The U.S. Army has come a long way from the days in which Special Operations Forces (SOF) were tolerated, at best and ostracized, at worst. A decade of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed the historic arms-length relationship. Working day-to-day with SOF teams to hunt down insurgents, train indigenous forces and connect with local populations has forged a bond between SOF and conventional forces. Going forward, it is important that the Army’s leadership work to improve the integration between the two.
While performing its assigned missions, SOF provided the in vivo laboratory for the development of innovative tactics, techniques and equipment that the Army later adopted. In many ways, the look of conventional soldiers today is due to adoption of new clothing and equipment first acquired by SOF years prior. Advances in such areas as cold weather gear, improved ballistic armor, night vision devices, weapons sights, medical supplies and hydration systems to name just a few were pioneered by SOF. Because it possessed independent acquisition authority and a history of moving rapidly to get equipment to the field, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was able to respond to urgent operational requirements.
Most of the security challenges over the next several decades are likely to involve situations that will straddle the mission set for SOF and conventional forces. For this reason, the regular Army is focusing on the squad as the foundation of the force. What the Army envisions for the squad of the future is what SOCOM has always sought to provide for its units: real-time actionable intelligence, reliable, secure communications, highly lethal firepower, enhanced individual and small unit survivability and vehicles with improved mobility. Training for small units and leadership education are two other areas where the Army is sure to borrow best practices from its SOF brethren.
Today begins the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C. Traditionally, this is the place where the Army introduces new thoughts, concepts and policies. It is also the venue where laboratories, development centers, the private sector and even the depots showcase innovative capabilities. As I walk the exhibit halls and listen to the briefings I will be looking for examples of ways that the Army is working to extend the lessons learned from the past decade with respect to improving the capabilities of small units and enhancing the integration between SOF and conventional forces.