Senior officials from the United States’ Special Operations Command addressed lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Friday to discuss funding and expectations for the nation’s special operations forces in the years to come.
Special operations forces played an integral role as part of the joint force in the destruction of ISIS’ physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq,” SOCOM commander, Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, said to the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.
We continue to have outsized effects around the globe, defeating our enemies, training, equipping and enabling our friends and allies, rapidly transforming the organization to be prepared for all future threats and caring for our fallen, wounded and ill and their families.”
Owen West, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, also addressed the subcommittee, explaining that SOCOM’s budget accounts for only 1.9 percent of the overall defense budget, but offers a disproportionate level of operational capability in exchange, including a presence in over 90 nations around the globe.
This capital expenditure fuels the current fight, but it must also result in long-term competitive advantage,” West told the House panel before addressing SOCOM’s growing budget request over the coming years.
SOCOM’s budget for fiscal year 2017 rang in at approximately $11.8 billion, but is expected to grow to $12.3 billion in 2018 and further to $13.6 billion in 2019. That growth, SOCOM officials claim, will help to ensure the United States maintains the high ground in a number of active and potential conflicts around the world. However, both West and Thomas also addressed the importance of being fiscally responsible to ensure the U.S. gets the most bang for their budgetary buck.
The task is to remain unpredictable but expansive, pushing the competitive boundaries in ways our enemies do not expect,” Thomas said. “To sustain this expansion, we must be fiscally hawkish, reducing asymmetry by adopting a focus on return on investment.”
Thomas also addressed the importance of not growing complacent in recruiting strategies, seemingly insinuating that the traditional recruitment model, which sees only about 30% of American high school graduates as eligible for military service, could potentially make the force too predictable.
Today’s battlefield has challenged the traditional definition of a combatant, successfully operating in the global contact layer demands that we build a diverse force,” he said. “The [special operations forces] entry standards are high, but America has always encouraged its pioneers.”
Further emphasizing the important role of recruiting in SOCOM’s efforts, Thomas addressed the topic again near the end of his statements, saying that people “continue to be the decisive advantage.”
SOCOM continues to enhance our role as part of the joint force in assuring allies and improving their capabilities in the face of aggressive regional hegemons, reinforcing host nation and law enforcement efforts in the Western Hemisphere in the defense of our national boundaries, and preparing for contingencies,” the general said.
“Success however has carried a high price,” he said. “In the past 10 months, we suffered the loss of 20 special operations personnel from our formation in combat, with 144 wounded and injured.”
Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense