Posts tagged ‘SOCOM’

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SO/LIC Conference, Yemen Raid,SOF Risks

Special Ops Conference.

Riverine command boats GUNEX

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michelle L. Turner)

The annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium opens Monday in Bethesda, Maryland, tackling issues ranging from the acquisition and training needs of special operations forces (SOF) to budget challenges and the demand for cooperation and  information sharing with partner nations.

The four-day conference — sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) — will also address the widening challenge of creating a networked, connected and unified force of SOF, as well as U.S. and international law enforcement and intelligence organizations.

Speakers will include Army General Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and James Geurts, the civilian head of acquisition at SOCOM. [More on the conference at the bottom of this post.]

Yemen Raid.

A Navy SEAL was killed in a raid on an al Qaeda base in Yemen late last month. The Defense Department identified the slain sailor as Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois. He died January 29 from wounds sustained in the raid. He was assigned to an East Coast based Special Warfare unit, which most news organizations have identified as SEAL Team 6. map-yemen

The raid sparked controversy in both the United States and the Middle East.

A “chain of mishaps and misjudgments,” according to the New York Times, plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three other servicemen  wounded and forced the raiders to destroy a U.S. V-22 Osprey, when the $75 million tilt-rotor aircraft was unable to take off after making a hard landing during the fire fight. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on February 1 as most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children, the Times reported.

Yemeni officials were unhappy about the raid and civilian casualties but they told the Reuters news agency that permission had not been withdrawn for the United States to carry out special ops ground missions. But they made clear their “reservations” about the latest operation, according to the Voice of America website. A statement by the Yemeni embassy in Washington, VoA added, said the government “stresses that it has not suspended any programs with regards to counterterrorism operations in Yemen with the United States Government.”

The White House called the raid, the first authorized by the Trump administration, a success. But Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee challenged that conclusion, telling NBC:  “When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, an American life is lost, I don’t believe you can call it a success.”

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer defended the operation, calling it “absolutely a success,” VoA reported. “I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid, owes an apology and disservice to the life of Chief Owens,” Spicer said, referring to the Navy SEAL who died.

Earlier, Spicer said it was “hard to ever call something a complete success when you have the loss of life, or people injured.  But I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people and our institutions, and probably throughout the world in terms of what some of these individuals could have done, I think it is a successful operation by all standards.”

SOF Deaths.

The  casualty rate for highly skilled and experienced special operators, like Chief Owens, has been on the rise as the United States relies more and more on elite forces.

In the past year — for the first time — according to a New York Times report (via the Seattle Times), special-operations troops have died in greater numbers than conventional troops. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan SOF made up only a fraction of the dead. That they now fill nearly the whole casualty list, the report continues, shows how the Pentagon, hesitant to put conventional troops on the ground, has come to depend almost entirely on small groups of elite warriors.

Meanwhile, Navy SEALS and other elite units are quietly battling a frightening rise in parachute deaths, according to a Military Times investigation.

Between 2011 and 2016, 11 special operators have died in high altitude, free fall training jumps. That is a 60 percent increase over the previous five-year period, according to 13 years’ worth or records analyzed by Military Times.

Southern Strike 17

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride.)


The four-day conference is being held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. All the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands will take part in a panel discussion on the strategic and operational implications caused by the necessity to conduct coalition and inter-agency operations.

Another panel discussion on law enforcement special mission units will include representatives from several Department of Homeland Security units, including Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard.

February 12, 2017 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM Still Gung-ho on “Iron Man”-like Protective Suit

TALOS Project.

Testing preliminary TALOS prototype technologies. (Courtesy of Revision Military).

Testing preliminary TALOS prototype technologies. Note the lower body support.
(Courtesy of Revision Military).

WASHINGTON — Despite uncertain defense funding and a Pentagon strategy shift to get partner nation militaries to take a more direct role in commando operations, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is still bullish on developing a lightweight ballistic protective suit for American forces.

Army General Joseph Votel has dispelled any speculation that support for the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS), may have waned since he took over as commander of SOCOM from Navy Admiral William McRaven, the super suit’s biggest booster. The futuristic commando body armor has been likened to the suit worn by the superhero, “Iron Man,” a characterization SOCOM has not discouraged – although TALOS won’t be able to fly.

Votel, an Army Ranger, told a defense industry-special operations conference Tuesday (January 27) that SOCOM’s goal remains to have a deployable suit ready for field testing a little over three years from now.

