The Special Operations Forces Christmas List
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- June 15th, 2017
Although the summer heat may not feel like the season for giving, I assure you that it is. This time each year the U.S. Congress starts building the budget for the next fiscal year. During this time the Military Services send to Congress their “list of additional requirements”. It is much like a child sending his/her “Christmas list” to Santa—hoping he brings the toys he/she wants. At times, the Department of Defense has told the Services to not send their requests to Congress, directing them instead to just say they support the President’s Budget. Even at these times, Congress ends up receiving the detailed lists from the Services – the “unofficial” requests always seem to make their way to the Hill. For the fiscal year 2019 budget build it does not appear that the Department of Defense has attempted to restrict the Services. This is a good thing.
To be frank, the Services should be encouraged to ALWAYS render the actual requirement to Congress. The reality is that there is a finite amount of resources, and, based on Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the decisions about what to fund in the U.S. military falls to the U.S. Congress. No administration should ever consider it disloyal for a Service Chief or senior leader to state what they believe to be the true requirement. And yes, requirements do change based on evolving threats, and we have to evolve with those threats if we want to defend the nation and protect our global interests. We should want our senior leaders to provide candid and professional assessments, regardless of the political climate.
As the U.S. builds the 2019 budget, congress should prioritize the additional requirements that reflect operational needs first and foremost. Based on joint doctrine the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) have the requirement to articulate what they need in their theater, but studies have shown that the Services are vaguely interested in what the GCCs request. I have not seen the list the Services are sending up this year, but I would bet you will not find any Service asking for anything that supports their most operationally committed force – their Special Operations Forces (SOF). If Congress approves anything for SOF, it will not be because the Services asked for something to support their SOF under their Title X obligations. It will be because SOF gets it directly from Congress.
So the real question is: what should the USSOCOM “Christmas list” look like? USSOCOM’s request has to focus on the Deployment Tempo (DEPTEMPO) to reduce the stress on the force. The Joint Staff directive is to have a 2 to 1 ratio, meaning 2 days at home for every 1 day deployed. Many of the SOF military occupational skills are not even at 1 to 1. If we want to maintain the force, then Congress has to look past the normal big ticket platforms and do things to sustain SOF.
Additionally, the USSOCOM list should be focused on the future and not on adding more of what they already have. Historically, SOF get Service-provided platforms and USSOCOM-peculiar funding called Military Force Program -11 or MFP-11 is used to modify the platform or system to match what SOF needs. Unfortunately, there are situations in which no level modification will get an existing platform close to the real requirement. To that end, there is a move to provide USSOCOM with additional Research Development Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding to do innovative things besides just modify platforms. That is a great start.
An example of asking for something new that is designed to protect the force would be stealth rotary wing assets. Everyone that watched the movie Zero Dark Thirty knows that the US used two MH-60 Blackhawk variants that were modified to be stealthier than the standard MH-60. Aviation noise can and has compromised missions, and compromised missions get people killed. Pilots go to great extremes to ensure they mask the noise as much as possible, but there are so many variables that impact how noise travels that they cannot plan for everything. As long as SOF seeks to infiltrate an area without compromise, then aircraft need to be quieter and stealthier. Over the last 20 years we have not had to infiltrate elaborate air defense systems, but any action against targets in Iran, North Korea or Russia would require more and better capability.
The 2019 US National Defense budget build is starting, and growth is expected. SOF is carrying the bulk of the operational commitments, and they should not hesitate to provide the complete requirement to Congress irrespective of the cost. We should allow our elected representatives the chance to figure out what the nation can afford. SOF will not get it all, but nothing ventured is nothing gained. Ask Santa for all of the toys and see what shows up on Christmas morning.