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Views Of US Military Analysts On Use Of Special Operations Forces In Multi-Domain Operations

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Views Of US Military Analysts On Use Of Special Operations Forces In Multi-Domain Operations

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This text is based on the analysis of Colonel O. Metrov published in Foreign Military Review 2019 #10; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

The study, the analysis and generalisation of the results of the use of the US Armed Forces (AF), including their Special Operations Forces (SOF), over the past few years – all this formed the basis for the content of the recently released concept for multi-domain operations “Joint Forces Command of the SOF – 2030”. This document sets out promising direction for the construction and application of the SOF, taking into account the experience of their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and several other African countries, and also outlines ways to improve their effectiveness in conducting combat operations.

In accordance with the new approaches of the military departments to this issue, the SOF commander was tasked in raising the capability and equipment of the Special Forces as the most popular component of the Armed Forces in the new conditions of the military-political situation.

For these goals, for fiscal year 2020, the Joint Command (JC) of the SOF is allocated $13.8 billion. By 2030, it is planned to increase the annual allocation to 20 billion dollars.

According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), special operations have already gone beyond combat support and have become an independent part of the actions of the Armed Forces, including at the strategic level in all areas of confrontation. At the same time, the tasks, forms and methods of their combat application are partially transferred to general forces.

In general, the role of the SOF in the system of ensuring US military security is determined by their increasing importance, which the current leadership of the country uses as a priority in solving international issues, the aggravation of the competition between the world centres of power for expanding their spheres of influence, the possibility of achieving the goals of political and armed confrontation by covertly influencing various critical objects of a likely enemy using modern means of destruction, as well as improving the mechanisms of deterrence of the opposing side and expanding the range of tasks assigned to the forces and means of special operations.

According to American military analysts, the place of the SOF in the overall system is justified by the following factors:

  • the increasing dependence of decision-making by the military and political leadership of the enemy state on the potential possibility of hitting its critical facilities;
  • the concentration of managerial, financial, scientific, technical and economic potentials of industrialised countries in a limited number of large industrial centres, their dependence on those infrastructure facilities that make the economy of these states vulnerable to enemy influences;
  • high dependence of the effectiveness of special actions of groups of troops (forces) of the probable enemy on the stability and efficiency of their information and intelligence and support systems;
  • accurate selective destruction of objects, including minimising negative consequences for the population and the environment;
  • the ability to use the forces and means of the SOF in military conflicts of any scale and intensity, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations;
  • the use of SOFs both independently and in conjunction with general purpose forces, while improving the effectiveness of the latter.

The total number of Special Operations units is constantly increasing. In the future, it is planned to increase it to 100 thousand people. US interests are global in nature, and SOFs are the most popular component of the Armed Forces. In particular, about 900 soldiers of the ground forces and Marines are involved in joint ground operations on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic as part of the joint operational formation of the SOF “Syria”.

Views Of US Military Analysts On Use Of Special Operations Forces In Multi-Domain Operations

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In addition, the operational formation of the SOF of different compositions are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Colombia, Djibouti, the Philippines and a number of other states.

The relevance of developing a new concept is due, according to the American military leadership, to a combination of three factors:

  • unprecedented in its pace of scientific, and technological progress, miniaturisation and intellectualisation of control systems, intelligence and fire destruction, the widespread use of new algorithms in strategy and tactics, technologies for analysing large amounts of information that provide high-speed decision-making;
  • the presence of diverse geopolitical challenges;
  • the changing nature of armed conflicts, affecting absolutely all areas of confrontation.

It is these forces that have a number of advantages over other forces:

  • the ability to train and equip armed formations, opposition authorities from the local population to conduct non-traditional special actions;
  • the availability of opportunities for conducting operations using both selective strikes by means of high-precision fire destruction (conduct precision operations), and subversive actions by non-military means to organise “colour revolutions” within countries where US interests are affected and large-scale information actions. At the same time, the range and technological capabilities of non-military assets have significantly increased. In particular, they provide:
    • timely response to crisis situations;
    • a reliable assessment of the capabilities of the friendly and hostile local population and influence them accordingly;
    • effective combat use of interspecific groups of troops (forces).

But the SOF also has some shortcomings that were identified both in the course of daily activities and the performance of combat missions.

