A monumental potential shift is on the horizon for the U.S. Army. At the heart of this sea of change lies a proposition to reduce special operations forces (SOF) programs by an estimated 10% in the forthcoming years. This decrease is part of a larger migration from unconventional warfare to an emphasis on conventional capabilities and larger-scale combat operations.

A Two-Decade Reliance on Special Operations Forces

The U.S. military’s reliance on its special operations forces for counterinsurgency operations has been integral over the past two decades. The number of U.S. special operations forces across all military branches doubled after the events of 9/11. This increase reflected the new reality of the Global War on Terror, with swift nighttime raids and training militias in the Middle East and Africa becoming central to the U.S. strategy. However, this trend is poised for a significant reconfiguration.

The Total Army Analysis, a strategic planning methodology used by the Army, projects a budget request for fiscal years 2025 to 2029, suggesting a roughly 10% reduction to SOF. The proposed reductions would mainly affect logistical and intelligence support—often called enablers—and could result in structural changes to some elite units.

The motivation behind this strategic pivot is fueled mainly by a change in geopolitical attention, focusing on potential conflict scenarios with nations like China. The Pentagon is redirecting its resources towards capabilities such as long-range missile strikes and cyber warfare, which are more relevant to these large-scale combat operations.

A Controversial Proposal and Its Critics

However, this strategic shift is not without contention. Opinions vary, with some lawmakers voicing serious reservations about the proposed cuts. This concern is particularly noticeable among Republicans, who, at recent hearings, contended that it would be a misjudgment to presuppose that SOF would be less critical in a conflict with China.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo, former commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, has also expressed his disquiet over the proposed cuts. He warns that if the reductions affect the intelligence community, crucial to the functioning of special operations forces, the consequences could be “crippling” and “devastating.”

Pending Decisions and Their Potential Impacts