US special operations, having learned from the war in Ukraine, must do more with less

FORT LIBERTY, N.C. (AP) — Having to do more with less and learn from it War in Ukrainewe Special operations commanders They are trying to juggle how to add more high-tech experts to their teams while continuing to reduce their total forces by about 5,000 soldiers over the next five years.

Conflicting pressures are forcing a broader restructuring of commando teams, which are often deployed on high-risk counter-terrorism missions and other sensitive operations around the world. The changes under consideration are influenced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the lessons learned.

The US Army Special Operations Command, which bears the brunt of the personnel reduction, is eyeing plans to increase the size of its forces. Green hat Teams — usually about 12 members — to bring in people with more specialized and technical abilities. One possibility is to add computer software experts who can reprogram drones or other technical equipment in flight.

But similar changes could extend to all military services.

“A detachment of 12 may be attacked,” said General Brian Fenton, commander of US Special Operations Command. An Air Force pilot, Navy ship driver, cryptologist or cyber expert may be needed as battlefields become more challenging and high-tech, he said.

The United States is “taking a lot of lessons from the experience in Ukraine,” including through special operations forces operating in the country, he said in an interview. The United States has no forces on the ground there.

The bulk of the cuts stem from the Army’s decision to reduce the size of its force by about 24,000 soldiers and restructure its forces as the United States shifts from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency to a greater focus on large-scale combat operations. The military has struggled, too To achieve recruitment goals She had to reduce the overall size of her strength.

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Army Special Operations Commandwhich Fenton said has handled about 4,000 cuts ordered over the past year and a half, is looking to bring in people with high-tech skills.

“I think one of the questions is to what extent can you teach Green Berets versus some of these specialties that are very technical,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, deputy commander of the command at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. “You can teach anyone how to use a drone. But then I say, ‘I want to have a software engineer program for drones,’ and that’s something different.”

Cuts to Army Special Operations forces have drawn some opposition in Congress, including during recent hearings on Capitol Hill where lawmakers noted the impact at Fort Liberty. Fenton also spoke frankly at the hearings about the growing demand for special operations forces.

He said American regional leaders around the world constantly want more and that troop reductions mean “we will be able to meet less of what they are asking for.” “I think we owe it to the Secretary of Defense to evaluate us as we move forward.”

For many years, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the number of special operations forces and support personnel increased, especially since they were often deployed to small, remote bases where they needed more security and other logistical assistance. Now, Pentagon leaders say the numbers could shrink slightly.

The department ordered a reduction of about 2,000 personnel in special operations a year and a half ago, including about 750 in the Army, Fenton said. This was followed this year by a reduction of 3,000 soldiers in Army Special Operations. The reductions are scheduled to be distributed over five years.

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“So the real reduction in the total Army is about 4,000 soldiers, and the remaining 1,000 will come from the Joint Force, Special Forces, Marine Raiders, and other Army units,” Fenton said.

For Roberson, the question is where will he cut his army? “Deductions have a way of crystallizing your focus and your perspective of, ‘OK, what’s important to me? What’s the future? What do I really need?'” he said in an interview in his office at Fort Liberty.

He and other Army leaders said a large percentage of the Special Forces cuts are in slots already open, so they won’t affect existing personnel. Roberson estimates that at least 30% of the cuts are in those open positions.

As for other cuts, he said he is looking for layoffs, including among coaches and teachers. Army leaders also said psychological operations and civil affairs, both part of Army command, face cuts.

“At the end of 20 years of war, it’s always a good time to look back and say, ‘Okay, what did I have when this started? What did I learn? What did I do, what’s important to me?'” Roberson said.

Even if not all teams are boosted in size, he said the Army needs to be able to quickly augment them with specialists. He said that in some cases, the task may need only a few members of technical support, and other times it may need six or seven members.

More broadly, Roberson added, as his forces absorb the cuts, their training must also change or increase to include more technology, robotics or sensors, and signals intelligence information. He said his forces are now experimenting with different options at the National Training Center in California and out in the field in Iraq and Syria.

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Adaptability is key, he said, and “we have to figure out how to make the most of this.”

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