TAMPA, Fla. — The leadership of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) said the force and its acquisitions — facing a multitude of hotspots and threats from around the globe — must be more flexible than ever, fueling an increase in research an development funding.
While the operational tempo for conventional forces has slowed, SOCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel said his forces are "operating in possibly the most complex strategic environment in recent history."
Recent months have seen an "incredible eruption" in foreign-fighter flow into the Middle East from all over the world in support of the Islamic State group and its affiliates, increasing connections between transnational criminal organizations and violent extremist groups, ISIS-inspired flare ups in Africa and Asia. A resurgent Russia is using special operations forces and information operations, Votel said.
With the R&D funding uptick, the command is exploring a multi-mission tactical unmanned aerial system; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payload technology improvements, sensitive site exploitation; combat diving and dry deck shelter modernization efforts.
Rather than attempting to predict the next conflict and what precisely is needed to fight in it, Geurts said the acquisitions side must be responsive and "flex quickly between requirements and logistics needs and technology surprises, [which] is our biggest challenge, where I think we are the most vulnerable right now."
In an impassioned statement about the health of his force, Votel acknowledged how vital predictability is to troops' mental health. The command has successfully added processes to better manage and monitor troops, and get help for stress, with some success, which Votel credited to his precedessors.
A 2013 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments reported that those assigned to Special Operations Forces (SOF) units often experience symptoms of PTSD at twice the rate of general purpose units.
"We do feel stress in the force, we do have members who exhibit behaviors that we certainly need to be addressing, so we are certainly paying attention to it, it has my attention," Votel said.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.