The main outstanding issues, as noted in the concept referred:

  • insufficient amount of time provided to military personnel for rehabilitation between missions to advanced zones;
  • an increase in the number of retired specialists who returned from combat zones, and as a result, the presence of problems with the recruitment of units involved in operations in forward zones;
  • increased burden on the personnel, despite the overall growth in the number of units and the creation of training brigades (military instructors) in ground forces;
  • the increase in the number of suicides due to the deterioration of the moral and psychological state of the personnel;
  • low level of training of the national guard and reserve SOF formations in the organisation of suppression of terrorist groups using non-traditional forms and methods of warfare;
  • special purpose units (SPU) perform tasks that are not typical for them (escorting columns, clearing areas of the terrain, ensuring the protection of command posts, military equipment parks and maintaining law and order);
  • non-compliance of the regulatory framework with the specifics of conducting secret special operations in forward zones;
  • lack of mechanisms for interagency cooperation in the post-conflict settlement of the situation in crisis areas of the world, such as in Syria.

The idea of the concept is to target the SOF for use in difficult to predict conditions of the military-political situation. The document states that special attention should be paid to the following five main aspects:

  1. Providing global maneuverability (Global Deep Maneuver), which requires the SOF to the able to transfer the necessary forces and assets in a short time and increase their operational and tactical independence for autonomous actions to a depth of 500 km. These formations should be able to operate at various stages of a globally integrated campaign and in all areas of confrontation. One of the goals of the SOF’s actions in globally integrated operations is to establish control over the centres of activity of young people and various social groups, over national and religious movements, and over the process of forming cultural values.
  2. Creation and use of universal special purpose units (Hyper-Enabled Teams), which must be compatible (but remain self-sufficient) with all components of interspecific groups of troops (forces) that have integrated capabilities to inflict fire damage to the enemy not only on land, but also in other operational areas. These detachments, having a network structure and equipped with advanced weapons, military and special equipment (armaments and military and special purpose equipment), should ensure the actions of united groups in any theater.
  3. Increasing the functionality, that is, the SOFs must have the necessary flexibility to quickly move to the implementation of tasks in a difficult situation, deploy troops in advanced areas, and promptly apply the necessary forces and means in a specific location.
  4. Ensuring the ability to adapt to the battlefield in a timely manner, that is, special formations must learn to perform tasks in the new operational environment through the introduction of advanced technology, advanced training of personnel, conducting war games and experiments.
  5. Maintaining close cooperation in all operational areas with general forces, federal agencies, allies and partners, which will achieve a synergistic effect.

The concept emphasized that in the future, US adversaries will take advantage of geopolitical, socio-economic and technological changes taking place in the world in order to limit American influence and prohibit access of their Armed Forces to certain areas.

In particular, the Arctic, the South China Sea and the Middle East are regions where competition is growing. This will happen in all areas of the conflict. Moreover, the focus should be on outer space and cyberspace, where the opponents will intend to achieve superiority in peacetime.

The document states that, taking into account the forecast of the development of the operational situation in the near future, the weapons systems will operate in areas of restricted (prohibited) access to combat areas and in contested areas of confrontation, while solving the following tasks:

  • countering terrorists and preventing them from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction;
  • strengthening of special actions at the stage of threat of aggression;
  • uncovering threats, reducing risks and creating “windows of opportunity” for the use of interspecies groups of troops (forces) during an armed conflict.

The first task is traditional for special formations, and the ways to solve it remain mostly the same and has been applied in practice more than once.

Strengthening of special actions at the stage of threat of aggression is achieved through the deployment of advanced groups of troops in different parts of the world. Using their unique combat capabilities to conduct covert pre-emptive operations, SOF military formations contribute to the expansion of the so-called competitive environment, which is defined as the state between peace and war. At the same time, the opponents use methods of coercion to achieve strategic goals, without resorting to the outbreak of open armed conflict.

In the course of such tasks, the SOFs train and equip the host country’s armed resistance forces as part of unconventional deterrence measures. A feature of recent military conflicts is the fact that military advisers are directly involved in the organisation and use of resistance forces, and are not only used as instructors.

