SOF 2030: an NPS Defense Analysis seminar report
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In spring 2011, an office in the Pentagon presented 14 of us with the opportunity to address “SOF 2030” – what should decision makers be thinking about today in order to prepare SOF for 2030? Members of our group included 4 SEALs; 4 Special Forces officers; 1 Special Forces Warrant Officer; 1 Combat Controller; 1 Marine; 1 Air Force pilot (who’s flown both B-1s and Predators); and an Electronic Warfare Weapons School graduate. These 13 graduate students brought their considerable tactical and operator-level experience to bear: 82 deployments since 9/11. That includes 30 OEF deployments and 22 OIF deployments, along with others to SOUTHCOM, PACOM, and elsewhere. Our ‘deliverable’ was a 50 minute-long unclassified briefing. We did not venture into the specifics of certain DoD programs (and won’t here). We also did not presume to offer a singular set of solutions to decision makers. Instead, we concentrated on the kinds of choices current operators hope decision makers will consider, if for no other reason than to highlight what requires fixing from operators’ perspective. Consequently, we spent a lot of time wrestling with how SOF 2011 could, and arguably should, be enhanced and re-oriented to guarantee the best possible SOF for 2030. With this approach SOF would build on its core competencies. But we also took a second approach and explored the idea of “shedding.” With shedding, SOF would develop cutting edge capabilities and hand off as many of these as possible to the General Purpose Forces (GPF). Irregular Warfare (IW) drew much of our attention because we considered the fixes to the Direct Action (DA) side of the house to be (perhaps not uncoincidentally) much more straightforward than those required to build proficient 21st century IW forces. Our takeaway for DA? Concentrate on retention. Our takeaways for IW? Recruitment, assessment, and selection need to be improved; the pool needs to be broadened; SF, in particular, needs to be more honest about what “by, with, and through” requires; more robust regional expertise has to be built in; and SOF-Interagency relations need to be rethought.