities, despite the austerity of the FY 2012 defense budget.

A Marine sniper with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operation Command, provides security from the back of an M-ATV during a medical engagement as part of a pre-deployment exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., May 15, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

Perhaps the most public issue involving SOCOM in 2011 was the raid by a Navy SEAL team in Pakistan that killed al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who had been the primary target of U.S. forces for a decade.

Under the cover of darkness on May 1, 2011, helicopters carrying SEALs and other SOCOM personnel landed at bin Laden’s compound, only 30 miles from the Pakistani capital city, and killed the terrorist leader and several followers. Suffering only the loss of a helicopter (reportedly a top-secret stealth aircraft) wrecked in a landing accident, the team returned to base in Afghanistan with a wealth of intelligence information.

The raid was planned by then-Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a component of the broader SOCOM. McRaven literally wrote the book on special operations missions – Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice (1995) – and much of the bin Laden raid seemed to come straight from its pages. Three months later, he was awarded his fourth star and promoted to command of SOCOM.

But while the death of bin Laden topped the public perspective, it was the day-to-day efforts of the Navy Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) – all under SOCOM leadership – that provided critical value to U.S. foreign relations and military operations.

A U.S. Navy SEAL team member with Special Operations Task Force-South provides security overwatch via rooftop for fellow coalition service members and Afghan commandos with the Afghan National Army’s 3rd Commando Kandak, during a village clearing operation May 6, 2011, in Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Missions such as these are conducted on a regular basis to hinder Taliban influence throughout the province and increase security for the general populace. DoD photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook

As the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) prepared for its 25th anniversary in April 2012, it and its four service components were among the few elements of the military not facing major downsizing and funding cuts. Indeed, as combat operations in Southwest Asia continued to draw down, the impact special operators have had there and elsewhere around the world since 9/11 led the Department of Defense (DoD) to expand their size and capabilities, despite the austerity of the FY 2012 defense budget.
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command

A Marine sniper with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operation Command, provides security from the back of an M-ATV during a medical engagement as part of a pre-deployment exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., May 15, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

Perhaps the most public issue involving SOCOM in 2011 was the raid by a Navy SEAL team in Pakistan that killed al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who had been the primary target of U.S. forces for a decade.

Under the cover of darkness on May 1, 2011, helicopters carrying SEALs and other SOCOM personnel landed at bin Laden’s compound, only 30 miles from the Pakistani capital city, and killed the terrorist leader and several followers. Suffering only the loss of a helicopter (reportedly a top-secret stealth aircraft) wrecked in a landing accident, the team returned to base in Afghanistan with a wealth of intelligence information.

The raid was planned by then-Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a component of the broader SOCOM. McRaven literally wrote the book on special operations missions – Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice (1995) – and much of the bin Laden raid seemed to come straight from its pages. Three months later, he was awarded his fourth star and promoted to command of SOCOM.

But while the death of bin Laden topped the public perspective, it was the day-to-day efforts of the Navy Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) – all under SOCOM leadership – that provided critical value to U.S. foreign relations and military operations.

“The American people will expect us to be prepared for every contingency, to answer every call to arms, to venture where other forces cannot and to win every fight – no matter how tough or how long,” according to McRaven.

“How tough” was demonstrated only three months after the bin Laden raid, when a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade hit an Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook, killing all 38 U.S. and Afghan military aboard – including 17 SEALs and five NSWC support personnel. It was the worst single loss of life in the history of Navy special warfare or SOCOM – and the highest single-day U.S. death toll in 10 years of combat in Afghanistan.

But not every “call to arms” involves combat. At any given moment, about 20 percent of SOCOM’s combined force of 60,000 is deployed, not only to the war in Afghanistan, but to 78 other nations as well in 2011. Most of those missions involved working with host nation militaries, training exercises, humanitarian relief, and enhancing U.S. global presence. That included Japanese tsunami relief efforts and response to other natural disasters around the world.

Romanian and Croatian special operations forces conduct fast rope familiarization training with soldiers from the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group on a Chinook helicopter from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in Romania, Sept. 15, 2011. Jackal Stone is an annual multinational special operations exercise designed to promote cooperation and interoperability between participating forces, build functional capacity, and enhance readiness. 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment photo

After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 33-foot tsunami devastated large areas of northern Japan on March 11, 2011, members of the 353rd Special Operations Group at Sendai Airport handled the arrivals and departures of more than 250 aircraft during Operation Tomodachi, which delivered some 2.3 million pounds of humanitarian aid.