The rebel detachments created by these forces can be used together with other formations to disable the enemy’s missile launchers, air defence facilities and transport communications.

In addition, there is an informational and psychological impact on local target audiences. The civilian population is mobilised to organise strikes, acts of civil disobedience, as well as to collect information about the activities of the enemy.

The third task is solved in the course of an armed conflict. Special formations will be used in the interests of violating the enemy’s plans to restrict (prohibit) access of the US Armed Forces to the areas of operation and organise maneuvers in depth of combat formations and directly in the rear.

When entering restricted areas, SOFs perform special actions in them for a specified period of time (no more than 15 days). To develop success in these territories, joint efforts of the SOFs, other types of the US Armed Forces, allies and partners will be required. But this process, as military experts suggest, will be very resource-intensive.

Maneuver in depth of the battle lines and behind enemy lines is a pre-emptive measure that will be used by special units in order to influence the situation and create problematic moments for the opposing side. It is the ability to influence conditions in areas inaccessible to general forces that will be classified as critical capabilities of the SOF. Egos will require administrative and operational changes to their structure. The concept states that they should be based on the need to ensure the adaptability, integration and flexibility of special operations forces.

Adaptability implies the introduction of high technologies and countering new challenges through the use of new approaches to the application of SOFs.

Unity is the ability to attract the best specialists, implement the most modern systems, and develop concepts developed not only in the ministry of defence, but also in other federal agencies.

Flexibility enables proactive action and rapid response to crises on a global scale. It is assumed that the plan of the global company will be implemented while meeting the requirements of the regional orientation of training units and divisions. Interspecific SOF formations designed to perform a specific list of tasks will have the ability to operate in several functional areas. If necessary, they can be reinforced by general purpose military units attached to them.

The document stresses that the restructuring structure of the groups must be clearer and more specific. It is planned to create new universal special forces units that should be authorised to conduct operations in all operating environments.

Views Of US Military Analysts On Use Of Special Operations Forces In Multi-Domain Operations

US military file image via Reuters

One of the sections of the concept provides a new definition of the concept of “goal” in relation to the cognitive domain of confrontation, which implies public consciousness and covers knowledge, information, needs, motives, values, attitudes, interests and other empirical elements of the social world contained in socio-economic, socio-political and socio-cultural areas.

In modern conditions, in order to achieve geopolitical goals, according to the leadership of the US Department of Defense, the relevant units of the SOF are faced with the task of undermining the views and values of people’s worldview and laying false goals of socio-political development in the minds of the population of the opposing states.

Changes in the nature of special events associated with increasing the importance of various methods of remote influence on the enemy are determined by the following: the use of high-tech weapons, the expansion of space warfare; increasing the depth separation of the forces; the increased activity of defensive measures; and the increasing importance of reconnaissance and sabotage actions behind enemy lines; the implementation of a concentrated supply instead of creating a dispersed inventory of armaments and military and special purpose equipment and other material resources on-site theater. All this requires increased intellectualisation and robotization of weapons.

In the traditional sense the goal is defined as an object or a boundary in physical environments. At the same time, new challenges make it necessary to focus forces and resources on achieving other types of goals – informational and cognitive. With this in mind, the concept of “goal” should be expanded and supplemented not only by objects in the cognitive domain (population), but also in cyberspace and the radio frequency spectrum. Goals are currently becoming multi-domain and will continue to be so in the future.

In order to gain advantageous positions in all areas of confrontation, the SOF command will attract a new generation of highly qualified specialists, united as part of universal detachments. To conduct successful special actions in difficult conditions, the SOF management should be able to form teams of professionals with a wide range of skills and abilities.

For example, a combat mission may require the creation of a consolidated unit whose personnel must be able to effectively apply information technologies in cyberspace, use the capabilities of space communications and intelligence, and be able to covertly penetrate deep behind enemy lines.

The system of interaction (in the American terminology “networking”) of universal special forces units provides for the organisation of interaction between these units, with general forces and various departments, paying special attention to the possibilities of establishing contacts with formations that have similar deployment areas, which will allow for a synergistic effect.

