The Future of the Special Operations Forces

An overview of testimony by Linda Robinson presented before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations on March 26, 2021.


Linda Robinson, Senior International/Defense Researcher

To ensure the health of the force and the highest ethical culture, it is imperative to meet the deployment-to-dwell ratio as soon as possible and to address all incidents of misconduct and criminal behavior in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As I recommended in a 2013 report, SOCOM itself must prioritize institutional over operational matters. SOCOM is a functional combatant command, but its primary responsibility is to organize, train, and equip the force, which is then employed by the geographic combatant commands.

Continued effort to right-size the counterterrorism mission is required to free up the force for use in more strategic ways. Counterterrorism strategy itself should evolve to prioritize greater reliance on allies and partners and to address the pipeline into extremism, as decapitation and network suppression have, at best, temporary effect.

We have to focus, as has been mentioned, on the critical language and cultural skills that have—they require a great investment of time. And they are necessary not just for the new missions of great power competition, but legacy missions.

I think it's critically important that SOF do more in partnership with the services to recruit a diverse candidate pool. Retired members of the community from diverse backgrounds should be engaged to help with this recruitment. More funding for recruitment at historically black colleges and universities can help encourage people thus recruited to branch into SOF fields.

Women make up half the population, yes? So we really need to ensure their ability to connect. And we saw with the use of the FETs, as mentioned, these cultural support teams, having women in the formation were of great value. It's very important for senior leaders to be vocal and visible on this front and send a clear message that diversity is a priority.

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