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Parent Services Integration a Top Priority for Special Operations Components

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 02, 2022) -- Better integration with parent services is just one way leaders of the four service components of U.S. Special Operations Command believe they can enhance their own readiness for the future.

The U.S. military spent 20 years in the middle east -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- fighting a counter insurgency. It gave America's adversaries plenty of time to evaluate how the U.S. military operates and how they might go about finding ways to undermine its effectiveness.

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Now, the U.S. is largely out of the Middle East and has turned its attention to the prospects of conflict with near-peer adversaries -- nation-states who, unlike combatants faced in the Middle East, may be able to match the U.S. military's prowess on the battlefield with both manpower and equipment.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, commanders of the four military service components of U.S. Special Operations Command discussed what they think will be necessary now to prepare for possible near-peer competition with nation-state militaries.

"I believe that the service components of special operations forces are most effective when we're closest to our parent services," said Air Force Lt. Gen. James C. Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. "I think one of the places where we see a value proposition for SOF is enabling our -- particularly in conflict-type scenarios -- enabling our broader service, you know, parents, to be effective."

Slife also told lawmakers at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that within AFSOC, there's work to be done in the areas of integrated air defense and counter-space operations.

"There are a lot of very critical capabilities our adversaries rely on in those areas that I think SOF brings unique ability to effect," he said.

Naval Special Warfare Command said they will need to refocus their own efforts on the unique capabilities only they can bring to the joint forces fight, a departure from two decades of a focus on counter-terrorism.

"For Naval Special Warfare, we over-rotated on counterterrorism, clearly," said Navy Rear Adm. Hugh W. Howard III, the NSWC commander. "We lost some ground in the distinctive things that only we can do -- and we are moving with urgency to make the main thing, the things that only we can do in the maritime domain."

Howard also told lawmakers that both cyber and electronic warfare are part of NSWC's future as well.

"With cyber and electronic warfare, with our proximity access to hard targets, we see ourselves as part of that kill chain, in extending the reach of the cyber and electronic warfare enterprises," he said.

Finally, he said, is fleet integration -- where he said it would be important for NSWC to make use of the larger Navy fleet and the joint force to exercise its own survivability and lethality.

Army Lt. Gen. Lieutenant General Jonathan P. Braga, commander of United States Army Special Operations Command said the development of information operations capabilities is critical to his community.

"Information advantage [and] information operations -- I think we're watching it daily, the strategic impact that it has," Braga said. "I cannot envision a future where that does not increase in importance, affecting target audiences, general populations, governments, armies, morale and eroding their overall effectiveness."

Braga also characterized special operations forces, space and cyber operations as a "modern-day triad."

"I think we owe you the best military advice and options -- and the National Command Authority -- for flexible deterrence, flexible response options, that involve and optimize those three legs of the triad for options both in deterrence, but also maintaining dominance in the domains for high-end conflict in supporting the joint force," Braga said.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James F. Glynn, commander of United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command said the Marine's special operations component will need to look at what it's done over the last 20 years that can be carried forward.

"The choices that we're having to determine right now is what of the ... counterterrorism skill sets, the stuff that we've invested in, developed very well over the last 20 years -- how much of it translates, how well does it translate and what else do we need to be able to do," he said.

An area of focus for MARSOC, he said, will be both cyber and space capabilities and its integration with special operations.

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