Special operators (Special Forces is a specific designation for those most people know as the Army Green Berets) bear little resemblance to their typical Hollywood depictions. On average, they are 29 (enlisted) or 34 (officer) years old; married, with at least two children; have spent eight years in general purpose forces; have a college degree; have received intensive cultural and language training while attending multiple advanced tactical schools; are athletes (not only football, but track and water polo); and enjoy problem-solving games, such as chess.

Neither are they exclusively male, nor are female members relegated to “office” duty. Women in SOCOM Cultural Support Teams (CSTs) and Female Treatment Teams (FTTs) (which include women from coalition special operations units) go into the field in Afghanistan every day, providing medical care and educational support to Afghan women and girls. While not technically a combat operation, they nonetheless often face hostile reactions in a culture where women traditionally have been kept in the shadows.

The first six-month FTT rotation was initiated in June 2011, as multiple teams moved out across Afghanistan.

“Our mission was to have female medical providers go out into the villages and train the local village women, uneducated women, on basic health care, like treating a fever or recognizing different illnesses,” an FTT officer in charge said as that first rotation drew to a close. “We teach the women to know if they can treat them in the villages or if they need to take them to the hospital.”

SOCOM officials said the CST and FTT efforts were an extension of the “Five Truths” the command states on its website:

  1.     Humans are more important than hardware. People – not equipment – make the critical difference. The right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with the equipment available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of the right people.
  2.     Quality is better than quantity. A small number of people, carefully selected, well trained and well led, are preferable to larger numbers of troops, some of whom may not be up to the task.
  3.     Special operations forces (SOF) cannot be mass-produced. It takes years to train operational units to the level of proficiency needed to accomplish difficult and specialized SOF missions. Intense training – both in SOF schools and units – is required to integrate competent individuals into fully capable units. This process cannot be hastened without degrading ultimate capability.
  4.     Competent special operations forces cannot be created after emergencies occur. Creation of competent, fully mission-capable units takes time. Employment of fully capable special operations capability on short notice requires highly trained and constantly available SOF units in peacetime.
  5.     Most special operations require non-SOF assistance. The operational effectiveness of deployed forces cannot be, and never has been, achieved without being enabled by joint service partners. The support of Air Force, Army, Marine, and Navy engineers, technicians, intelligence analysts, and the numerous other professions who contribute to SOF have substantially increased SOF capabilities and effectiveness throughout the world.In 2011, SOCOM and its components launched efforts to update equipment, performance, and capabilities across a wide range of weapons, vehicles, and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. How those will fare under the new budget – despite its favorable treatment of nearly all things SOF – remains to be seen, but in terms of a pre-budget 2011 year in review, senior officials outlined what they ultimately want to enhance special ops.

Among those were:

  •     A SOCOM request for information for a notional “Kibosh” 40 mm Low Velocity Non-Lethal Delivery System(LVNLDS) for use on a wide range of grenade launchers. With a firing range from 150 to 300 feet, according to the request for information, it would dispense at least 90 percent of a liquid or gas payload into a vehicle, vessel, or room without fully penetrating the space or harming the individuals inside.
  •     Flatter trajectory rounds to provide increased energy and extreme range accuracy for 7.62 mm, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338-caliber, and .50-caliber sniper systems.
  •     An integrated sound suppressor “with no reduction in barrel/suppressor life.”
  •     Weapons signature reduction (IR/thermal) “that is adaptable to transitional environments” and reductions in barrel temperature (IR signature), vibration (accuracy and recoil), and weight.
  •     A “simple, reliable, inexpensive time delay timer” (mechanical or electrical).

A man-portable – and optionally airborne – organic precision strike system capable of a “catastrophic kill” against enemy personnel in moving or stationary open, light structures and vehicles at ranges from 6 to 15 kilometers.

Two indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts, awarded in September 2011, for the design, build, delivery,  and testing of a replacement for the SEALs’ two-decade-old 11-meter Special Warfare Rigid Inflatable Boats.

Changes of leadership also marked 2011, at SOCOM and half its service components. That began on June 24 at AFSOC, as Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel replaced retiring Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster. NSWC followed suit on June 30 when Rear Adm. Edward Winters III transferred command to Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus. On Aug. 8, the first SEAL to lead SOCOM, Adm. Eric T. Olson, turned the joint command over to another SEAL, Adm. William H. McRaven.

