Keeping SOF Special

By Kate Brannen / December 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Along with discussions of future warfare and force structure comes the question of what role Special Operations Forces will play. In the world outlined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his recent and much-discussed Foreign Affairs article, will more SOF forces be needed? What will an increase in SOF numbers do to its capabilities?

"For SOF in particular that poses a lot of dilemmas that I don't think have been adequately answered," Stephen Biddle , a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said at a luncheon with reporters this week. He posed the question, what happens to the capabilities of Special Operations Forces when their size is dramatically increased?

"If you're going to double the size of the SOF, part of what makes the SOF so good is they're trained so well and they're equipped so well, but part is that they're very carefully selected," said Biddle. "I personally have not seen a good study of what will happen to SOF proficiency if you expand it by X percent."

Speaking at the same event, Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, director of strategy, plans and policy in the office of the deputy chief of staff (G-3/5/7), said that because today's conventional forces have such a high level of combat experience, they already have a greater growth potential than past U.S. forces.

Also, because the deployment schedule in the Army is so rigorous -- a year off and a year on for years in a row -- soldiers are “kind of self-selected for that type of lifestyle," said Fastabend.

"((SOF)) can probably grow more readily than in the past, but certainly there's an upward bound to it," he said.

A May 16, 2008, Congressional Research Service report laid out Pentagon plans for near-term SOF growth:

As mandated by the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) SOF continues to expand. USSOCOM added 6,643 military and civilians in 2007. By the end of FY2009, USSOCOM hopes to grow to 55,890 civilian and military personnel, of which 43,745 will be active duty military, 4,310 Guard, 2,560 Reserves, and 5,275 government civilians. These increases roughly translate into adding five additional Special Forces battalions, four additional Ranger companies, 300 additional SEALs, 2,500 Marine Special Operations Forces, and additional special operations aviators.


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