Stavros Atlamazoglou Nov 18, 2021, 8:30 AM in Business Insider
US special operators played an instrumental role in the fight against terrorists over the past 20 years. But the Pentagon is shifting its focus to preparing for a potential war with China and Russia. The US special operations community is looking for ways to remain relevant in a different type of conflict.
US special operators have played an instrumental role in the fight against terrorists and insurgent groups over the past 20 years. Now, as the Pentagon focuses on preparing for a conflict a near-peer or peer military, like China and Russia, the special operations community is looking for ways to remain relevant in a completely different type of war. Army special operations units are particularly concerned, as they make up most of the US Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) numbers.
During exercise Lighting Forge 21, Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Group — which focuses on the Indo-Pacific area of operations — worked with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division out of Hawaii on the very basics of infantry operations: small-unit tactics. The Green Berets worked with their conventional counterparts on patrolling, conducting ambushes and raids, and reconnaissance and intelligence collection. According to the Army, the Special Forces operators focused their training on assisting their conventional brethren in a large-scale combat scenario. The Green Berets leveraged their proficiency on small-unit tactics “to disrupt enemy defenses, eliminate key targets, gather intelligence and provide increased maneuverability, improving the brigade’s ability to destroy the enemy.”
In a conventional war with China or Russia, ARSOF units can bring a lot to the table. Army special operators work with and through guerrillas and other local forces, and their approach allows them to develop an understanding of the area of operations in order to wield influence and provide information to other US forces. In a recent report on its strategic value in an era of great-power competition, US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) identified six ways Army special operators could contribute in a war with Russia and China. Their mission sets would include:
- Long range infiltration in denied areas
- Enable deep area fires
- Recruit, train, equip, and lead local guerrillas in deep areas
- Support conventional forces in close combat
- Target and destroy anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) systems
- Use special operations command and control to converge cross-domain capabilities in deep areas
These six mission sets are versions of current ARSOF capabilities tailored to the threats China or Russia would pose a war.
Comment: I found this article intriguing on two levels. First, I ran the 25th Division RECONDO school in 1980 to 1981. We were located in the East Range, composed mainly of mountain jungle. We spent much time running those ridges and rappelling into those valleys. Good times. In that terrain a brigade certainly could be swallowed up, although most of the brigade combat team would have to operate dismounted, in small units and with ropes if you’re moving cross compartment. Good training area for some South Pacific locations.
The second, more important, level is the similarity in what the 1st Special Forces Group teams were doing in this exercise with what we did in the 10th Special Forces Group in Europe in the 1980s. Our primary mission was to combat WTO forces in a conventional war. The mission sets were damned near identical to the mission sets outlined in the article and in the “Army Futures Command Concept for Special Operations 2028,” a publication outlining how Army special operations forces fit into Multi-Domain Operations. My team’s initial mission was to infiltrate southwest Poland, disrupt the command complex for the Northern Group of Forces, disrupt the SAM and EW belt in the area and conduct UW in support of NATO objectives. What we were asked to do, or at least attempt to do, is no different from what SF is expected to do during a confrontation with China in the Pacific or with Russia in Europe. The article mentions SF targeting Chinese A2/AD systems around the South China Sea and Russian A2/AD systems in Crimea.
The thought of one or more 10th Group teams developing target folders for Sevastopol stirs some Cold War dread, but we do have a habit of drawing up contingency plans for damned near any scenario, no matter how far fetched it sounds. I’m also buoyed by the conversation I had with Dr. Jerzy Wiatr in 1987. He was a Polish academician/politician involved in formulating and supporting WTO war plans. He assured me that although both sides had serious planners and even more serious men willing to carry out those plans, the deciders knew full well that war would be absolute folly and would mean the end of all of us. Anyone who was in a position to initiate such a war had no intention to ever do so.