A U.S. Navy SEAL team member with Special Operations Task Force-South provides security overwatch via rooftop for fellow coalition service members and Afghan commandos with the Afghan National Army’s 3rd Commando Kandak, during a village clearing operation May 6, 2011, in Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Missions such as these are conducted on a regular basis to hinder Taliban influence throughout the province and increase security for the general populace. DoD photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook

As they prepared for the ongoing drawdown in Southwest Asia and expected deep budget cuts in 2011, SOCOM and component leaders looked back to the history and current status of special operations and formulated plans to further evolve the force in 2012 and beyond:

SOCOM (2,500 command personnel) – Adm. William H. McRaven

“As we look to the future security environment,” McRaven said before the House Armed Services Committee Emerging Threats And Capabilities Subcommitee, “we see emerging technologies that empower populations and non-state actors to challenge traditional nation-states. Gaining fundamental understanding of the underlying causes and conditions of conflict in this emergent landscape, beyond the specific threats and ideologies, is central to anticipating and deterring costly conventional military engagements. …

“SOF’s decade-long partnership in Colombia assisted that democracy in the effective security force development necessary to reclaim its sovereign territory from narcoterrorists. Similar outcomes continue today via work with partner-nation security forces throughout Central and South America, Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and across Africa and the Middle East. These under-reported, yet vital, contributions are prioritized and targeted in support of the collective security requirements outlined in national policy,” he said.

NAVSPECWARCOM (8,900 personnel) – Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus

“… We’ve evolved from maritime warriors armed with KA-BARs, fins, and explosive charges,” Pybus said during an interview commemorating the SEALs’ 50th anniversary, “to SEALs using sophisticated technology to confirm the identity of enemy combatants or employing unmanned aerial vehicles in the middle of a landlocked country to locate and target terrorist elements. … I am expecting that while the conventional forces are drawing down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demand for SOF – and NAVSOF – will continue to increase, the Department of Defense has had to take some significant budget cuts and is bracing for more. This reduced resourcing environment will obviously make further growth challenging. … There will be tough decisions ahead with regard to what does and does not get funded. …

“For the past decade, NSW has devoted much of its resources to supporting land warfare capabilities in the CENTCOM AOR at the expense of our surface and undersea platforms. … Ultimately, I envision a family of craft for NSW, much like the family of special operations vehicles used for SOF ground mobility,” he said.

USASOC (28,500 personnel) – Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland

“Regardless of where along the range of capabilities one points,” Mulholland states on a USASOC fact sheet, “be it the ability to execute the most lethal, highly complex and sensitive special operations, wage unconventional warfare, conduct special operations rotary wing operations or prosecute civil military and influence operations and tailored sustainment to it all – the world standard is found within our Army’s special operations force.”

“On any given day, elements of three of the five active duty Special Forces groups, one Ranger battalion, some 34 special operations aircraft, more than 35 Civil Affairs teams, 35 Military Information Support Operations teams and numerous supporting logistics units are deployed around the world.”

An AC-130U gunship flies a local training mission Jan. 27, 2011, over Hurlburt Field, Fla. The gunship is the primary weapon of Air Force Special Operations Command, and its primary missions are close-air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance. The gunship is assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock

AFSOC (15,000 personnel) – Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel

“I cannot imagine any other command in the Air Force that is more forward postured and forward deployed than AFSOC,” Fiel stated in the July 2011 Hurlburt Warrior. “We usually provide one hell of a punch to any combatant commander. There’s not much a SOF team can’t solve. We are a relatively cheap organization with high payoff … But I think we need to focus on quality, not quantity, because the bigger you get, the harder it is to maintain that quality edge.

“Today, AFSOC is changing. AFSOC will continue to change. We will continue to focus on who we are and what it means to be the specialized air arm of the SOF team. We will stay committed to the high standards that have made us who we are.”

MARSOC (2,600 personnel) – Maj. Gen. Paul E. Lefebvre

“We have made great progress in our contributions to SOCOM in the last five years,” Lefebvre said in a recent interview. “The commander of SOCOM has assigned MARSOC focus areas that have allowed us to tailor the pre-deployment training for MARSOC operators in order to maximize our capabilities in languages and become more culturally attuned to the areas we believe are key today and for the future. We have established great relationships with a host of individuals and established superb rapport with a number of host- and partner-nation militaries. …

“Although we are relatively young, we bring 235 years of ethos that has thrived in chaos and friction and is comfortable in the uncertainty of combat. We will never be happy with the status quo – we are fixers and innovators and we must keep pressure on the system. Our goal will never be to merely participate, it will be to lead the effort.”

