Members of the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron jump from an MC-130H Combat Talon II May 2 during Emerald Warrior, a joint exercise to train special operations, conventional and partner nation forces in combat scenarios. (Staff Sgt. Marleah Miller / US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon still plans to increase funding for special operations equipment in the coming years, but after years of plus-ups, that trend is expected to flatten.
For 2015, DoD has requested $1.6 billion for US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) procurement projects under the budget proposal it sent to Congress in March. That’s part of nearly $8.7 billion for procurement between 2015 and 2019.
Since 2001, Congress has approved more than $22.2 billion to buy weapons and equipment for SOCOM, according to budget data provided by analytics firm VisualDoD.
That figure does not include billions of dollars to buy other major weapons that are operated or heavily used by the military’s special operators, such as Bell-Boeing CV-22 Ospreys, Lockheed Martin MC-130J combat tankers, Boeing MH-47G Chinooks, Sikorsky MH-60 Black Hawks, General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers and MRAP ground vehicles, just to name a few.
Much of SOCOM’s procurement money goes to modify and improve many of these platforms. For instance, the command funded a program to strengthen the wings on C-130 cargo planes. Now the planes are built with the stronger wings and all of the services benefit, SOCOM acquisition executive James “Hondo” Geurts said at a Precision Strike Association conference in March.
SOCOM’s procurement budget soared as the war on terrorism heated up, rising from $525 million in 2001 to a high of $2.1 billion in 2012, a 309 percent increase. This year, the command is slated to spend $1.6 billion on procurement.
The command has grown over the years to about 64,000 forces. That will increase to about 69,000 in the coming years.
The spending projections included in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal do not factor in war supplemental funding, also called Overseas Contingency Operations funding. DoD has not sent Congress a war spending plan for 2015; officials cite the fact that the Afghan government has not signed a security agreement that would allow NATO troops to operate in the country after 2014.
Because many of SOCOM’s aircraft and vehicles are purchased by the military service branches, the bulk of the command’s budget goes to operations and maintenance. Between 2001 and 2014, Congress appropriated nearly $70 billion for SOCOM operations and maintenance.
There have been far fewer dollars for SOCOM research-and-development projects. Between 2001 and 2014, Congress appropriated $5.6 billion for SOCOM research and development. The command requested $508 million for these projects in 2015, but those coffers are expected to fall more than 41 percent by 2019 to $299 million.
SOCOM gets about $40 million to $50 million in science and technology funding each year, said Guerts, the command’s acquisition executive.
“I’m not inventing a lot of stuff with that amount of money,” he said. “We’re real focused on working with the national labs, and with industry and with the service labs because we’re pretty good about doing combat feedback.”
SOCOM has about 200 combat feedback evaluations happening at any given time, Geurts said.
Looking toward the future, Geurts said capabilities must be suited for different types of battlefields, not just Afghanistan. Weapons, for instance, must be flexible enough so they can be carried on a variety of aircraft.
“For us, the more modular, the more flexible, the more carry-and-go you can go, the better for us,” he said of future weapons desired by SOCOM. “Because I’ll be putting this stuff on things you probably never dreamt of.
“If it’s a one-perfect-thing that has to come in one perfect way on its own carriage system with its own software and all this other kind of stuff, it will be less attractive to me and the SOF community,” he said. ■