Traditional training programmes will be supplemented with information training courses, which will allow simulating complex conditions of the likely situation and improve the effectiveness of contact between different formations. One of the important aspects is to ensure the compatibility of educational programmes with the educational process of various types of the US and allied armed forces. War games and experimental activities also play an important role in the SOF construction process. In this regard, it is planned to create an experimental formation within the central command, which will solve the problems of testing new tactical techniques and methods of conducting special operations, as well as issues of testing a promising armaments and military and special purpose equipment.

The concept states that pilot activities to raise awareness among troops will focus on the following main areas:

  • improving management and communications at the operational and tactical levels to support global special operations;
  • prevention and disruption of the enemy’s actions to create zones of restriction (prohibition) of access to areas of operations to ensure the transfer of troops from their permanent locations and organise their access to advanced zones, as well as the creation of “windows of opportunity” for joint groups of troops (forces) in the course of an armed conflict;
  • performing a maneuver in the depth of the enemy’s battle lines in order to penetrate to its vulnerable places in both peacetime and wartime;
  • gain in-depth knowledge of likely areas of operation (combat operations) through the use of non-traditional, non-military, information, intelligence and other sources;
  • concealment of unmasking signs of troops in physical environments, cyberspace, and the radio frequency spectrum under conditions of active use of detection tools by the enemy.

The final section of the document under review is “Risk Reduction”. It states that the main risks of implementing this concept are related to the following areas: combat readiness; sudden use of new technologies by the enemy; bureaucratic obstacles and vulnerability of military families. To continuously analyse and reduce such risks, the SOF will continue to work together with the US Armed Forces and the leadership of civil organisation.

Interspecific groups of troops (forces) may not have a sufficient number of combat-ready formations to respond and resolve crisis situations. In this case, attempts to compensate for the shortfall by the SOF, allies, partners, or controlled formations (irregular formations of the host country) will not be sufficient. In order to eliminate this risk, the US Armed Forces must maintain a high level of combat readiness of troops, paying attention to the process of upgrading primarily vehicles and the supply system in the theater.

The operational compatibility of the SOF with other parts and divisions of the US Armed Forces, federal agencies, intergovernmental organisations and multinational formations will also help reduce the possible danger.

In order to mitigate the possible risk of sudden introduction of new technologies by the enemy, the joint command headquarters should pay special attention to ensuring the adaptability of special operations forces, allowing them to train and innovate in the organisation of special operations, maintain situational awareness and take advantageous positions in the conduct of combat operations.

The SOF central command is organised on the basis of a hierarchical structure with its own rules, division of functions, and control over budget allocation. The new strategic environment, which requires a higher degree of interaction between formations in the conduct of combat operations, forces the reduction of bureaucratic risks and overcome obstacles to the creation of universal special forces.

In conclusion, the developers of the concept conclude that the SOF will continue to be an integral part of the unified forces that ensure the use of their combat power during military operations. They will continue to play a leading role in the fight against any enemy of the state, and must also offer non-standard solutions to achieve superiority over it. The SOFs will be a key component in resolving many problematic issues. It is likely, military analysts say, that they will be the first and, in some cases, the only means of responding immediately to new challenges.

According to the developers of the document, in order to prepare for the conditions of a promising operational situation, the SOF command should make the necessary administrative changes, increase the effectiveness of special formations in the main areas (flexibility, adaptability, ability to interact) and ensure the creation of universal SOF units. They will include highly qualified specialists who are able to establish contacts at the local, regional and global levels, have the necessary powers and skills, and are equipped with new armaments and military and special purpose equipment, including for independent performance of special tasks against any opponents.

Thus, the concept of “Joint Forces Command of the SOF – 2030” for the development and use of special operations forces of the US Armed Forces is a system of interrelated views on the problems of organising SOF activities in complex operational conditions and a set of fundamental principles governing their training and support. It serves as the basis for the development of SOF manuals and statutes and plans for their construction. It provides for a large-scale re-equipment of the formations of these forces with promising models of armaments and military and special purpose equipment, created on the basis of high technologies and capable of use in all areas of confrontation, including cognitive (socio-cultural) and cyberspace. In the coming years, it is planned to significantly increase the level of technical and functional compatibility of the armaments and military and special purpose equipment SOFs and general forces involved in joint operations as part of interspecies formations, as well as to improve the quality of the system of comprehensive support for special operations forces.

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