“Although many significant challenges remain, our goal of a Mark V prototype suit by August 2018 is on track right now,” Votel told the first day of the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition. The two-day gathering, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), discusses the strategic and tactical needs of special operations forces (SOF) to fight small wars and prevent them from becoming big ones.

The TALOS suit, as envisioned by McRaven, will provide ballistic protection with advanced, lightweight armor and sensors to monitor the wearer’s heart rate, temperature and other vital signs. Using an integrated system of systems combiningg sensors, communications equipment and an electrically-powered exoskeleton, TALOS advocates say it will not only protect SOF troops but will make them run faster, hear and see better and carry heavy loads without excessive fatigue. “If we do TALOS right,” McRaven told the SO/LIC conference last year, “it will provide a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give our warriors the protection they need.” McRaven, a Navy SEAL, retired from the military in August.

“TALOS was charted to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of advanced technologies to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, peerless tactical capabilities and ultimately enhance the strategic effectiveness of the SOF operator of the future,” Votel said in his keynote address at the annual NDIA gathering.

Two early prototype suits, MK I with an early exoskeleton design, and MK II an assault suit, were delivered to SOCOM headquarters at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida in June. SOCOM is working on TALOS with input from the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency, the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center – as well as numerous corporations, universities and national laboratories.

January 28, 2015 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM’s Future Technology Needs

What Do Special Operators Want?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The big money defense budgets of the past decade have come to an end. And thanks to additional across-the-board cuts imposed by Congress, each of the armed services is being asked to find even more programs, platforms and procedures to cut.

So what do Special Operations Forces (SOF) – who depend in part on the other services’ capabilities – need to do their job in this austere funding environment?

Well the No. 3 commissioned officer at U.S. Special Operations Command cited some technology needs in a question-and-answer session at last week’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association in Washington.

There’s always a need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies – especially for sensors that can see through foliage in places like Africa and South America, Air Force Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold, SOCOM’s vice commander, told industry representatives.

“Our focus is on high definition. That’s a game changer for us,” Heithold said, adding that “We’re in the business of man hunting – whether to kill someone or capture them – so the fidelity that we get from our sensors is very important.”

He said SOCOM was in the process of modifying its fixed wing and unmanned aircraft with updated signals intelligence capabilities. “I don’t think we have a gap there, but it’s a game you’ve got to be in all the time. You can’t fall behind,” Heithold said.

Major General Mark Clark, commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), said the command was “absolutely” looking at a Joint High Speed Vessel, for a MARSOC maritime platform — as long as it could accommodate MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft or helicopters; operate in the littoral environment and include SOF equipment modules “so you can put them on or take them off.”

Modularity for SOCOM aircraft was also important, said Richard Holcomb, civilian deputy to the commanding general of Army Special Operations Command. Modular ISR, strike and air drop packages for Special Ops aviation assets “are clearly the way of our vision [going] forward,” he said. Army experts are also exploring how to arm the Osprey tiltrotor. Another area needing future study is non-lethal capabilities like directed energy, Heithold said.

USS Greeneville, a Los Angeles-class U.S. submarine, with the SEAL Delivery System attached.  (U.S. Navy photo)

USS Greeneville, a Los Angeles-class U.S. submarine, with the SEAL Delivery System attached.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Undersea mobility is another crucial technology, Heithold added. While progress is being made with the Advanced Seal Delivery System, a mini undersea vessel to transport Navy SEALS from a submerged submarine to shore, he urged industry to come forward with any technology that might help. SOF’s stealthy capability, “our true magic,” Heithold called it, “is going to be our ability to infiltrate and ex-filtrate from the sea – under the sea.”

And, as we posted last week, Heithold said the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) is the top acquisition priority. SOCOM commander, Admiral William McRaven, “is way focused on that,” said Heithold, noting that McRaven very much wants to protect “the first person through the door” during a raid or night action.

February 20, 2014 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: A New Take on “Teach a Man to Fish…”

Foreign Internal Defense

WASHINGTON – Michael Sheehan, the former top special operations adviser to the Secretary of Defense,  says he doesn’t like to use the word “COIN” – as in COunter INsurgency – anymore.

Michael Sheehan (Defense Dept. photo)

Michael Sheehan (Defense Dept. photo)

“Because it’s so overused now,” Sheehan – former Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) – told the International Stability Operations Association’s annual summit recently. “For me, counter insurgency is done by local forces and the U.S. helps them do it,” he told the conference of companies that provide services ranging from construction to air transport for humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and development organizations.

