SOF, ISR and the Budget

July 11, 2012
By Rita Boland

For all the consternation caused by the nearly $500 billion cut to the U.S. defense budget, people can rest assured the reductions are manageable and carefully considered, according to Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold, USAF, vice commander, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, Florida. If an additional $500 billion is cut, then he has concerns, he added, as he discussed how special operations forces (SOF) fit into the budget and defense strategy.

Both SOF and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) are well accommodated as many mission priorities will require the capabilities. Such missions include dealing with counterterrorism and irregular warfare along with anti-access/area-denial concerns. Gen. Heithold specifically mentioned China as one of the first places that comes to mind in regard to the latter, though he believes the most stealthy resource controlled by the country is a submarine. He also addressed Al Qaeda through wording in guidance that clearly states that U.S. forces will put pressure on the terrorist groups and any allies any place on Earth, including former locations of strength. "We will never allow Al Qaeda to rise and have a safe haven in Afghanistan again," Gen. Heithold stated.

The general outlined the major priorities of the commander of SOCOM. The first is to win the current fight not only in Afghanistan but worldwide. Such activity involves building partner capacity. "There is a whole lot that goes on left of the boom," he said.

The second priority is strengthening the SOF network, which is critical for defeating a networked threat. One initiative under the effort includes establishing Regional SOF Coordination Centers for foreign SOF, bringing those international partners into the fold. Gen. Heithold stated that one of the biggest recent changes in SOF is the increased partnering with interagency groups. Third, SOCOM plans to better preserve forces and their families. Fourth, the command wants to move to responsive resourcing through means such as combining and consolidating program elements to reduce line items. Another means includes transferring authorities (such as from operations and management to research, development, training and education). Also, the command is looking to restructure the planning process so its chief information officer has increased resources responsibility over all information technology efforts.

Gen. Heithold rounded out his presentation by addressing nontraditional ISR assets. SOF have installed various weapons systems and sensors, along with high-definition, full-motion video, onto AC-130W aircraft with plans to equip 12 of the aircraft with the technologies. The ISR will be accessible outside of the aircraft as well. Plans are in place to install more high-definition sensors on platforms. Gen Heithold explained that in the last six months the great value of the capability has proven a key to success in locating high-value targets and rescuing hostages. The general touched on unmanned versus manned vehicles, stressing that nothing is unmanned about remotely piloted vehicles; they require almost 150 personnel to manage them and their data. He also said in certain cases manned vehicles are an improvement over unmanned, especially because operators are more dynamic, but no plans are in place to cut unmanned flights.

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