A quarter century after becoming the nation’s first congressionally created major military command, SOCOM not only has grown from its original few adopted units to four full-service components, but has accomplished a major turnaround from SOF’s darkest moment in the ill-fated 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran. As a result, although 2011 ended with a reduced defense spending bill, forcing even deeper cuts by all the services than those already being planned for, SOCOM and its components remained on a growth path.

Without a major turnaround in the U.S. – and global – economy, even more budget cuts are expected. Eventually, the special operations community is likely to come under the knife as well.

However that may play out as the decade progresses, it began with both the highest and lowest moments in SOCOM history. But 2011 also validated the broad expanse of SOF activities, including the Japanese tsunami relief efforts and multiple combat and civil interactions, large and small, on nearly every continent.

McRaven ended 2011 as runner-up to an amalgamated global protester as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” – but claimed the title of Dallas Morning News’ “Texan of the Year.” While his life largely has been spent in the shadows, quietly doing jobs he could not talk about, the publicity that sought him out in his first few months in command of SOCOM did help his effort toward a unique goal – winning public attention, understanding, and support for his special operators.

“Do we wear different uniforms? Do we have beards? Do we ride horses? Absolutely. That’s part of what the special operations guys do. But they do it all within a framework of good order and discipline, because everybody knows that as soon as that breaks down, then your ability to get the mission done breaks down,” he told the Dallas newspaper, reflecting the six basic principles to success outlined in his book – simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose.

“We can’t afford to be cavalier. We can’t afford to be cowboys. You have to plan meticulously. You have to make sure that everything you do is tactically sound. So if you’re cavalier or loose about something … if you don’t do the small things well, you won’t do the big things well.”

And as he told Time, “All in all, a pretty good year.

“This is what we do,” he said. “We do raids. We fly in by helicopters, we assault compounds, we grab the bad guy or whatever is required and we get out. Admittedly, that particular operation [bin Laden] was a lot sportier, a lot further, a lot more political ramifications, a lot riskier for a lot of reasons, but, basically, similar to things that we do every night.”

This article was first published in Defense: Winter 2012 Review Edition.


 

U.S. Army and USSOCOM Strengthen Ties

Odierno speech at AUSA Winter 2012 stresses connections and synergies

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno speaks at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare Winter Symposium and Exposition in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Feb. 24, 2012. U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez

Speaking at the 2012 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Winter Symposium and Exhibition in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno pointed to strengthening ties between the Army and United States Special Operations Command. As evidence, he pointed to a meeting between himself, USSOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven, and their respective staffs, which was held in Tampa on Feb. 23.

“I just spent yesterday up at Special Operations Command, where we had the first Army/Special Operations Command talks,” he said. “Why did we do this? Adm. McRaven and I have worked for several years together in the Middle East and realize how important it is to sustain a long-term relationship between conventional and special operations forces. They cannot operate without the support of the Army. And there are many missions that they know they must go forward with that will require support from the Army. It’s important for us to understand that.”

Elaborating on the meeting, he added, “I brought down the whole Army staff to Tampa, where we met with the USSOCOM staff and talked about issues; about how we are going to continue to work together on some key aspects. They realize and we realize that we are linked – we are not inextricably linked. And I believe as we go through the Army Force Generation process there will be forces that are aligned with Special Operations Command as they conduct their worldwide counter-terrorism mission, and as they do some other functions that they are given.”

In terms of near term concrete actions, Odierno pointed to an agreement “to do a couple of CTC [Combat Training Center] rotations together; to work out some concepts that we have never looked at before; where we believe it will be important for us to work together, especially in a time of emergency.”

“So I think that relationship is strong,” he said. “And one of the things we kept talking about is how proud we should be of our Army SOF. They are fundamentally the base of Special Operations Command. The sacrifices they have made have been great. And the relationships that they have developed over these last 10 years cannot be lost. We all recognize that.”

The continuing criticality of Army Special Operations Forces was further emphasized when Odierno cited a planned “growth” of Army SOF within a declining overall service force structure, with a targeted growth end state of 35,000 personnel.

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