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WASHINGTON — In September, America’s top special operator plans to sit down with US geographic combatant commanders to finally lay out plans for what he has been calling the “global SOF network.”
“We’re going to lay that out in a very visual fashion” for the commanders, said Adm. William McRaven, head of US Special Operations Command. He made his remarks during a luncheon wrapping up a two-day “Positioning Special Operations Forces [SOF] for Global Challenges” conference convened by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis here.
The goal of the network is to more directly link deployed special operations forces (SOF) — which conduct operations under the command of the geographic commanders, not SOCOM — to one another to share information and intelligence.
But the plan is not without its detractors, including powerful voices on Capitol Hill.
Right now, SOCOM merely recruits, trains and equips special operations forces, and McRaven has no operational control over his units once they deploy.
The admiral’s plan will not give him any ability to control SOF in the field — that power stays with the combatant commanders — but it will allow him to help SOF commanders push intelligence to one another, while facilitating their interactions with other US government agencies and with international SOF partners.
The September meetings will allow McRaven to fully lay out his plan to commanders, which he said is critical in setting up his more ambitious vision to create the global SOF network.
“I need to get the military buy-in first, and then very quickly we move to the interagency, and then very quickly we move to our partners and our allies to make sure that everybody understands, at least from a global SOF network perspective, what the intent is,” he said.
As his team starts patching together the disparate SOF units spread around the world, McRaven said he plans to cut back on the amount of travel he does in order to stay at his Tampa headquarters and act as “master of ceremonies” and bring any interagency or foreign ally into the fold who wants to be a part of the network.
“The reason I want to do that is to be able to pump energy into the network to kind of force the network to talk to each other,” he said.
McRaven estimated that he spends about 70 percent of his time on the road, but come October wants to flip that to 30 percent.
This network also has a hardware component to it; it’s not just about personal relationships, McRaven said.
“It is also about command and control and communications. There is an infrastructure that makes this network hum,” he said. “Right now, some of that works very well, but across the globe, it works episodically, and it works episodically because we haven’t engaged it to the level we need to engage it.”
While the idea is moving full speed ahead on the SOCOM side, congressional appropriators are a little more wary of the idea.
The House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill gutted the $10 million SOCOM request to establish a Washington office, in addition to slashing the $15 million requested to create regional SOF coordination centers (RSCCs) to make the network operational.
Two RSCCs are envisioned for SOF in US Pacific and Southern Commands. The Pacific center would be “a hub for multilateral engagement” for education and training activities that would “link a multinational network of over 1,000 partners ready to cooperate” with the US, budget documents state.
The other office would be in Colombia, with the Colombian government leading the effort in setting up “a multinational education venue with an operation/inter-agency focus designed to strengthen relations, build trust and foster cooperation among regional allies in the Western Hemisphere to better counter threats to regional security and stability.”
Speaking at the luncheon, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., explained the cut by saying that “we have limited resources, and some people don’t understand what he’s trying to do where he can build up commands … so all the money we’re trying to put into readiness. We have a big concern about readiness.
“We’re just at the start of the process,” McKeon said, adding that “there’ll be time to make changes as we move forward.”