A soldier checks wind speed and direction in preparation for paratroopers to arrive during Arctic Pegasus on May 1 near Deadhorse, Alaska. (Staff Sgt. Mylinda DuRousseau / US Army)
TAMPA, FLA. — A group of US special operations leaders outlined what capabilities their troops will need in the coming years here today, focusing mostly on intelligence gathering technologies in places like Africa and the Arctic.
Maj. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of US special operations in Europe told an industry audience that “while Africa may be the challenge for this generation, the Arctic will be the challenge for the next.”
Specifically, he’s concerned about communications challenges while operators are working in extreme temperatures are great distances form one another — and from a support structure.
“As we operate up there and operate with [communications equipment] that is more equatorial focused, we’re meeting [communications] challenges,” he said.
The region in the far north is becoming increasingly important to military strategists due to the widely anticipated rush to locate and extract the natural resources thought to be hiding under the melting ice.
“We have a focus on the Arctic specifically with the challenges we see with the potential for [maritime] passages opening up there, and the potential for land or area grabs and the potential for state-on-state confrontations that could occur,” he said.
The commander of the Colorado-based Special Operations Command North, Rear Adm. Kerry Metz shared Webb’s concern, telling the crowd at the Tampa Convention Center that over the past decade of war in the Middle East, “we’ve gotten out of [the habit of doing] the routine work in up the Arctic area. SOF as an entity has not focused on that area, and I think over the next few years, we’re going to have to sort of return to those roots.”
He said that he expects groups like the 1st Special Forces Group and the 10th Special Forces Group reinvigorating some of their arctic warfare and mountain warfare abilities.”
When it comes to Africa, US Army Brig. Gen. John Linder of the Africa special operations command wants intelligence gathering technologies, and he wants simpler ways to share his intel with partners.
“What I need is situational awareness development,” he said. “I need to be able to build a better picture of the environment so I can get ahead of the threat ... what I want to be able to do is to anticipate what the treat is going to do and be able to share that so someone else on the continent can take action, or decide not to take action.”
Linder also asked industry to help him figure out “how we do information exchanges” with partner nations without the same technological capabilities as the United States, “and how we take information and put it in a form that our partners can make use of it.”
Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, who runs the US special operations mission in the Central Command area of responsibility, also cautioned against trying to simply move too many high-end technologies from Afghanistan to US forces around the world who may be operating in environments very different from which the gear might have been developed.
“We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that what we have is what we need,” he said. “In some cases we need something smaller, we need something that’s simpler, something that we can provide without foreign disclosure concerns or other sensitive technology release concerns to our allies and partners for them to use. In some instances and in some places [the local forces] are a better force to employ the ISR than we are. We can advise them, we can help them, but they have to do it.”