And for direct action – when U.S. advisers are doers, as well as teachers – Sheehan says he’s advocated for a long time “that we train the locals to go through the door – not the U.S.” In other words, train and advise foreign armies or rebels – depending on their politics – how to defend themselves, but then taking a step back and let the locals doing the shooting or “kinetic action.”

Sheehan has had a little experience in this field. A former Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, counter insurgency adviser in Latin America, adviser to U.N. Peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Haiti, National Security Council staffer at the White House, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for counter terrorism, a high-ranking official in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for Counter Terrorism – retired from the Pentagon this past summer. One of the key assignments of Army Special Forces and other special operators is Foreign Internal Defense: teaching the local population how to defend itself against terrorism by insurgents or a repressive regime.

Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan 2007. (U.S. Army photo)

Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan 2007.
(U.S. Army photo)

“I believe this is the future, where we train, advise and assist from behind, both in counter insurgency and direct action strategy,” Sheehan said. That belief is held by other SO/LIC leaders, like Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command, which oversees the commandos and unconventional warfare specialists in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

To see a video of McRaven and Sheehan both speaking about these issues at a counter terrorism panel at the Aspen Institute last summer, click here.

Explanation of “Give a man a fish…”

October 24, 2013 at 11:57 pm 1 comment

HUMAN GEOGRAPHY: Cultural Awareness Needs Cited at Security Forum

In The Know

ASPEN, Colorado – Here at 4GWAR, we’ve written about the topic of Human Geography numerous times before. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how often that concept – if not the actual phrase – came up in discussions at the Aspen Security Forum in the Rocky Mountains last week.

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

Human Geography is a multi-discipline study of not only the physical nature of the earth but the people who live on it and how they relate among themselves and with others along political, economic, cultural, linguistic and geographic lines.

The need for cultural awareness and background knowledge of people and places where the United States may conduct future military and humanitarian operations came up several times during the four-day annual gathering of defense and homeland security experts from government, academia and the corporate world.

With U.S. combat activities in Iraq over, and ending soon in Afghanistan, speakers and panels discussed the new challenges facing the United States.

“You really gotta know the place,” said Ambassador Rick Barton, assistant secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, describing the complexity of sorting out potential partners among the scores of opposition groups in the Syrian civil war. Time, effort and money need to be spent on acquiring the right intelligence, he added. “If you’re really going to be effective in a place, you’ve really got to have a sense of the context and the balance” he said during a panel discussion on the U.S. role in preventing conflicts.

Speaking on the same panel, Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) – which oversees the Green Berets, Navy Seals and other special operations forces – said cultural awareness (one of the key aspects of human geography studies) was a key to training partner nations to defend themselves against terrorists. “When we put people into a country they need to speak the language, they need to be culturally aware of what’s going,” McRaven said. But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan many of those skill sets have eroded for other parts of the world. “So we are reinvigorating the language programs and reinvigorating the cultural awareness programs,” he said. SOCOM units, like SEAL teams, will be realigned within the various regional combatant commands such as Africa Command and Pacific Command “so that the right people will speak the right languages and understand the right cultures,” McRaven added.

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops near Bamako, Mali.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops during a 2008 exercise near Bamako, Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

“The problem, of course is the way Americans always come into a country with which there is enormous cultural difference. They don’t always appreciate cultural difference,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told another panel discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of 20-something troops and contractors “not knowing how to be deferential to the elders, not knowing how to deal with the mullahs, not understanding the sectarian and religious concentrations.”

And the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham (ret.) noted “it’s a particular challenge in Africa, because of the diversity of cultures and languages” as well as religious, ethnic and tribal distinctions. “We have a long way to go,” he said. But he also noted that the assistance of experienced foreign service and U.S.AID officers has helped in the past and McRaven’s promised deployment of special operations forces with cultural skills tailored to the regional combatant commands’ area of responsibility will help in the future.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

In a story out this week in Special Operations Technology magazine, your 4GWAR editor examines how special operators are combining new technology and old skills in human geography for missions like foreign internal defense and civil affairs operations. The explosion of social networking and geospatial imagery on the Internet has added many new tools for human geographers and intelligence gatherers. To read more, visit Special Operations Technology magazine, by clicking here.

July 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm 1 comment


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