The number of U.S. special operations forces will increase over the next five years even as the Pentagon prepares to cut personnel and $259 billion in planned spending over that same period.
U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) will grow from about 67,000 forces today to 70,000 over the next five years, according to senior Defense Department officials. At the same time, command is preparing to have 12,000 forces continuously deployed at any given time.
“Because we will be continuing to engage in counterterrorism operations around the globe, we are going to protect the investments in special operations forces,” Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, SOCOM vice commander, said at a Feb. 7 conference in Washington.
The command is preparing to grow its force at a rate of about 2 percent to 3 percent per year, Heithold said.
“The program maintains a growth to 70,000 SOF [special operations forces] warriors,” he said.
When the Pentagon unveiled new military guidance in January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, noted DoD would increase its investments in special operations, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, unmanned systems, space systems and cyberspace tools.
The U.S. Defense Department plans to cut $487 billion in planned spending over the next 10 years as mandated by the Budget Control Act, which went into effect last August. To meet that goal, the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force will shrink, Pentagon officials announced in recent weeks.
The Pentagon’s 2013 budget proposal, which the White House will sent to Congress on Feb. 13, outlines the first five years of those cuts, totaling $259 billion.
“We know that we’re going to have to reduce the federal budget in the United States government [and] the Pentagon will pay its share,” Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said at the same conference. “Fortunately for us in the special operations community, we’re going to come out of this pretty well.”
SOCOM is likely to increase foreign internal defense and security force assistance programs, Sheehan said.
“We’re going to be able to protect our interests” in the SOF budget, he said.
Still, special operations officials were quick to point out that their budget was subject to the same intense review that the military services experienced over the past several months.
“That doesn’t mean we’ve dodged the scrutiny the services have gone through in the last few months and I know we’re not going to dodge that scrutiny as we go forward,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Trask, SOCOM director for force structure, requirements, resources and strategic assessments, said at the conference.
Over the past few years, SOCOM has been working to shift much of its funding from overseas contingency operations warfighting coffers to the base budget.
“We have been very successful in U.S. Special Operations Command in getting our baseline [budget] increased to sustain the level of forces we are going to have forward,” Heithold said referring to deployed forces.
Most of that operations-and-maintenance funding is in the baseline budget, he noted.
As for specific equipment, Trask noted that the Boeing MH-47 Chinook helicopter and Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor are critical to SOCOM operations.
“The program is in tact for our V-22s and our [MH]-47s,” Heithold said.
In addition, the Pentagon has stood up a senior-level panel to oversee special operations acquisition “to ensure that we are synchronizing” weapon buying efforts, according to David Ahern, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic and tactical systems.
The so-called SOF Acquisition Summit is a way to synchronize the budget building process between special operations and the services early on in the weapon buying process, he said at the same conference.