Magazine article National Defense

Changing Missions Means New Equipment Needs for Special Operators

Magazine article National Defense

Changing Missions Means New Equipment Needs for Special Operators

Article excerpt

Special Operations Command's acquisition organization for the past 12 years has been working under one axiom.

"Whatever you need for the war, you've got it," said James F. Geurts, acquisition executive at Special Operations Command.

But those days are quickly coming to an end.

A large, or perhaps an even complete, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year means that many special operators will be departing that area of operations for other regions, he said.

Commandos that have become accustomed to fighting in the "sandboxes" that were Afghanistan and Iraq may now find themselves in completely different terrain, which will require different equipment, he said.

"So while we have a lot of great stuff that works on a cold desert night in Afghanistan, it's been a while since we've had [special operators] in the jungle. It's been a while since we've had them in the Nordics. It's minus 70 degrees up there," Geurts said.

In a speech before the National Defense Industrial Association's special operations low intensity conflict division, and in an interview with National Defense Magazine, Geurts spelled out some of the new gear requirements special operators will be needing as the Defense Department makes a shift to the Asia-Pacific and special operators spread out to other parts of the globe.

About 85 percent of SOF personnel are currently assigned to the Central Command region, which includes Afghanistan. The plans are to bring those operators home, but then to eventually redeploy them.

"I have to start thinking about how I acquire equipment and sustain that equipment for our globally postured force," Geurts said.

Special Operations Command has a reputation for being able to procure new and highly specialized equipment more nimbly and quicker than its counterparts in the four services.

The acquisition infrastructure that allows that to happen will still be in place as the force takes on new missions in new regions, he said. The funding, at least for the time being, will also remain steady, he noted. The number of personnel assigned to the command will grow in the coming years from 66,000 to 69,700. Funding is expected to rise accordingly. (See story page 38)

"We are one of the few places in the department that still has a little bit of a growth curve." That will flatten out at the end of fiscal year 2014, he said.

SOCOM since 2006 has doubled the size of the force, but research and development hasn't necessarily kept up with that pace, he said.

It goes back up in the 2015 budget proposal but the percentage that should be spent on R&D is not as high as it should be, and operations and maintenance costs are crowding out procurement accounts, he said.

The acquisition organization now has to consider its logistics strategy, Geurts said.

"How do we get after our ownership costs? How do we get rid of old inventory?

How do we look for better, more effective sourcing models?" he asked.

SOCOM may end up like the four services, which can't afford to sustain what they have and can't afford to buy anything new, he said.

"We're going to be in the same boat if we don't really take a hard look at that.

... We haven't completely mortgaged modernization within the command, but we are watching it closely," he added.

A more globally postured force will pose logistics challenges that the command hasn't had to face before.

"I can logistically supply a war-tom country pretty efficiently. How do I maintain that same level of readiness, that same level of capability spread globally?" he asked.

Twenty-one aircraft can be maintained more easily in one area than three deployed on each continent, he noted.

Over the past 12 years, logistics were not a top consideration. For example, loading one sensor aboard one aircraft has been a common practice. …

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