Special operations forces (SOF) are critical to the US military’s global mission to protect freedom and democracy. However, SOF missions have become increasingly complex in recent years, requiring advanced technologies to compete with nation-state actors with greater resources and capabilities. In order to stay ahead of the curve, SOF must actively invest in new technologies that can give them an edge over their adversaries. 

SOF Tackles Future of Warfare

SOF must invest in various technologies to maintain its advantage over more powerful nation-state actors. These include sophisticated cyber defense systems; artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); robotics; satellite networks; and communications systems. These technologies are necessary for SOF operations to remain agile and effective in the face of ever-changing threats posed by hostile forces worldwide. 

“We’re transforming the SOF enterprise to achieve the goals of the National Defense Strategy,” Christopher Maier, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7.

“While SOF’s role in counterterrorism is widely understood and appreciated, my team and I work daily to ensure the value proposition of SOF in integrated deterrence and campaigning against strategic competitors is accounted for and incorporated into the department’s processes.”

As the Department of Defense has reoriented to prioritize competition with nation-states over counterterrorism, special operations forces are transforming to determine what it means to meet that directive while maintaining their global counterterrorism mission.

The Special Operations Forces Transformation Act of 2016 mandated that SOCOM develop a comprehensive plan to improve the readiness and posture of the command for long-term success against various threats. In order to best support the National Defense Strategy’s objectives, SOCOM is focusing on six lines of effort: organizational change, training and education, global engagement, research & development (R&D), acquisition reform, and personnel recovery. 

Data is the New Oil

Data collection, analysis, and decision-making support are critical to making complex, strategic decisions. “AI and data will be critical enablers for us as we move forward … To best position ourselves for success against our adversaries, we must ensure access to data at all levels across organizations from which we can make informed decisions,” Maier stated in his written testimony submitted to SASC.