Magazine article National Defense

Readers' Forum

Magazine article National Defense

Readers' Forum

Article excerpt

Special Operations Forces: Hard Lessons Learned

* The article in May 2013, "Special Operations Missions to Require New Doctrine," raises awareness of a very important issue. But I think it is important to correct one major inaccuracy and to further this valuable discussion.

The assertion that the Army Training and Doctrine Command "shot down" the seventh war-fighting function is simply not true TRADOC is partnering with Army Special Operations Command and the entire Army on numerous efforts to institutionalize hardearned lessons learned from more man a decade of war. One of the most significant is the importance of conventional/special operations force interdependence.

More importantly, the discussion about these lessons spotlights two critical ongoing TRADOC initiatives. First, what can we do right now to improve how we fight modem wars? Second, how do we create, in the words of TRADOC commander Gen. Robert Cone, "a structural imperative that ensures we do not lose the lessons of the last decade of war?"

A potential seventh war-fighting function is a major subset of these efforts and is very much alive in the concept and doctrine communities of the Army. In the near term, TRADOC and a number of partners are moving out to improve interdependence between special operations and conventional forces as well as inculcating some fundamental lessons we learned about influencing people.

Conventional SOF interdependence is now part of the curriculum at the captain's career courses and in the Command and General Staff College. The mission command training program is establishing an operations group to specifically support Army Special Operations Command and allow it to join sophisticated division, corps and theater-level exercises while SOF units are increasingly being integrated into "dirt" combat training center rotations.

Finally, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Army's global scouts, collects lessons learned on six continents and regularly shares best practices with both communities. They also have trained instructors at every Center of Excellence in the adaptive learning techniques pioneered by Army Special Forces.

Many of the concepts proposed by the special operations community in the warfighting function concept-development process are already threaded throughout our profession. This year we released the "decisive action training environment" that focuses heavily on the human aspects of warfare. Not only did it receive wide external praise, the United Kingdom and several allies have adopted it.

The training brain operations center specializes in taking real world data and turning it into complex scenarios that are much more elaborate than bare-knuckle brawls between conventional forces. Finally, from initial entry military training to the war college, students are immersed in studies and skills that help them employ brains and bayonets to influence people.

Still, none of these fully meet Cone's requirement for a structural imperative. When you dramatically alter the way you conduct land warfare, you must ensure the new concepts, constructs and doctrine are right. The only thing worse than no solution is an incomplete solution fraught with internal inconsistencies producing unintended negative consequences.

Building common understanding and visualization is critical because, as the National Defense article pointed out, Army doctrine affects much more than the Army. TRADOC's work cannot be untethered. Pushing forward a concept without bringing all of the major players on the ground - Army, Special Operations Command, the Marine Corps and close allies - is a sure path to failure. …

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