Socom Commander Outlines People, Mission, Equipment

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2011 — U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand has filled its bar­racks and motor pools over recent years to meet this decade’s demands for its forces, the command’s top offi­cer said yes­ter­day.
Speak­ing at the Nation­al Defense Indus­tri­al Association’s 22nd Annu­al Spe­cial Oper­a­tions and Low-inten­si­ty Con­flict Sym­po­sium, Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, Socom com­man­der, offered what he called a snap­shot view of cur­rent spe­cial oper­a­tions mis­sions, peo­ple and equip­ment.

“We are 85 per­cent, approx­i­mate­ly, deployed into the Cen­tral Com­mand area of oper­a­tion. It’s been that way now for about sev­en years,” he said. “We are strug­gling might­i­ly to meet the increase in demand from the oth­er geo­graph­ic com­bat­ant com­man­ders of the world, spread­ing the oth­er 15 per­cent of our deployed force across [their areas].” Most sig­nif­i­cant cur­rent threats are “ema­nat­ing from or being cul­ti­vat­ed” in the Cen­tral Com­mand area, Olson said.

In terms of peo­ple, Socom has swelled its ranks sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the last few years, he said, not­ing cur­rent strength across the “many tribes” of the com­mu­ni­ty is about 60,000. “I would say rough­ly about a third of those are the oper­a­tors, if you will, of the spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mu­ni­ty,” he said.

The oper­a­tors have vol­un­teered, been select­ed for, and gone through “some sort of an advanced train­ing” –- such as the Army Spe­cial Forces Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Course or the Navy Basic Under­wa­ter Demo­li­tion SEAL train­ing –- that earns them a spe­cial oper­a­tions iden­ti­fi­er, Olson said. Those oper­a­tors include air crews, avi­a­tors and ground and mar­itime forces, he said.

“About two-thirds of the force, then, cycles through the spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mu­ni­ty for a tour or two or three, over the course of their career,” Olson said.

The over­all spe­cial oper­a­tions force is about half Army, fol­lowed in decreas­ing per­cent­ages by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the admi­ral said.

The spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mu­ni­ty was estab­lished in 1987, and became ful­ly joint when U.S. Marine Corps Forces Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand stood up five years ago this week, Olson told the group.

“They are per­form­ing mag­nif­i­cent­ly,” he said. “Most of our deployed Marine spe­cial oper­a­tors are now in west­ern Afghanistan, where they are now on their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive O-5 lev­el spe­cial oper­a­tions task force deploy­ment,” he said.

Socom is now made up of about 80 per­cent active-duty troops, an increase from four years ago when active-duty troops made up two-thirds to three-quar­ters of the com­mand, he said.

Spe­cial oper­a­tors are care­ful­ly select­ed and high­ly trained, the admi­ral said, but it’s their weapons, vehi­cles and oth­er equip­ment that enable them to fight, sur­vive and achieve mis­sion suc­cess. Socom has seen a “sig­nif­i­cant cou­ple of years” in equip­ment gains, Olson not­ed, cit­ing the MC-130 Whiskey Drag­on Spear air­craft as a notable exam­ple.

Although it has a gun, he said, the MC-130 isn’t a gun­ship.

“It is an air­borne pre­ci­sion-fire plat­form … [with] a robust sen­sor,” Olson said. “Unlike the AC-130 gun­ships that many of you are famil­iar with, the MC-130 Whiskey can fly in the day­time … at stand­off dis­tance. So this has been enor­mous­ly valu­able for the force.”

The MC-130 project pro­gressed from imag­i­na­tion to flight in less than 90 days, and it deployed in 18 months, the admi­ral added.

Socom devel­oped the MC-130 under its own author­i­ties, Olson said. “We formed a joint acqui­si­tion task force … [and] grabbed con­trol of this project,” he added.

The MC-130 first deployed to Iraq and now is in Afghanistan, the admi­ral said.

Oth­er equip­ment advances field­ed or in devel­op­ment include “high beam,” an air­borne-mount­ed, overt laser that illu­mi­nates a spot on the ground, Olson said, not­ing that oper­a­tional com­man­ders are “find­ing more and more uses for an illu­mi­nat­ed spot on the ground.” The tech­nol­o­gy can pre­vent inad­ver­tent attacks on friend­ly forces, and it can illu­mi­nate tar­gets, induc­ing a “pow­er­ful psy­cho­log­i­cal effect,” he explained.

Socom has increased its air­craft inven­to­ry with sin­gle- and twin-engine tur­bo­prop planes able to move small amounts of peo­ple and car­go in remote loca­tions with rudi­men­ta­ry land­ing areas, Olson said. The com­mand also has acquired more heli­copters, incor­po­rat­ing a com­pa­ny of Black Hawks and plan­ning for a com­pa­ny of Chi­nooks, he added.

The command’s intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance capa­bil­i­ties using manned and unmanned air­craft also are more robust now, Olson said, prov­ing to be enor­mous­ly impor­tant on the bat­tle­field.

“In the areas of mis­sion, peo­ple and stuff, there’s been a sig­nif­i­cant expan­sion, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the last cou­ple of years,” he said. “We’ve called it, frankly, inside Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, the third stage of ‘Ready, fire, aim.’”

He explained that ear­ly in post-9/11 mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, the empha­sis was on rapid action. “There was an awful lot of fir­ing that occurred quick­ly. … We made rapid deci­sions to pro­vide rapid capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “Now over the last cou­ple, three years, we’ve been able to adjust fire to make sure that we are real­ly deliv­er­ing the right things to the right peo­ple.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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