“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” -Steve Jobs

It’s clear to me that very few people in academia and the main stream media understand the current issues facing the Special Operations community. The recent Council on Foreign Relations report on the future of SOF written by civilian Linda Robinson is a good document, but is missing some key elements, for example, how back-to-back combat deployments are affecting morale, family life, and readiness of force. The report includes some very valid data and conclusions however, you can’t expect someone to complete the full puzzle if they don’t have the required experiential background to know what the overall picture looks like.

I do share the report’s observation that the demand put on US SOF since 2001 has outpaced the strategic vision, and this is no doubt a major issue in itself.

US Special Operations Command (US SOCOM) has become very large, and when large organizations experience fast growth they are at risk of becoming marginalized by smaller and more innovative competition. In SOCOM’s case, their competition is violent extremists who promote terror and a radical religious ideology that does not tolerate freedom of choice.

The terrorists only rules? That there are no rules, and this gives them a major advantage.

A Look at US SOCOM

US Special Operations Command has become a massive organization, 60,000+ strong, with a budget that has grown from $2.3B to $10.4  since 2001. There’s an inherent inflexibility and bureaucracy that comes with an organization of this size. The question that begs to be asked is, “Are we moving towards conventionalizing SOF Forces?” I believe that this is the elephant in the room nobody is talking about.

US SOCOM was established in 1987 out of a necessity (e.g. failed Iran hostage rescue) to create a central node of communication and cooperation among the different SOF service branches of armed forces. It didn’t come without regular military pushback, which was understandable. Up to this point, Special Operations had largely served as the bastard child of the military, but all this was about to change, especially after 9-11-01. SOCOM initially included the Army, Navy, and Air Force – USMC initially declined but later realized the error in that decision (read more here), and now have a seat at the table.