Socom’s Impact Outweighs Its Size, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand brings increas­ing­ly vital capa­bil­i­ties to the nation’s mil­i­tary mis­sions, its com­man­der said yes­ter­day.
Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, Socom com­man­der, tes­ti­fied before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Socom’s cur­rent and pro­ject­ed mis­sions and bud­get require­ments.

U.S. Special Operations Command
About 85 per­cent of deployed U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand forces are work­ing in U.S. Cen­tral Command’s area of oper­a­tions, Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, Socom’s com­man­der, told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee March 1, 2011.
U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand graph­ic
Click to enlarge

“I am con­vinced that the forces we pro­vide to the geo­graph­ic com­bat­ant com­man­ders are the most cul­tur­al­ly attuned part­ners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most respon­sive, agile, inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient­ly effec­tive advi­sors, train­ers, prob­lem-solvers and war­riors that any nation has to offer,” he said. 

Olson said 85 per­cent of Socom’s deployed troops are work­ing in the U.S. Cen­tral Command’s area of oper­a­tions. Socom oper­a­tors are backed by “a mag­nif­i­cent assort­ment of admin­is­tra­tive, intel­li­gence, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, engi­neer­ing, logis­tics and oth­er spe­cial­ists,” their com­man­der said, adding that the command’s head­quar­ters staffs around the world also include more than 300 rep­re­sen­ta­tives from at least 15 oth­er agen­cies with­in and beyond the Defense Department. 

“Our val­ue comes from both our high lev­el of skills and our non­tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of apply­ing them, which is to say that our prin­ci­pal asset is the qual­i­ty of our peo­ple,” he said. 

Olson said his forces achieve “impres­sive effects,” whether they are con­duct­ing pre­ci­sion raids, orga­niz­ing a vil­lage police force, arrang­ing a new school or clin­ic, or part­ner­ing with coun­ter­part forces. 

“In Afghanistan and Iraq espe­cial­ly, it is unde­ni­able that they have had impact far above their rel­a­tive­ly small num­bers,” the admi­ral said. 

Socom has forces deployed to dozens of oth­er coun­tries as well, Olson said, con­tribut­ing to region­al sta­bil­i­ty by train­ing and advis­ing coun­ter­part forces. 

“This bal­ance of direct and indi­rect oper­a­tions must be care­ful­ly man­aged, but because spe­cial oper­a­tions forces live in both of these worlds, we have become the force of first choice for many mis­sions,” he said. 

Socom faces the key chal­lenge of how to meet an increas­ing demand for its capa­bil­i­ties, Olson said. 

“We can’t grow them more than a very few per­cent per year, but the demand is out­pac­ing the sup­ply,” he said, not­ing that although the command’s man­pow­er has dou­bled over the last decade, its over­seas deploy­ments have quadrupled. 

Socom con­tin­ues to suc­cess­ful­ly per­form its mis­sions, but the com­mand is under­go­ing strain, Olson said. “The fab­ric is strong, [and] the weave is tight,” he said. “It’s not unrav­el­ing, but it’s show­ing signs of wear.” 

Pos­si­ble approach­es to ease Socom’s strain include find­ing a process to assign units from the ser­vices to train and deploy with spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, Olson said, and upgrad­ing or adding train­ing ranges and oth­er facilities. 

Olson also sug­gest­ed “invest­ing more broad­ly in the types of enabling capa­bil­i­ties that will relieve spe­cial oper­a­tions forces from send­ing our own peo­ple to per­form func­tions that could be per­formed by others.” 

Final­ly, Olson urged expand­ing the ser­vices’ inven­to­ry of spe­cif­ic irreg­u­lar war­fare assets and ensur­ing Socom has the spe­cial­ized equip­ment and advanced train­ing its forces need “to sur­vive and suc­ceed in the com­plex, ambigu­ous and often vio­lent envi­ron­ments in which we ask them to serve.” 

“I ask for your action to approve a defense bud­get for fis­cal year 2011, and for your sup­port for your sup­port for the fis­cal year 2012 bud­get pro­pos­al,” he told the committee. 

“I also ask that you ful­ly fund the spe­cial oper­a­tions bud­get, par­tic­u­lar­ly as con­ven­tion­al forces begin to draw down from major oper­a­tions,” Olson said, “because our forces will most like­ly be allo­cat­ed at the same lev­els to areas with pent-up demand for our unique capabilities.” 

The nation can take great pride in its spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, the Socom com­man­der said, adding that he is hum­bled to “com­mand this for­mi­da­ble force, and to pro­vide it to answer our nation’s most-daunt­ing secu­ri­ty needs.” 

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

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